How to Get a Great Job: Writing and Formatting Your Resume


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Ready to Write?

For many people, getting started on writing or revising their resume is the toughest part. Follow these steps to get past “resume-writer’s block”:
  1. Look at sample resumes to get ideas. Check out books on resume-writing from your library, or look at samples online. One site to visit is
  2. Dump all information for your work history and education into a word processing document. Double-check the dates, titles, and details of each job position; your education, grade point average or other information included; then save that document.
  3. Write to your audience. How can your experience, skills, and degrees benefit them? How will your work history translate to learning a new job?
  4. Next, outline the information and add sections as preferred: keywords, summary statement, etc.
  5. Go back and edit. Tighten up the writing to keep it concise and action-oriented (lots of verbs), and include focus on specific accomplishments or responsibilities. You don’t have to use complete sentences; bulleted lists of statements are best.
  6. Once you feel you have a complete draft, format the document so that it’s visually appealing. (See “Your Hard-Copy Resume” below.)
  7. Proofread the final document twice, then once reading backward.
  8. Ask at least one other person to review it and proofread it again.
  9. Save your final document and prepare to rewrite a version for each job you apply for.


Formatted & Plain Text Resumes


People will hire you for one of two reasons: because they want to make money or they want to save money. So anything you can say in your resume to show you’ve done that in the past is guaranteed to get you noticed. Use specific numbers, percentages, budget responsibility, etc. to demonstrate what you’ve done.”
— Jill Silman, SPHR, vice-president at Meador Staffing Services and a spokesperson for the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM)

Today’s job seeker will most likely be submitting resumes via e-mail or websites. So you’ll need your beautifully formatted word processing document to use for a hard-copy resume, but you’ll also need to be ready to have an electronic and plain text version as well, so you can quickly submit your resume according to the job posting’s requirements. Here’s an overview of these resume formats.

Your Formatted Resume


“The truth of the matter is that the way we’re submitting resumes has changed—it’s all electronic now—but the process is basically the same.”
— Damone Virgilio, staff development manager at Memphis (Tennessee) Public Library

So you’ve written a solid draft of your resume in a word processing program such as Microsoft Word. What should it look like?

Resume Formatting Do’s and Don’ts

DO start with your biggest selling point. “I like to recommend a section at the beginning of the resume that stands out, something that brings out the best that the person can bring to the table,” says Virgilio. “It could be a list of skills, certifications or software mastered. You have to emphasize what separates you from the pack.”
DON’T cram in as many words as possible to fill up the page. This makes it uninviting to read or even skim. “Someone who’s looking through 150 resumes is looking for a reason to eliminate as many as possible,” Virgilio points out. “If a resume is not easy to read, they’re going to throw it out.” He recommends using a 12-point font with at least the standard space between lines.
DO edit every job description down to the most salient points. “One of the biggest problems I see with resumes that people bring in is formatting,” says Virgilio. “I see lots of text on a page with way too much description of duties, so nothing jumps out.”
DON’T forget to proofread! A resume with a typo will end up in the trashcan. “My advice is as basic as please, please, please proofread anything before you send it,” says Jill Silman, SPHR, vice-president at Meador Staffing Services and a spokesperson for the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM). “Use the old trick of reading something backwards to make sure your mind doesn’t jump ahead.”
DO print out the resume on good-quality white (or off-white) paper. Always have a crisp clean copy or two ready at an in-person interview.
Once you have your resume final and looking good, you can print it out and use as hard copies, or send it as an e-mail attachment—either as a Microsoft Word or PDF document. If you use a word processing program other than Word, you should save it as a file type that anyone can open—and these days, that includes Word files. Other options are PDFs or Rich Text Files.

A Case for Sending PDFs

“We always have people do a Word document, then tell the person they can save it as a PDF and e-mail it,” reports Virgilio. “A PDF can’t be inadvertently changed by someone else, and any computer can read it—you don’t have to worry about software versions. It also shows a bit of tech savvy on the sender’s part—you know how to make a PDF.”
If you don’t have Adobe PDF Writer, you can download free software that allows you to easily convert a document into a PDF. PDFCreator is available at (For Windows systems only.)

Your Plain Text Resume

In addition to your carefully formatted resume, you’ll want a plain text version as well—one that has all formatting and special characters stripped out. You will use this to copy and paste into the body of an e-mail (see “send two in one” below) or to copy and paste sections into an online application form. Some employers may even request that you send in this version, if they are using certain software to scan all submitted resumes.

