I’m trying to hire right now. Which means that I get to read lots of resumes, mediated by various pieces of technology. Which is annoying, among other things because the format in which the resumes are most easily read isn’t necessarily preserved by those mediating technologies.

Specifically, Sun’s internal tools only accept resumes in either text format or variants of Microsoft Word. Lots of people apparently don’t have a resume natively available in one of those formats, which means that their resume gets cut-and-pasted from another format into text, with the result that it looks like crap and is a pain in the butt to read. (In particular, resumes are typically full of bullet points and indentation, and neither of those reliably survives that journey.) I literally spend most of five minutes going through a typical resume changing the formatting so it doesn’t get in the way of my reading the resume; it isn’t a complete waste of time, because I’m doing a first pass at skimming the resume while reformatting it, but it also isn’t much fun.

So: what is a resume writer to do? It’s been ages since I’ve updated my resume (and no, I am not looking for a job: I just think it’s wise to update your resume every year or so, since I can’t reliably remember what I was doing much farther back than that); the last time I applied for jobs, I used a LaTeX file which I converted into PDF. (Which took a surprising amount of care to get looking right, if I remember correctly: some sort of font problem in the conversion.) Which means that hiring managers at Sun probably wouldn’t like me!

So what are good resume formats these days? Based on my experiences, it’s essential to have a good-looking text version: text is easy to e-mail, it’s a fallback that will always be available. You also want a version that’s nicely formatted; presumably PDF is the format of choice there. And you may want to put your resume on your personal web page, so HTML is probably a good third option.

But, of course, you only want one source representation. I used LaTeX for this in the past, and I’m still not convinced it’s a crazy idea: I think there are probably decent tools to go from LaTeX to HTML or text. Having said that, there’s also nothing about LaTeX that makes it uniquely well suited to the task. A resume is a lightly formatted extremely hierarchical document; any sort of markup language that lets you easily express that hierarchy while giving a reasonable amount of control over formatting should do the trick.

In particular, HTML should probably do the trick. You’d want to take a bit of care over the CSS that you use to style it with, but I don’t think resumes put any excessive demands on styling. You’d especially want to take care when converting it to PDF; PrinceXML seems to be getting a fair amount of buzz these days, so I’d be tempted to play around with that, despite its closed-source nature. Though my first line of attack would just be to provide a print-specific version of my CSS file; among other things, that would improve the way it looks to people who are printing out the resume from my web page. Were I to chose to put my resume there; not sure what I feel about that yet.

What’s the best way to convert HTML to text in a way that works well for resumes? I could have fun with XSLT, but that’s probably overkill. Honestly, maybe just loading the web page with Lynx would be good enough; I’d have to try it and see, once I get around to actually updating my resume. If not, there must be hundreds of other options.

One other tip for job applicants: when you attach your resume to something, the original file name of the resume will be available to the person receiving the resume, and it will probably be given as a default option for that person to save the resume under. So realize that, when you name your resume, you aren’t the main client of that name, the hiring managers are. In particular, if you want to give your hiring manager warm fuzzies, don’t call it “resume.pdf” or “David C Alternate Resume.pdf”: call it “DavidCarlton.pdf” or “DavidCarltonResume.pdf”. The details aren’t important—different hiring managers have different conventions about the names they’d use to save resumes under—but make sure that your full name is there and that there isn’t other extraneous garbage in the name. If you need to store metadata like that in your local copy, put it in the directory hierarchy, not in the filename.

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