INTRODUCTION TO THE RESUMÉ ENCYCLOPEDIA
If you do much shopping around for resumé services, you’ll probably find yourself confused by some terms. It’s not your fault. Some terms aren’t used consistently, and can have several very different meanings. Some don’t always mean what you’d expect them to mean. Others, like “e-resumé,” sound significant but don’t really mean anything. And others, like “RTF” or “CV,” just aren’t familiar to everyone.
And there are many important aspects of resumé technology that aren’t widely known—even though ignoring them causes many resumés to be passed over by employers.
This glossary will help you understand these terms and technologies, and help you make better-informed shopping decisions about resumé services. You’ll find further information about resumés on the Tips & Myths page—including discussions of killer myths that can wreck your job search even if you do everything else right.
A4 (relevant only for resumés sent outside the U.S. and Canada)
A4 is the name of the standard metric paper size used for letters (and resumés) everywhere in the world except the U.S. and Canada. A4 paper is 21.0 cm x 29.7 cm, which is 8.268" x 11.693". It’s a little narrower and a little longer than U.S. letter size—so it doesn’t quite fit in most things designed to hold U.S.-letter–sized sheets. If you send your U.S.-letter–size resumé to someone outside the U.S. or Canada, it will be a bit of a nuisance for them to handle and file along with other paper. Even if you e-mail it, it will be a bit of a nuisance to print out. You don’t want your resumé to be a nuisance—if you’re sending it outside the U.S. or Canada, you should send it in A4 size, even if it’s an electronic document. (I can provide electronic documents in A4 size.)
Another reason to use A4 paper for your international CV is that it shows that you are aware of international standards, and willing to work with them. (Many Americans aren’t.) An international employer will appreciate that.
You can print your CV out on US letter-size paper to read the copy, but the margins won’t look the way they will on A4 paper, and copy close to the edge may be cut off. If you’ve set up your document in A4 format, the screen display will show you what the resumé looks like on an A4 sheet. (In Microsoft Word, be sure you’re using Page Layout view.)
Since you will usually be e-mailing your CV, you can probably get by without using any A4 paper at home. But it should still be set up in A4 size, so the recipient can print it out. And if you travel abroad for an interview, you’ll want to have some copies on A4 handy to give to people. If you create any sort of paper documents to send overseas, it can be handy to have some A4 around.
FINDING A4 PAPER: If you’re planning on having your A4 resumé output at a copy shop, be aware that copy shops in the U.S. are unlikely to have A4 paper. They should be able to output A4 documents on A4 paper that you provide. You can find sources on the Web for A4 paper by the ream (500 sheets); some retail paper dealers or well-stocked business stationers may also have it, at least in large cities. (If you’re in the U.S., a ream may last you a lifetime.)
The metric envelope size that corresponds to A4 is referred to as “DL”. It’s 22.0 cm x 11.0 cm, which is 8.66" x 4.33". You may be able to find airmail envelopes in this size at a well-stocked stationery store. If you can, they will add a professional touch to international correspondence. However, you can use standard U.S. letter-size (#10) envelopes with A4 paper—A4 folded into thirds will fit neatly into a #10 envelope.
ASCII—see Plain Text
COVER & THANK-YOU LETTERS
Your cover letter is usually the first thing seen by whoever starts the process of screening you for a job. So it’s your crucial first impression. A bad cover letter could put you right out of the running; a good one could put you at the top of the pile. The cover letter is also your chance to make points that can’t be made in a resumé, and to highlight those of your strengths that are of particular interest to each employer.
For higher-level jobs, and where the employer requests a cover-letter with an application, your cover letter will probably travel with your resumé. However, for junior positions, cover letters aren’t invariably transmitted up the ladder along with your resumé, especially in electronic applicant processing environments.
Thank-you letters (sometimes called “follow-up letters”) are also important. They establish a civil personal relationship with the person who has interviewed you. They give you a chance to express your continued interest in the job—a factor to which employers are very sensitive. And they also give you a chance to make or re-emphasize points you overlooked or under-emphasized in the interview, or that occurred to you only after learning more about the employer during the interview. A good thank-you letter can boost your standing with a potential employer, and could make the difference between being rejected and being called back for another interview.
Effective cover letters and thank-you letters must be individualized for each job you apply for. There’s no getting around that. And it’s well worth the effort, because sending form letters is a serious mistake. People who are hiring want to see that your interests and experience are a good fit for their firm and for the particular job, and that you have a definite interest in working for them. Generic letters don’t cut it—they want concrete details that show you’re thinking about that job and their company.
I make it as easy as possible to customize effective, factual letters for each prospect. I provide cover- and thank-you letters in the form of templates, with alternate paragraphs you can chose from to tailor the letters for each application. I provide instructions for using the templates, and examples to show how the letter should look.
