ATS Systems – Text Files or Online Word Files?

When I create a resume for a client, they receive a WORD-based PRESENTATION copy that is formatted and designed to be visually appealing. This version is used for interviews and when emailing directly to someone, such as a recruiter or someone you are networking with to help with your job search. The client also receives a free modified WORD version where the content stays the same as in the presentation copy, and some, not all, of the formatting, is modified or removed so the document can be read properly by application tracking systems (ATS systems – the system employers use to select and manage resumes submitted).

The online Word file replaces the text file I used to create for clients. For years, the text file was the recommended method to use to apply online. It is a very plain file in terms of looks / formatting with no italicizes, lines, bolding and is left justified, etc., so it makes it easy for the ATS systems to read. But it is so plain! Not easy to browse even if you space the content.

But, things have changed. Awhile back, industry experts came out saying Word resumes can now work in online. There are some items you have to modify or take out, but for the most part, the modified Word resume is quite similar to the visually appealing presentation copy.

For example, you DO NOT want tables / boxes or to use shading or italics in the online / modified version of your resume, because some ATS systems will not be able to read the content if you do. But, you CAN use color, bold, and  lines (just make sure the lines don’t touch the words).

For awhile after hearing the news, I played it safe, and kept creating text files for my clients. Who knew if employers had updated their ATS system and I just didn’t want to take the chance. But, I finally made the decision to switch about a year ago after continuously hearing the ATS system can take it. And, I am glad to say my clients have been doing very well with online Word files instead of text.

Still, some resume writers continue to use text, which of course is fine since they still work in the system. But, besides the fact that the system can handle the online Word file, there is another key reason why I finally switched to use an online Word file, instead of a text file.

The reason is that recruiters and employers PREFER a Word file.

Once your resume makes it through the online system, it is time for the human eye to review the resume. And, Word files are easier to browse and read. Plus, most of us, like a little design, a little color to make things pop. So, not only do I think the Word file works equally well online to get through ATS systems, if done properly, they have an advantage over text files, because people are naturally drawn to them more and they look much more professional. Therefore, once a human eye is looking at your resume, meaning HR, hiring managers and recruiters, the Word file can give you an edge (of course, you still have to have the right qualifications).

Everyone has to make their own decision on this matter. If a client still prefers a text file, I would let them know my thoughts, but would create a text file instead if that is what they request. And while I respect my colleagues’ decision if they continue to create text file resumes, for me, the days of creating text files are pretty much over. No reason to keep doing something just because it was the way it’s been done for years. Time to move on to something better. Time for clients to get noticed easier! And an online Word file does that so much better than a text file.

Check out these other articles on ATS systems.


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