Turn Your Resume into a Job Application

Many of the general job boards (including and include an online application for any position; this is where you’ll copy and paste your plain-text resume into appropriate fields. The employer will never see your actual resume—until you hand it over at your first in-person interview.
Here are five tips for turning your resume into a plain-text document:
  1. Strip out all formatting, including bold, italics, centering. Use one typeface and size—preferably something commonly used like Times or Arial.
  2. Change formatting to remove columns or tabbed sections.
  3. Remove bullet points.
  4. Remove hard returns at the end of lines.
  5. Save your document as a text file, with the extension .txt to ensure all invisible coding is stripped out.
  6. Review the plain-text document using a text editor program such as Notepad or SimpleText to ensure you’re seeing it accurately.


Sending Resumes by E-mail


ASC What?

A plain text document may also be called an ASCII file — pronounced ASK-ee. ASCII is short for American Standard Code of Information Interchange. Saving a document as a txt file and stripping out all coding and special characters (characters that use keyboard commands such as accented e’s or em dashes) is basically the same thing as creating an ASCII file.

When you respond to a job posting—especially an online posting—you will more than likely be submitting your resume electronically. But what exactly does that mean? Here is a handy checklist of points to consider.
1. Meet their requirements. Double-check any details on what the employer requires from applicants and how they wish to receive it. If possible, check the employer’s company website for information on preferred method.
NOTE: If a job posting simply says “e-mail your resume…” then it’s safest to send your resume as plain text (see below) within the body of your e-mail—with no attachment.
If the employer requests an attached file for the resume, do they specify what file type? They may want resumes only submitted as Microsoft Word documents, or PDFs, or plain text files, depending on their screening procedures.
2. Don’t get blocked! With today’s sophisticated spam filters, many company e-mail servers will block all attachments from certain types of e-mail addresses—or they may block only certain types of attachments such as Zip files or PDFs.
3. Send two in one. If an employer requests your resume as a Word document, PDF, or other attachment, your best bet is to attach your resume as requested, but also copy and paste the plain-text version of your resume into the body of the e-mail. That way, if your attachment is not received, your resume will still be in their hands.
4. Choose your subject line carefully. The subject line—the text that appears in the receiver’s inbox—should make it clear what your e-mail is in response to, and perhaps sell you a little too. If responding to a specific job opening, use the job title or code used in the posting. If you’re sending your resume unsolicited, make the subject line a descriptor of you: “Database manager with 12 years experience” or “Physical therapist seeks challenging opportunity.”
5. Be savvy about attachment names. If you’re sending your resume as an attachment, make sure you name it so that it’s easily identifiable. Yourlastname_resume.doc is your best bet—and be sure to include the extension .doc or .pdf so that it can be opened easily!



Jill Silman, SPHR, vice-president at Meador Staffing Services and a spokesperson for the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), says that her recruiting company receives resumes by e-mail (as attachments) or uploaded to their website. Therefore, “The more plainly they’re formatted, the better. We prefer [Word documents] so that if we need to reformat it for a client, we can.” She encourages job seekers to also check the format of their resume for consistency: “If you put one employer name in boldface, use boldface for all of them.”

Her company keeps resumes in a database, and searches on keywords for each specific opening. “We get some resumes that have a keywords section, and that’s fine—I don’t have a problem with that. We do see some where the person has been counseled to put keywords in small, white type at the bottom of the resume so they’re invisible; the problem with that is that if the words aren’t used in the body of the resume, when the recruiter goes to look at the resume, they can’t see the words.”


Dionna Keels, a member of the SHRM [Society for Human Resource Management] staffing management expertise panel, says, “I definitely prefer a Word document that’s nicely formatted. Your formatting is really important. A resume that’s formatted well is more appealing to the eye and it’s easier to read.”

What’s important now is that people are able to point out specific things they’ve accomplished rather than a laundry list of job duties. Include measurable accomplishments, such as “I saved $xx by improving a process.”

And if your work history includes gaps or multiple short stays at jobs, Keels recommends, “Consider including a footnote about why you left. That way you’re not leaving it up to the recruiter’s imagination.” Another option is to address the issue in your cover letter.


The Last Word

The job seeker who has been on the market for a while will end up with many, many different versions of her resume. Be precise in naming each document, use electronic folders for different categories, and periodically refresh your memory as to which jobs you’ve applied for. That way when you come across an open position you want to apply for, you can quickly decide which resume version to work off of, find that document and revise to fit the opening, and you’re good to go. Just remember to save and file the new resume as well!


book cover: How to Get a Great Job: A Library How-To HandbookThis article is adapted from the book How to Get a Great Job: A Library How-To Handbook by Editors of the American Library Association published by ALA Editions.




Photo credit: by Clemson


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