My letter templates will help you apply the same approach to job seeking that a sales professional applies to sales. You should do some research on a firm before you send an application to them, and look at writing letters in something like the way you would look at putting together a business proposal. As you may know, corporate business proposals are often based on templates—but they’re carefully individualized for each prospect. Job letters are the same.
CURRICULUM VITAE (CV)
“Curriculum vitae” (“CV”) has one meaning in the U.S., and another internationally.
1) In the U.S., “curriculum vitae” is the term for what an academic (or any professional who does research, writing, and/or teaching) uses instead of (or along with) a resumé. For short, it’s often called a “CV,” a “vitae,” or, less correctly, a “vita.” In addition to the material commonly found in a resumé, a CV lists such credentials as: dissertations, publications and conference papers, residencies, lectureships, fellowships, grants, special research activities, organizational responsibilities, etc. With all of this material, the CVs of experienced people can run to six or eight pages, or even longer. Some job-seekers in these fields may need both a CV and a resumé, depending on what type of job they are applying for.
The term “academic CV” (or “professional CV,” or “academic curriculum vitae,” etc.) might be used to make it clear that you’re using the term in the U.S. sense. But that’s taken for granted within the academic and professional worlds in the U.S., and “curriculum vitae” or “CV” is commonly used alone.
At Crystal Resumés, I write and format academic, professional, and scientific CVs as well as resumés. CVs are listed and priced separately on the Services page. I have professional editorial experience in scholarly and technical publishing and in academia, so I understand the special editorial requirements of CVs. They will be thoroughly professional in language and presentation, and will follow the bibliographic and other styles appropriate for your discipline.
Nursing CVs have a special format, quite unlike regular resumés. Like all CVs, they emphasize professional qualifications and formal training to a greater extent than do resumés. In nursing, sometimes they’re referred to as “resumés,” sometimes they’re called “CVs.” You’ll see healthcare employers and nurses (and resumé or career specialists) using either term for a standard clinical nursing resumé. This confuses people, but in nursing, both terms usually refer to the same thing. HOWEVER, nurses with a lot of research, publications, and presentations will distinguish between a resumé and a CV, and may use both—the CV, with full detail on publications, etc., for administrative and research jobs, and the resumé for clinical caregiving jobs.
Nursing CVs have one thing in common with regular resumés: unless they list an unusual amount of research or special background, they are usually two to three pages long—shorter than other CVs (which commonly have long lists of publications, etc.). This is about the length of a normal resumé for an experienced person in a demanding field.
2) Internationally, “curriculum vitae” or “CV” covers what the U.S. calls both “resumés” and “CVs.” Some countries use other terms: Germany says “Lebenslauf,” in Australia it’s called a “resumé.” But in International English, British English, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, “curriculum vitae” (borrowed from Latin) is the common term. (Spanish and Portuguese also use “currículo.”) The phrase “international CV” is sometimes used in the U.S., to make it clear that you’re talking about the international kind, not about an American academic or professional CV.
An international CV is a different thing from a U.S. resumé. It is likely to contain more information than is found on a U.S. resumé—including personal information that you can never put on a resumé in the U.S. Different countries often have somewhat different expectations for what goes on a resumé, and how it should be written. Normally, however, international job-seekers are applying in multiple countries, and an international CV is written to cover all possible non-U.S. requirements. I provide international CVs in A4 format, the standard document size outside the U.S. and Canada. For practical information on A4 format, see the A4 article.
Grammar, pronunciation, and usage of the terms “CV” and “curriculum vitae”
It’s normal—and quite proper—to avoid grammatical and pronunciation issues with this term by using the abbreviation CV (pronounced see-vee, plural CVs), or the term “vitae.” Preferred practice may vary, depending on the professional field, or even the region.
But you should know that, if you’re speaking English, “curriculum vitae” is pronounced ka-RIK-ya-lum VIE-tee (second word rhymes with “mighty”). The plural isn’t needed that often, and most people who find they need it probably just say “CVs” or “vitaes” (VIE-teez). That, in fact, is probably the best way of handling the issue in most fields. It’s also proper to use the Latin plural of “curriculum vitae,” which is “curricula vitae,” and this may be the preferred usage in some fields where Latin terms are more fully preserved. (The Latin plural is not “curricula vitarum,” which implies that each document deals with more than one life.) And if you start out saying “curriculum vitae,” realize halfway through that you need to make it plural, and tack an ‘s’ on the end, you’ll probably be okay.
Other languages that use the term have their own ways of pronouncing it, and of forming the plural.
Don’t try going back to the Classical Latin pronunciation—unless, of course, you are speaking Classical Latin (as some of us at Crystal Resumés occasionally do). But for the record, the Classical Latin pronunciation is kuh-RIK-oo-lum WEE-tie (second word rhymes with “sweet eye”). It’s Latin for “the course of (someone’s) life”—which is the original meaning of the word “career.” (If you’re applying for a job at the Vatican, you’ll usually find a different pronunciation of Latin in use there, and will probably be communicating in Italian or International English, not in Latin.)
