Why an unformatted resume is your secret job search weapon

by | Jul 17, 2018

How an unformatted resume can bring success

It can be tempting to think that a CV should be as eye-catching as possible, but sometimes it is the unformatted resume which will help you most.

There is always heated discussion around CV formatting. Many advocate strongly for something eye catching with special fonts, bullet points, framing, highlighting, logo, images and borders. There is nothing wrong with this if you are thinking of a refresh. They can serve a useful purpose, especially if you are submitting a CV as a hard copy or you work in a creative function. Having said that, you should always have one unformatted resume in your job search arsenal. It may not seem like it but it is your secret weapon.

If a recruiter or hiring manager asks for unformatted resume, don’t try to beat or outsmart the system. There is a reason for this. By an unformatted resume or CV your contact means a document that contains no tables, borders, images or special characters. Fonts are basic, and you highlight text by capitalizing words rather than making them bold, underlined or italicized.

unformatted resume

A need to be searchable

For the designers amongst us this can be frustrating, but it's all about technology.  All CVs need to be retrievable. When you upload your document onto an online system, it will be viewed by an employer’s applicant tracking system, or ATS. Any formatting is likely to get removed or skewed when the ATS  parses your data for analysis. All of that lovely format you created may get distorted and it may not even be readable. Some ATS bypass formatted CVs altogether.  If you send the file through email as an attachment, the formatting may appear differently on different screens, especially if your document is read on a mobile device. Formatted documents can also be prone to viruses, whereas plain text documents aren't.

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Keywords

Long before a human eye claps eyes on your master piece, an ATS will run your content through automatic analysis. It will filter for keywords which will have been keyed in. An ATS will search for words associated with skills, experience, traits, credentials or other qualifying characteristics. They are always hard skills. This is why it’s important to tailor your search for each ad using the language the ad uses. If they say Project Leader use that term not Project Management or Manager. Include these words early in your resume in case a word limit for the search has been set. This tends to be a way if identifying recent experience as professional roles tend to be set out in reverse chronological order.

Key points for an Unformatted Resume

  • Use standard fonts, such as Arial, Times New Roman or Courier. Keep them between 10 and 12 points in size.
  • Any basic keyboard character — letter, number, symbol, or punctuation mark — in upper or lower case.
  • Align your text with left justification and use the space bar rather than tabs or first line indentation.
  • Don't use columns, symbols or special characters.
  • Avoid fancy bullets, because not all systems will read them the same way. Some will convert them to an ampersand, “&” -- try hyphens or asterisks instead.
  • Don't use graphs, side bars or pullouts.
  • Avoid water marks or shading.
  • Highlight a heading using upper case, rather than boxes or highlighter.
  • Use line breaks to create spacing (hit the Enter key two or more times).
  • One design possibility to create some visual separation of tracts of plain text is to use rows of any character to create a "line" (===== or ++++++ or §§§§§§§).

Other than that stay with the low key but effective.

This is not to say that you shouldn't create formatted CVs. You just have to make a decision about when you are going to use them. If you are applying online then it's better to be safe than sorry and send off you dull but effective unformatted resume. But you should also factor in the fact, based on research from Top Resume, that  28% of recruiters found an over formatted CV to be a deal breaker.

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Staff Writer: Career Contributor
3Plus welcomes any writers to join 3Plus as a Staff Writer. If you are an expert in Job Search, Career and Mentoring or just want to share your experiences, contact us! We would love to give you a voice!

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