ASCII (pronounced ask-ee) stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange. It’s the language by which all computers use to talk to each other.
So what’s that mean?
Computers can only read numbers. Technically speaking, ASCII is a numerical representation of the letters, digits, punctuation marks, and other symbols used in conversational English. It was created in 1968 to allow data processors to ‘chat’ to one another and, although it’s been upgraded, ASCII continues to be the ‘alphabet’ almost all computers use to communicate.
That said, when a hiring manager asks for an ASCII or ‘text-only’ version of your résumé, all you really need to know is that they’re looking for an unformatted, plain-text document.
ASCII documents do not contain underlining, boldface, italics, bullets, rule lines, graphics, font choices, or any of the formatting pizzazz you’re used to with contemporary word processors. Because ASCII files are content-driven, they usually lack uniqueness and visual appeal.
So why would you want to deliver such a ‘bare bones’ document to someone you’re aiming to impress?
There are several reasons:
1. VERSATILITY. ASCII documents are universally readable by any computer in the United States. Delivering your résumé in ASCII prevents compatibility issues between applications. Here are a few situations to demonstrate how file-format incompatibilities can obstruct your candidacy.
- Situation #1: You deliver your résumé in Adobe FrameMaker or Acrobat format, but your target company only uses MS Word.
Result: The target company cannot open your attachment and fails to view your résumé.
- Situation #2: Your résumé uses features only available in the latest version of (say) MS Word, but your target company uses an earlier version.
Result: The target company cannot open the file and your efforts are wasted.
- Situation #3: You create a résumé using a font that is not a standard part of the Windows or Macintosh operating systems, and your target company hasn’t installed that same font.
Result: The target company will, in this case, be able to open the file. However, your résumé will not appear as you intended. Among other problems, characters unique to the font you used will be rendered as unintelligible symbols.
In all cases, it’s unlikely that the company is going to ask you to resend your résumé. They’ll just move on to the next candidate.
2. EASE. ASCII résumés can be ‘cut & pasted’ directly into the body of an email message or web-based form, without compromising the résumé’s format. If you tried the same trick straight from word-processing applications such as Microsoft Word, Corel WordPerfect, or Adobe FrameMaker, you’d sacrifice most of your résumé’s formatting as well as introduce ugly line breaks and non-standard characters, making your credentials substantially harder to discern.
3. SPEED. Because ASCII résumés can be embedded in an email message, you can avoid sending email attachments, which saves the hiring manager the time and effort of downloading and opening your file.
4. SAFETY. Email attachments can carry viruses. Wary recipients may delete your email and its attachment altogether to avoid crashing their system. This really happens, especially in HR departments! By sending your résumé embedded in email, you eliminate this possibility.
5. CONVERTIBILITY. ASCII résumés are easily transplanted from the body of an email message into an employer’s database, so your résumé is searchable immediately.
6. SCANNABILITY. Busy companies often use scanning software or Electronic Applicant Tracking Systems (EATS) such as Resumix or ResTrac to wade through their candidate pool. ASCII résumés are ideal, and therefore preferred, for scanning since they do not contain unusual bullets, fonts, or graphics that computers often have a hard time deciphering.
7. MOBILITY. ASCII résumés embedded in email are simple to pass around the office. A Human Resources representative simply forwards your message and the recipient can begin examining your credentials within seconds without having to open a separate program.
8. MARKETABILITY. Sending along an ASCII résumé, especially one that’s been edited and laid out carefully, proves you are technologically adept and, in the event that your target company requests such a résumé, a good listener.
9. VISIBILITY. Job boards are a great way to get your résumé seen by hundreds, even thousands, of employers. These sites almost always require an ASCII version of your résumé.
Please note: If you choose to use job boards, you may want to protect yourself by eliminating your street address and personal phone number(s) from your résumé. Also, dating the résumé is a good idea, since it will inevitably circulate the web for several months.
Perhaps you’re still unconvinced that you need an ASCII résumé. Chances are – especially if you’re applying to a larger corporation – that your beautifully formatted non-ASCII résumé will be converted into a plain text file so that it can be scanned more easily by the recipient’s computer system. So why bother to duplicate their effort?
Our answer: to improve your chances of being noticed.
In converting a non-ASCII document, such as an MS Word file, to ASCII, all of the character formatting (font selection, point size, style) as well as the non-character formatting (margin settings, soft line breaks, section breaks, tab settings, graphics, tables) disappear. Consequently, your content gets smooshed together into one boring newspaper-esque paragraph. Crucial information gets buried. Job titles, statistics, company names, and dates all drown in a sea of undifferentiated text.
Although search engines can navigate such a messy document, many hiring managers can’t (or give up quickly after they start). All else being equal, a résumé that’s hard to read (whether it’s your fault or not) results in fewer interviews.
To avoid becoming a casualty of corporate résumé-processing technology, plan ahead. Convert your résumé before they do, so you can correct all of the formatting inconsistencies and beautify the layout as much as possible before the hiring managers see it.
Like a fine wine is to a five-star dinner, an ASCII résumé is the perfect complement to your formatted résumé. It shows you’re aware of how résumés are processed and that you are committed to making your credentials stand out from the crowd.
You’ll impress the hiring team with your technological aptitude and preparedness, and show them that you not only have excellent communication and presentation skills, but that you respect and value their time.
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