CV—see Curriculum Vitae
.DOC & .DOCX FORMATS—see Word Resumé
The term “e-resumé” (electronic resumé) does not refer to a particular resumé format or type of resumé. It is a general term for any resumé that is transmitted electronically—in practice, for any resumé other than a paper resumé. E-resumés include resumés in plain-text, HTML, and PDF formats, as well as word-processor resumés (Word or RTF) sent electronically (as they usually are, these days).
“E-resumé” may have some use as a general concept because it reminds you that making the best use of electronic resumés requires meeting a much wider range of technical requirements than paper resumés have to meet. But outside of that, it’s misleading, because the different types of e-resumés have little or nothing in common beyond the fact that they’re electronic rather than paper. They are based on different and unrelated technologies, and have different purposes. So they have very different technical requirements and must be used in different ways. Thus, learning about them means learning about each one separately. For more information about them, see the entries for each in this Resumé Encyclopedia.
FEDERAL RESUMÉS, STATEMENTS, ETC.
Crystal Resumés does not currently provide Federal resumé services.
Federal job applications require resumés of a different style than is used for other job searches. They typically run from three to five pages, but can run longer. Federal resumés must provide information that private-sector resumés don’t, and must give a fuller account of your experience. They also have to be formatted to fit the various online job applications used by different federal agencies—USAJOBS, Resumix, Avue, QuickHire. (A single, generic federal resumé can be made that is adaptable to the different systems with some tweaking.)
Federal job applications also require special narrative statements—KSAs, ECQs, MTQs, etc.—that give extensive concrete illustrations of your experience. These statements range from a half a page to one-and-a-half pages each, depending on the situation.
ECQ: Executive Core Qualifications, the five standard attributes required for all Senior Executive Service (SES) positions: 1) Leading Change, 2) Leading People, 3) Results Driven, 4) Business Acumen, 5) Building Coalitions/Communications. In addition to evidence of field-specific qualifications, SES applicants must provide five narrative statements giving concrete examples of their attainments in each of these areas.
ECQ statements are typically each a page to a page and a half long. They should be tailored for each application, to focus on the precise match between your abilities and those required for the position. Job announcements will sometimes specify particular issues to be addressed in the ECQs.
KSA: KSA stands for “Knowledges, Skills, and Abilities.” Different KSA statements are required for different jobs, reflecting the particular key skills required for each job. They must give concrete evidence of your possession and successful use of the knowledge/skill/ability.
KSAs are typically from half a page to one page long (maximum 3000 characters, about 600 words). You will normally be asked to submit several of them, occasionally as many as twelve. (If you need more than a few, they’ll usually be on the shorter side.)
MPQ: Mandatory Professional Qualifications. Similar to MTQs, below.
MTQ: Mandatory Technical Qualifications. These are narrative statements similar to KSAs, but they may run longer, up to two pages. Different MTQs will be required for different jobs, reflecting the particular technical skills required for each job. The announcement will give details on what is required.
PTQ: Professional (and) Technical Qualifications. Similar to MTQs. Different PTQ statements will be required for different jobs, reflecting the particular professional qualifications and technical skills required for each job.
TQ: Technical Qualifications. Similar to MTQs.
FEDERAL ONLINE APPLICATIONS SYSTEM
USAJOBS: USAJobs is the official employment website of the federal government (https://www.usajobs.gov/), operated by OPM. (Originally, at least, it was managed by Monster for the OPM.) It represents an attempt, still incomplete, to standardize and centralize the federal recruitment and hiring process. But some agencies may still list their jobs on their own sites, and not on USAJobs.gov.
The USAJobs resumé format and resumé builder is designed to be a standard federal resumé format in that it contains all the information required for job applications to all federal agencies. Individual agencies may vary in terms of how much of that information they require, and how they want it presented.
OTHER FEDERAL TERMS
OPM: Office of Personnel Management.
SES: Senior Executive Service.
A synonym for “thank-you letter.”
The words “format” and “formatting” have several well-established conventional meanings in the graphic communications industries—all related, but referring to different things. This doesn’t cause confusion among communications professionals, but some clarification can be helpful when communications professionals talk to their customers. The best approach is to explain the nuances, and point out that the nuances aren’t profoundly important—you could just about take “format” in all cases as a vague general term meaning “form” or “structure.”
What is important is that you remember that “format” and “formatting” may refer to any of three different categories, and that those categories don’t overlap:
1) Document formats (or file formats)—referring to the electronic format—not the visual format—of a document that exists as a computer file. The document format is the set of coding conventions that make documents of each type perform the way they’re supposed to when handled by software designed to work with them. Computers distinguish the formats of electronic documents by the three-letter (sometimes four-letter) extensions to the right of the dot in the filename, and those extensions are often used as the names of the formats. This category includes Word (.docx, .doc, or .docm), plain text (.txt), PDF (.pdf), RTF (.rtf), HTML (.html or .htm), etc. (There are articles here on most of these.)
