by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
A resume that looks virtually identical from one computer to the next sounds mighty appealing. It’s comforting to know your fonts, layout, and graphics won’t change when they travel from your computer to an employer’s. But because of advances in technology and the way employers handle resumes, we’ve been standoffish about recommending that job-seekers routinely send PDF resumes. At one time, PDF resumes were difficult, if not impossible, to read and place into keyword-searchable databases using Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software.
Today, PDFs are gaining acceptance among employers, and some hiring decision-makers even prefer them. More than a third (36.1 percent) of employer respondents in the 2010 Orange County Resume Survey said that when receiving resumes electronically, they prefer them as PDF files.
Resume writer Darrell Z. DiZoglio of RighteousResumes.com claims that PDF resumes are no longer a problem for ATS software, and he has talked to HR managers, hiring managers, and directors, as well as the folks who program ATS applications to ensure the PDF resumes don’t cause a problem for these systems.
“The huge mistake that some people make,” DiZoglio says, “is they convert their resume to PDF using a scanner, which creates an image file.” In essence, a scanner is taking a picture of your document, and the employer’s software cannot read a picture or search for keywords within it. Instead, if you convert your resume from Microsoft Word to PDF on your computer, “the entire contents of your document will be searchable,” DiZoglio notes.
Not only will a PDF look the same no matter what computer it’s viewed on or printed from, it can be read on any platform. These days, most commonly used word-processing files don’t suffer the same compatibility problems — such as Mac vs. PC — that came up in the past. But given that some employers still have older systems, PDF files can be a safe bet if you have any doubt about cross-platform compatibility. DiZoglio points out that PDFs are also internationally accepted.
Cross-platform incompatibilities may be less pervasive than in the past, but no consistency exists in the versions of each application that job-seekers and employers use. The .docx file extension has been around for a few years, for example, but some users still don’t have a recent enough version of Word to open a .docx file. In addition to Word, DiZoglio points out, users sometimes contend with incompatibilities among various versions of Corel Word Perfect, MS Works, Smart Office, Open Office, Google Docs, and others. “The PDF is the elegantly simple solution to all the legions of compatibility issues, especially internationally,” DiZoglio says.
Virus protection is also much better than in the past, but Word .docs are still more vulnerable to viruses than are PDFs, which as DiZoglio states, are also not susceptible to worms and mal-ware. “PDFs are a much more safer and trustworthy file to send via email,” says recruiting consultant Otis Collier. “Viruses can often easily hide in the files of other applications.”
OK, so PDFs offer lots of pros — what about cons? Resumes that go to recruiters should generally be in Word rather than PDF. “If we are looking to send an applicant’s CV across to the client, we need to make some changes,” says UK technical recruiter Simon Burns, “mainly removing contact details and adding our company logo/details.”
Kristen Fife, a Seattle-based recruiter and formerly of Microsoft, agrees: “If you are working with an agency that is submitting you to potential employers, use Word,” she says. “It takes a fair amount of effort to convert at PDF to a Word document, and many agencies strip out your contact info and put the content into a template,” notes Fife, who is also a resume consultant in the greater Seattle area, and a columnist for NWJobs, a division of the Seattle Times.
Despite growing acceptance of PDFs, the majority of employers still prefer resumes in Word. The safest approach is always to try to determine a targeted employer’s preference. Check the careers portion of the employer’s Website, and if you don’t find the answer there, ask via e-mail or phone.
And don’t forget that file format is just a small piece of the resume picture. “What matters more, says Lokesh Joshi, director of research and development at Bitstream India Pvt Ltd., “is the content of the resume and how good it gives the idea of the candidate in first shot.” Learn how to write a resume with our useful resume templates and resume examples.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Additional Resources for Jobseekers:
- Guide to Job Interviewing Resources and Tools
- How to Write a Resume: Expert Answers 19 Common Questions
- LiveCareer Free Resume Builder
- 13 Best Resume Designs of 2018
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her Ph.D in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market, as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes. With Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., she also authored Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills. Visit her personal website. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.