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Formatting Résumés, Addressing Cover Letters

  • Article by: Kevin Donlin
  • Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • June 3, 2008 - 1:49 PM

During my keynote presentations I have been asked a number of good questions about résumés and cover letters.



Here are three of those questions -- and my answers -- that should apply to almost any job search, including yours!




Question: What's the best word processing format to save my résumé in, so anyone can read it?


Answer: Save it as an RTF file.

Most of the planet uses Microsoft Word for word processing software, so if you save your résumé as a Word file before emailing it to employers, it should get read with no problem. Should ... but not always.

Just to be safe, save your résumé file as an RTF file, which stands for "rich text format." Every word processing program can open an RTF file, even if the recipient of your résumé is using WordPerfect, for example.

To save your résumé as an RTF file, from the File menu choose Save As and then select Rich Text Format. Finally, attach your new document to an email and send it to yourself and two friends to make sure you did it right -- never assume anything when it comes to your résumé.

Question: How do I address my cover letter if I don't know the recipient's name?

Answer: Try "Dear Employer," or "Dear Hiring Manager." Whatever you do, don't begin with, "To whom it may concern" (better suited for a message in a bottle) or "Dear Sir or Madam" (better suited for the 1950s).

Best advice: call the employer and get a name. Say, "I'm writing a letter to the head of sales/IT/customer service/whatever -- could I have the correct spelling of that person's name please?" When you phrase your question this way, the receptionist will drop their guard and give you the name. Try it.

I know, I know, this sounds like work. It is. Yet nobody takes the extra 2 minutes to do this, which means your cover letter will stand out from everybody else's. That's what you want, right?

The two favorite words of any person on earth are: MY NAME. If you use the recipient's name in you cover letter, you'll quickly establish rapport and be ahead of the game.

Question: How can I create an ASCII (plain text) version of my résumé?

Answer: You see a lot of want ads and job postings that ask for an ASCII résumé. ASCII stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange. A résumé in ASCII won't have bold, italics, underlining, etc., so it can be read by any computer -- even without word processing software.

To create an ASCII version of your résumé, do the following:


  • open your original résumé in your word processing program;
  • from the File menu choose Save As and then Plain Text;
  • close the document.


Congratulations. You've just created an ASCII résumé.

For best results, make sure include plenty of keywords, which describe your skills, job titles, education and experience.

Employers search résumé databases using keywords to find candidates. If your ASCII résumé has the right keywords, it can jump to the top of the pile. If not, it won't.

Ready? Open your ASCII résumé using Notepad or a similar text editor -- do NOT use your word processing program, which could mess up the plain text format.

Now, add a section of keywords. Think like an employer. What search terms would they use to find someone like you?

Example: if you're a sales manager, your keyword section might look like this:

sales manager, sales management, sales trainer, team building, consultative sales, consultative selling, Director of Sales, BA: Marketing, Bachelor of Arts in marketing, sales/marketing, sales and marketing

... the list could go on. Put your keyword section near the top of the résumé, which may cause some databases to give those keywords more relevance (the jury is still out on this, though).

There's no limit to the number of keywords you can use, so long as they accurately describe you and your skills.

Best of luck to you!


Kevin Donlin owns Minnesota based Guaranteed Résumé and writes a biweekly column providing job search and résumé writing advice. Reach him at the Guaranteed Résumé Web site:

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