2) The visible details of the graphic formatting of the text in a document: boldface, italic, spacing, indents, etc. (This is sometimes spoken of as “the formatting of the document.”) As a verb, formatting means applying those features to a given document: “I’ll format your resumé,” and so on.
3) The overall physical format—the outside edges—of a document or image, that is, the size and orientation of the visual space: letter-size, legal-size, portrait (vertical), landscape (horizontal), A4, etc.
“Hosting” (as in “Web hosting”) usually refers to the service of providing space on a Web server for Web sites. (A Web site can consist of a single Web page or many.) Web servers (and the companies that operate them) have all the technology and connections needed to allow the hosted sites to be accessed directly, by anyone who has the site’s URL (Web address) and an Internet connection. All Web sites have such a host.
In the context of Web use, “posting” usually refers to putting information on an existing Web site. That information appears within the Web site. In Web sites that allow free posting, viewing posted information usually involves looking at a lot of advertising, or jumping through a lot of hoops designed to get the viewer to do something that makes money for the host. The person posting the information usually has little or no control over how it is displayed.
Posting a resumé on a job site often means just pasting your plain-text resumé into a form. The information is then added to the site’s database. Employers will find it only when searching for resumés of people with certain qualifications—which means they’ll be looking at other people’s resumés as well as your own. You’ll have no control over how your resumé looks.
Keep in mind that only a tiny fraction of jobs are filled through third-party job sites like Indeed.com, or Careerbuilder.com, or LinkedIn. Keep in mind also that sometimes there is information that you will want to put on a resume that you hand to selected potential employers, but that shouldn’t go on the public Web.
For much more about on-line job sites, see the On-line Job Sites article in the Tips & Myths section.
KEYWORDS & SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Keywords are common terms for job titles, skills, key technology, sub-specialties, types of experience, key industry players, and other factors that indicate the experience and ability needed for a particular job. A large and growing number of employers and recruiters use applicant-tracking systems (ATS) that process digital resumés and search them for keywords that are used as indicators of an applicant’s suitability for a given job. The documents are scored on the basis of the keyword count. Decisions about who gets called in for an interview are made on the basis of those scores.
NOTE: Many employers deliberately write job postings without the keywords they are looking for. This is to prevent people from copying keywords from the postings. This is one reason (but not the only one) why job postings often look so fluffy and unreal. Resumé writers and job-seekers who use this fluff in resumés, in the belief that these are keywords, are barking up the wrong tree.
Real keywords are also important for human reading, especially when, as is often the case, the person is making a quick scan of the resumé to decide if it’s worth a closer look.
Keywords are important, but they’re heavily over-hyped. See the SEO/Keywords article in the Tips & Myths section.
A networking resumé is a one-page condensation of your resumé. Networking resumés are typically used in non-hiring situations, when you want to give someone an outline of your experience and capabilities without making them sort through detail that is relevant only to hiring situations. (NOTE: A headhunter who will not read your full resumé is not a serious headhunter.)
PDF (PORTABLE DOCUMENT FORMAT)
Documents produced by many common software programs run into problems when they’re transmitted by e-mail or over the Internet. And any associated files (fonts and images used in a document) have to be transmitted separately along with the document if it is to print or display properly. (Word files are usually okay—as long as they use only the very few standard fonts that are found on most computers. But even most of these are not as universal as most people think. For more about this, see “Fonts for Word Resumés”, below.)
PDF technology provides a way around those problems. Documents produced by common word-processing and graphics software programs (including Word, InDesign, and others) can be exported as PDF files. A PDF file “encapsulates” all the elements of the file (fonts, images, etc.) in a single file that is immune to the changes that can happen when files move from one digital environment to another. (Even when you’re e-mailing a file from one Windows machine to another, it’s likely to go by way of a Unix server, which is a different environment.)
A PDF is a sort of high-quality snapshot of the original file. PDF is, in an important sense, the most stable document format: almost anyone can print out a PDF, even if they don’t have a word processor, and it will always look exactly the same no matter what fonts, software, or operating system are used by the person you send it to. PDFs can be read on Windows, Mac, Linux, several other Unix flavors, and on some handheld devices. PDF has become the standard method of transmitting graphics files (magazine ads, for instance—or whole magazines) from the people who produce the digital files to the people who will print them.
PDFs fall short of the original application files (“native files”) in one major respect—because they’re encapsulated, they can’t be modified. If you need a PDF of a revised document, you must edit the original file (in Word or some other program), and then convert it to PDF. (Strictly speaking, PDFs can be modified to a very limited extent, if you have the right software and know what you’re doing. But that limited extent doesn’t include making any useful changes in text.)
