Electronic communication has advanced significantly in the last 10 to 15 years, and the job application process has evolved as well. Even though many job applicants still print out resumes on heavyweight paper to bring with them to an interview, more companies now require electronic submissions of resumes and cover letters.
So the question arises: what format do companies prefer job seekers use when submitting credentials? Is a PDF resume the way to go? How does this compare with an MS Word document? And what about the once lauded .txt file format – is that now outdated?
Common resume formats
Many job posting instructions specify a preferred format, typically either Microsoft Word or PDF (Portable Document Format). PDF resumes or Word resumes sent to recruiters or hiring managers via email or uploaded to an application portal are sent as attachments, so the employer can view the document on their computer and print it out if needed.
Other than .doc and .pdf formats, you might also create or deliver a resume in .txt, .html, .png or .jpg formats.
Before delving deeper into two of the most common formats requested by employers, let's look at these other formats and find out what they are and why you might use them (or not).
- Text (.txt) files have very little formatting — just the text and spaces — and are often easier to parse into applicant tracking systems. Some employers also like them because they can be opened by a variety of programs. The downside is that your information may not appear exactly how you intended it, which could make your resume less impactful.
- HTML (.html) files are meant for viewing on the web. You'd only create this type of resume upon direct request from an employer or if you intend to use it in an online portfolio and want it to be a viewable page instead of a download.
- Image files (.png or .jpg) let you send a static document that can't be altered (it's technically a picture of your resume). The benefit is that your information appears exactly how you want it to no matter what device is used to open the file. The disadvantages are that you lose some legibility during the conversion and image files don't tend to be easily parsed by applicant tracking systems. That means your resume may never be seen by the employer or could be garbled and unreadable even if it makes it into the system.
Are PDF resumes the best format?
Opinions differ among career professionals of whether or not using PDF resumes is the best format.
On the one hand, says career coach Alex Durand, "Leaving your resume in any word processing format exposes you to the possibility that someone might inadvertently alter it. You want the interested parties to review the polished, error-free copy."
A PDF format, on the other hand, makes it harder for someone other than the original owner to make changes to the document. Not to mention, these are typically virus-free when downloaded, and helpfully, PDF resumes usually retain formatting. There's no worry about whether or not the person receiving the document has the right fonts or formatting elements ― all that information is retained in the PDF resume file, making the document easy for others to view.
On the other hand, other experts point out that about 64 percent of the time your resume is going to be sent through an applicant tracking system (ATS), a popular tool used by many recruiting agencies and hiring managers that helps them analyze your experience and qualifications against the job description. Parsing details of your resume automatically doesn't always work well with PDF formats.
However, a generally agreed upon rule is: If you're emailing someone your resume directly, send it in PDF format.
Are Word resumes the best format?
Word resumes have the advantage of being easy for ATS tracking systems to parse. These tools work best with Word-formatted documents, as they can scan for specific keywords used in your resume.
Other advantages to Microsoft Word include:
- Most corporations use Microsoft Office as a standard practice, which means someone will be able to open and view your document
- Even if it's not installed on a particular computer for some reason, Google Docs, which is free to anyone, can read Word documents flawlessly
Pay attention to the job posting instructions
Regardless of whether you choose to send your resume as a PDF or MS Word doc, be sure it matches any instructions given in the job posting. Often times, employers will specify which format they prefer, and you should always choose the format they're asking for.
If they don't specify and you're uploading your resume to a web application, choose Microsoft Word as your format. Chances are, the employer uses an ATS tracking system to parse entries uploaded into their system.
On the other hand, if you're emailing a hiring manager directly and no preference was stated in the job posting, send your resume in PDF format. You can always note in the cover email that other formats are available if needed.
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