This week on Digital Life I did a segment about Digital Job Hunting. I was surprised by the amount of viewer mail asking for a printed version. Here it is.

In today’s super-competitive job market, having a well formatted, easy to read resume is an absolute requirement. Most HR experts agree that you also need a concise, on-point cover letter to give you the best chance for success.

Before your life became digital, you would go to the stationary store and buy very good paper so that your resume and cover letter would look great. Then, you would transport them in a large envelope so that you would not have to fold them. You should still do all of this for an in-person meeting, but if you are applying for a position via email, here’s how to get the best results:

Since you’re using email to apply, put the entire contents of your cover letter in the body of the email. Make sure you use a plain text email, do not use any fancy formatting or HTML code or include any pictures or logos of any kind. This will ensure that the person who gets the email will see it exactly as you wrote it and they will be able to read it using any email software on any computer. Make sure that you include a text only email signature with your complete contact information. By text only I mean ASCII text, plain text or rtf (rich text format) — do not use an HTML email as a cover letter. Only plain text emails format adaptively format with reasonably predictable results on every email client. Don’t use tabs, don’t use bullets, and don’t use any formatting of any kind in your email cover letter. Just type it like an email and use the key between paragraphs. This way, what you send is what they will see.

What you send is what they see, is really important for your resume too. Formatting a resume takes time and you want to make sure that when someone reads it, it looks exactly like you expected it to.

In order to make sure what you send, is what they see, you can’t send a word processing document, you must send a .pdf file. (.pdf is an abbreviation for Adobe’s Portable Document File format). Here’s why … A word processing document made on your computer will almost always look different on someone else’s computer, especially if you’ve used unusual fonts or done any distinctive formatting. Can you imagine spending all the time you spent to get your resume to look perfect, and then sending something that flowed over page breaks or had bullet points that didn’t line up? Sending word processing documents for presentation is very risky business. Whether it’s your resume, a report or a proposal, if you’re presenting a finished product, sending a Word document is a very bad idea.

Here’s what you do instead. Open your resume in your word-processing program and print it to a .pdf file. Unlike a .doc file, every .pdf file looks exactly the same no matter who opens it. Problem solved.

How do you do it? If you are on a Mac, the “save to .pdf” is included in every print dialog box. If you have a current version of office, you can save as a .pdf. On older machines with older versions of office, you may need to use a third party .pdf program like Adobe Acrobat. If you don’t want to spend the money on Acrobat, there are literally dozens of free .pdf utility programs available online.

One viewer wrote in that they had their resume done by a professional resume company and that they only had a paper version of the document. On the off chance that you are in the same boat, scan the document at a resolution of 300 dpi and save (or print) it to a .pdf file.

Now, just attach the .pdf file to the email cover letter and send it with confidence. Your cover letter and resume are going to look perfect no matter how the files are viewed or printed.

Making your online presence and your online presentations match your offline presence and your offline presentations is an important skill set in the 21st century. If you want more information about digital literacy or digital job hunting please visit Shelly Palmer


About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit


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