The impossibility of modifying PDFs is a very serious limitation for resumé use. Recruiters and HR departments often need to reformat resumés they receive, and they’re not set up to do this with PDFs. Another serious limitation is that PDFs can’t be used with most applicant-tracking systems (ATSs) used by employers to process resumés. For this reason, plain-text or Word resumés are usually preferred by HR people and recruiters. PDF resumés are most likely to be appreciated by other decision-makers in the hiring chain, who don’t have to do anything with the resumés except look at them and print them out, and who will appreciate the convenience and stability of the PDF format. In some fields, such as IT, engineering, and graphic communications, PDFs are commonly used whenever HR and recruiters aren’t in the loop. But unless you’re sure, don’t send someone a PDF unless they specifically say that they prefer a PDF to other formats. (Just because PDF appears in a list of acceptable formats doesn’t mean that it won’t cause problems. The people who make up those lists aren’t always well informed about software-level problems.)
There are two kinds of PDFs, and the difference can cause serious problems in business correspondence. Most people don’t seem to know the difference, and in fact there are no generally used names for them that I know of. I call them “native PDFs” and “scanned PDFs.”
“Native PDFs” are what you get when you create a document in, say, Microsoft Word, and then save it as a PDF. (In recent versions of Word, you do this by selecting “Save As” and then selecting “PDF” as the format.) When you send a native PDF to someone else, they can select text in the PDF, and then copy it to another application. Sometimes it is important to be able to do this. (However, as I’ve noted above, resumé-processing software used by HR departments usually can’t process PDFs.)
“Scanned PDFs” are what you get when you take a piece of paper with print on it, and then put it through a scanner to be made into a PDF. The resulting file contains no text—just a picture of text. You can’t select the text and copy it. There is no useful way to extract the text from it. There are ways to optically scan the text (OCR scanning), but they are usually so inaccurate—especially with poor-quality scans—that it is often easier and faster to retype the text from scratch than it is to clean up an OCR scan made using desktop scanning devices. I speak from extensive experience.
Making a PDF from a Word document:
IMPORTANT: NEVER convert your resumé to a PDF by scanning it. Scanned PDFs cannot be processed in the ways employers need.
In Word 2011 and later versions (Mac or Windows):
• With the document open, click on the File menu in the top menu bar.
• In the resulting drop-down menu, bring the cursor over the “Save As” choice, and release the mouse button. A Save window will be displayed.
• In the top part of the Save window, choose the location in which you want to save the file.
• Click on the Formats drop-down menu about midway down in the Save window. Chose PDF as the format. A copy of the Word file will be saved in PDF format in the chosen location.
In Word 2007:
• With the document open, click the “Office Button” (with the funny colored logo) at the extreme top left of the window. A menu of choices will be displayed.
• Bring the cursor over the “Save As” choice. A further menu is displayed.
• From that menu, click on “PDF of XPS.”
• In the resulting window, choose “PDF” for the “save as type” choice. (The window will be entitled “Publish as PDF or XPS.”)
• At the top of the window, using the “Save In” option, choose the location to which you want the PDF file saved.
• In the “Optimize For” choices below, select “Standard”.
• Click the “Options” button toward the bottom right of the window. A further window will be displayed.
• In the Options window, at the bottom, be sure that there is a check in the box by “ISO 19005 compliant (PDF/A)” (If not, click in the box to check it.)
• Click “OK” in the “Options” window to close it.
• Click “Publish” in the “Publish as PDF or XPS” window.
Versions earlier than Word 2007: The process may be trickier and less reliable, due to font embedding issues.
Reading PDFs: To read PDFs, you need Adobe Reader, or one of the default applications that open PDFs on recent operating systems. (Preview, on Mac, and Edge on Windows.)
If you don’t already have Reader, it’s available as a free download from Adobe. Versions of Adobe Reader are available for a number of platforms in addition to Windows and Mac, including Linux and various other Unix flavors, and mobile OSs. If you have Adobe Acrobat, you probably already know that that can open PDFs too. (“Adobe” and “Adobe Reader” are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated in the United States and/or other countries.)
Plain text (also known in the U.S. as ASCII, pronounced “askey”) is, along with Word, the most widely-used and versatile resumé format. Plain-text resumés are far better than Word versions for copying into online forms. They can also be copied into the body of an e-mail. (Usually when you e-mail a resumé, you will be attaching the Word version of your resumé to the e-mail. Copying plain text into the e-mail is something different.)
The versatility of plain text has its price: plain-text is plain text, with no visual formatting like boldface, italic, different type sizes, fonts, etc. Resumés with such visual formatting are easier to read and more appealing than plain-text resumés. So resumés with visual formatting (normally produced with Word) are also standard job-hunting tools, either instead of, or in addition to, plain-text resumés. Word resumés are often requested by recruiters and HR departments; in a few industries, others in the hiring chain may prefer PDF resumés.
In plain-text documents, only a limited range of text characters can be used: the ASCII character set that is recognized by most computers and computer software in the U.S. Because they use only the ASCII character set, plain-text documents read the same everywhere: there is no character substitution. Many commonly-used characters are not part of the ASCII character set, and cannot be used in plain-text documents. These include: accented letters, long dashes (en or em dashes), curly quotes, and bullets.
NOTE: Not every document with no formatting is a plain-text document. This is a question of what is called “encoding”. ASCII is one encoding, but there are others. A plain-text document used in the U.S. must contain only ASCII characters. Some software can handle non-ASCII characters, but many programs cannot—ASCII is the lowest common denominator. The occasional bits of garbage you see in text on the Web or in e-mails are caused by character substitution for unrecognized non-ASCII characters. You don’t want this to happen to your resumé.
Strictly speaking, ASCII is only one variety of plain text. But ASCII is the U.S. standard, so in the U.S., “ASCII” and “plain text” are synonymous, though “ASCII” is falling out of use, except perhaps in IT environments.
POSTING a resumé—see Hosting/Posting
RESUMÉ—AND HOW TO SPELL IT
For the distinction between a resumé and a curriculum vitae, see Curriculum Vitae.
Spelling (accents), pronunciation
All factors considered, I think “resumé” (one accent), though it has no historical basis, is the best spelling for the word used as an English word to refer to a summary of someone’s qualifications for employment. This spelling has in fact become more widely accepted over the last twenty or thirty years. The spelling with two accents is awkward in English because, in the English pronunciation, the first “é” stands for a different sound than does the second. The accent over the final -e is still desirable to indicate pronunciation and distinguish “resumé” from the verb “resume.”
This is not a question the average job-seeker needs to sweat over. “Resumé” and “résumé” are always acceptable. “Resume” is very widely accepted too, though it should be avoided in fields where language skills are valued.
But there’s one important exception to this: At least in the U.S., accented characters should never be used in plain-text documents, including e-mails and Web forms. Since accented characters are not part of the ASCII character set that is standard in the U.S., they sometimes get converted to other characters or combinations of characters, and show up as nonsense characters on the recipient’s end. (See Plain Text, above.) In these documents, “resume,” without accents, is the only possibility.
You don’t have to sweat over this, but, as a professional writer, I have to make a considered decision about which spelling to use, and want to choose the best if one is even a little better than the others. When you start looking closely at the question of how to spell the name of that vital piece of paper, you’ll find that it is uniquely complicated. I’ve written down my reasons for preferring “resumé.” The result is too long for this Resumé Encyclopedia, but if you’re curious, click here.
RTF (RICH TEXT FORMAT)
Word documents created with versions older than Word 2007 were notorious virus carriers, and some employers once requested resumés to be sent in RTF format, rather than Word. That’s not likely to be an issue now, but we will still provide RTF versions of your resumé without charge if you request it. If you’re e-mailing an RTF resumé, it should be sent as an attachment, like a Word document.
Rich Text Format is a standard format, not tied to any one piece of software, for encoding formatted text: text that uses various specific fonts, boldface and italic, underlining, fine spacing adjustments, non-ASCII characters, etc. (Compare plain-text, above.)
OCR scanning (commonly referred to as just plain “scanning”) is a technology used for converting printed words (or digital pictures of words) into digital text that can be processed like any other text fed into a computer: it’s the automated equivalent of typing the text into the computer. Scannable paper resumés, back when they were used, had to be specially formatted so that they could be scanned as accurately as possible. Until a few years after the turn of the century, many employers used this format as a means of processing the paper resumés they received. Once they were scanned, the digital text was stored in a database. When looking for resumés that fit an open position, these employers searched the resumé database for keywords appropriate to that position.
Resumé databases are still used. But today, employers usually get resumés by e-mail or through a Web form. That means they come in electronic formats—Word or plain text—that can be put directly into a database without OCR scanning. (HTML and PDF resumés can also be used in a database, but this is much less common in resumé processing.) Paper resumés are once again read only by people. Scannable paper resumés are now obsolete.
There used to be a lot of hype and confusion about scannable resumés, and many resumé-writing services continued the hype long after scannable resumés became obsolete. Now, the hype about “SEO resumés” (or “searchable resumés”) sounds very much like the old scannable-resumé hype. It’s all balled up together with keyword hype and LinkedIn hype.
For a discussion of today’s hype and confusion about keywords and SEO resumés, see SEO, Keywords, Search-Engine Optimization: Hype & Misconceptions, on the Resumé Myths page.
Back in the days of scannable-resumé hype and confusion, the term “scannable-resumé” could also mean:
1) A plain-text resumé.
2) Any resumé that is written to include keywords. (But, then as now, all resumés should be written to include keywords.)
VITAE (or VITA)—see Curriculum Vitae
WORD RESUMÉ (that is, Microsoft Word)
Microsoft Word is the standard word processor in the business world, and the most widely-used word processor for home use. But technical issues send a surprising number of Word resumés to the trash before anyone at the employer’s end even sees them. Even most resumé professionals (including “certified” ones) produce documents that are not fully compatible with resumé-processing technology, and often disastrously incompatible.
Recruiters and HR departments typically prefer Word resumés. Recruiters often need to re-format the resumés they receive, and are better able to do this with word-processor files. HR departments, especially at larger companies, often use “applicant-tracking systems” (ATSs) to process resumes, and word-processor resumés work better for this than PDFs. Plain-text documents are even easier to process for some purposes, including ATSs, but word-processors produce documents that are much more readable by humans than plain-text documents. When humans read dozens or hundreds of resumés, readability counts.
Fonts for Resumés
Only a very small number of fonts are both typographically suitable for resumés and present on all computers. Fonts don’t get transmitted along with Word documents (or most other documents that use them). If the person receiving your resumé doesn’t have the fonts you used to compose it, another font will be substituted. Lines will rerun, page breaks will change, and the appearance and readability of your resumé will be seriously degraded.
To be typographically suitable for resumés, a face must be well-designed, readable and legible at smaller sizes on desktop printed output, reasonably (often maximally) space-efficient, and pretty conventional looking. Most of the fonts that are more or less universally available on computers don’t meet these criteria.
Many resumé writers (and most graphic designers) are not aware of issues of font suitability and availability. (Often, they learn about these subjects from “authorities” who are not well-informed.) It’s not unusual to see resumé services—including some expensive and highly certified ones—using fonts that aren’t universally available. Their resumés may come out looking very bad on the employer’s side.
Among serif fonts (serifs are the little extensions on the ends of most strokes), for a long time, the only universally available font that was suitable for resumés was Times. In recent years, Georgia has become widely enough available to be considered safe. It is a good, readable face for resumés, but is less space-efficient than Times: it requires up to about 15% more room for the same wordage (unless it is set so tightly that it looks bad).
Sans-serif faces (no serifs) are usable for resumés, but are somewhat inferior in readability and legibility to serif faces for text, and especially for smaller-sized, number-intensive text like resumés. (In many sans-serif faces, the characters I, l, i, and 1 aren’t sufficiently distinguishable, especially on screen, and can cause hitches or mistakes in rapid reading—which is the kind of reading resumés get.) For this reason, they are little used by professional resumé services. Arial, an inferior imitation of Helvetica, was for a long time the only one universally available. (Helvetica itself is common only on Macs.)
A fairly common example of an inappropriate resumé font is “Garamond.” In one form or another, it’s widely available on computers, and is likely to be labeled just “Garamond.” But they’re not all the same. The classic Garamonds are highly esteemed text faces for printed books (and one of my favorites). However, they don’t look as good on desktop printer output or on screen, especially at smaller sizes, since they have fine details that require high resolutions—typically 1200 dpi—to render properly. They were designed for printing presses, where resolution is not an issue. In addition, the “Garamond” many people find on their computers is ITC Garamond, which is not really a Garamond at all, is not space-efficient (it was designed for advertising, not books or periodicals), and still requires high resolution for good rendering.
Font Report: Trebuchet
Today, a sans-serif font called Trebuchet is also found on nearly all Mac and Windows computers. It would be a good sans-serif alternative to Arial—except that it has a few unfortunately designed characters (particularly the ampersand and the en and em dashes) that make it unsuitable for resumés and most other text. Some might take exception to the lower-case ‘g’ as well, though I think it’s okay for screen use. In any case, a serif font is still preferable. You’re probably reading Trebuchet right now, since I’m using it, on an experimental basis, as the default font for this website. But I’ve gone to some trouble to substitute characters from other fonts for the problem characters in Trebuchet—such as the Verdana ampersand (&) for the Trebuchet one (&—if you’re seeing Trebuchet, it will look decidedly odd). Don’t try this yourself. (If you’re a graphic designer and think you can do it because you think you know all about type, go ahead. You’ll deserve what you get.) As a Latinist, I know perfectly well where the Trebuchet & came from, but as a typographer I know better than to use it anywhere but in a medieval-looking text.
Other Technical Issues with Word Resumés
Of the resumé formats commonly used, Word produces the best-looking and most readable resumés. But the technologies widely used for automated resumé processing, and the fact that a resumé must be distributed widely to people who use different computer systems and different versions of Word, place rather narrow limits on what can be done in the way of making a Word resumé visually appealing.
Employers and recruiters often complain about Word features used in resumés that turn the text into garbage if it is viewed or handled with software other than Word—including the software in the automated “applicant tracking systems” that have become very widely used by employers and employment agencies.
The most common of these problems is Word tables, yet very many resumé professionals (including “certified” ones) use them proudly. Opened outside of Word, the information put in the tables will be scrambled and unreadable. If you see two or more columns of text in a resumé, it was probably done with tables or tabs—or with spaces, in which case the columns will look sloppy. Tabs are better than tables, but they’re still not good for making columns in a resumé. There’s no good way to make columns in a Word or plain-text resumé.
Some people even use tables for the entire resumé, instead of indents, to get more control over layout than Word’s automatic indents allow. That will cause the entire resumé to get scrambled. (There are, however, safe ways to get fine control over indents.)
Tints and colors are another frequent problem, and a favorite with some resumé services. Tinted or colored areas either waste space between text, or if text is superimposed on them, the text may be difficult or impossible to read when actually printed out in black and white. (Employers don’t print resumés in color.)
Even Word’s automatic bulleted lists are a minor problem. Outside of Word, they show up as meaningless characters (like Σ). Virtually everyone uses them, but there are safer ways to do this job, that also look a lot better.
Another occasional issue is the special characters that Word, by default, substitutes for certain text you type. For instance, unless you tell Word not to, by changing the application preferences, when you type 1st you get the ‘st’ superscripted, and when you type 1/2 you get ½. Sometimes this can be handy, but when the document is opened outside of Word, as resumés often are, these characters show up as garbage code.
.docx, .doc., .docm, .dotx formats—and macro viruses
.docx, .doc., .docm, .dotx, and .dot are the various electronic formats (“file formats”) in which Word documents can be created. The names correspond to the extension in the filename—the part to the right of the dot. (If you can’t see the extension, there should be a setting in your operating system that can be changed to let you.)
.docx: The format your resumé should be in. The usual format for Word documents since Word 2007 (2008 for Mac).
.doc: The usual format for Word documents before Word 2007/2008. These .doc files were notorious carriers of macro viruses. Some employers wouldn’t accept .doc resumes for that reason, and asked for RTFs instead.
Macro viruses are still a problem. They began making a comeback around 2014. Macro viruses affect Macs as well as PCs. If you get a strange document that generates a message saying you must enable macros to open the document, don’t. It probably contains a macro virus. Microsoft Office users should keep macros disabled on all software that uses them. If you’re one of the exceptions, you already knew about macros.
.docm: Introduced in 2007/2008, this designates a Word document that has macros enabled. That means that it can carry macro viruses, and will not be welcomed by employers. It also means that macros are available for specialized uses, which normal Word users don’t need: see the historical background below.
.dotx: The extension for Word templates, since 2007/2008.
.dot: The extension for Word templates before 2007/2008.
The rest is mainly for people who need to know a bit more about macros and macro viruses, and for the historically curious.
Word has gone through many different versions in the years of its ubiquity, and many old versions are still in use by someone somewhere. Documents created with Word 2007 or later are identified by the .docx extension; special types have a .docm or .dotx extension. (See above.) Files created by earlier versions of Word are identified by the .doc extension. Word versions are typically named with the year they were issued (e.g., Word 97, Word 2000, Word 2007). The Mac versions are typically released the year after the corresponding Windows version, and their names reflect this: for instance, Word 2008 is the Mac version of Windows Word 2007.
Word 2007/2008 marked a major change in Word. From Word 97 through Word 2003, all versions of Word used the same basic file format. This means that documents created by one of these versions could generally be opened by any of the others. In Word 2007, the tool set remained much the same (except for macros, discussed below), but the interface was reorganized, and the file format and technical underpinnings are fundamentally different. (Microsoft, with its Ribbon, botched the interface badly, and has backtracked, pouting, in later versions.) Word 2007 and later versions can open documents created by pre-2007 version. But documents saved in the standard native Word 2007+ format cannot be opened by earlier versions. (Standard Word 2007+ documents have the .docx extension.) It is possible to save a Word 2007+ file as a .doc file if you want.
Perhaps the most important change that came in with Word 2007 was the disabling of macros in Word’s standard tool set. This change had one huge advantage for everyone, and one huge disadvantage for an important but very small group of Word users. A Word document in which the macro capabilities have been disabled cannot carry the macro viruses that made Word infamous as an electronic disease carrier. Macros, however, are an extremely powerful tool, which is of critical importance for some Word users, especially in the business world. Microsoft has therefore included in Word 2007+ the option of enabling macros in a given document. Word 2007+ documents with macros enabled are saved with the .docm extension. These documents, like .doc files, can still carry macro viruses.
There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.… Besides, we may chance to hit upon some other obvious facts which may have been by no means obvious to Mr. Lestrade.
— Sherlock Holmes, “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”
The trouble with facts is that there are so many of them.
— Samuel McChord Crothers, 1857 — 1927.
Unitarian minister, nationally known and highly esteemed as a writer and lecturer; compared with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.