Word vs PDF: Choose the Right Resume Format

All the work is done, you have finished your resume and it is finally time to click on the « Save As » button. In the digital world, where most of the recruiters will look at your application from their screens, choosing the resume format is crucial. If you want to know what the best resume file format is, read our professional tips and learn more about the formats you should use for your job-search needs.

How do I know what type of format is the recruiter looking for?

Sometimes, the answer might be in the job posting itself. If the recruiter has specified the resume format in the job posting, then there is only one answer – go with the format specified. Make sure you go through the job ad again to you make sure you haven’t missed this precision. The fact that you don’t omit this request will let the recruiter know that you have carefully read the ad. Usually, if the recruiter/company says something about the format that they need, it means there is a good reason for that –for instance, Applicant Tracking System software that works with a specific format only.

Take an extra minute to go through the company’s website and other job postings to see whether the resume format request has been included anywhere. This small yet important detail can make a huge difference in your application. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the recruiter or to the company – your extra curiosity will only prove that you care about the job.

If the answer isn’t there or you cannot ask the company, don’t worry. We will help you out with the several criteria to take into account before picking the right format.

What are the different formats of resume?

Microsoft Word is currently the most popular resume format. It is the easiest one to use, there are plenty of Word resume templates online and it is the safest bet for the Applicant Tracking System software – more on that later.

The PDF format is the second favorite among job seekers. If you use this format for your resume, you can be sure that the look of your resume will be exactly as you intended it to be, especially if you use a hybrid or a very creative resume layout. In addition, most online builders provide their product in this particular format. It's additional plus is that you can open it directly in your browser, being an easy instrument to upload it to your Linkedin profile and enhance your networking opportunities.

HTML resumes are also quite popular. HTML is a coding language, which makes it possible for the recruiter to view your resume in a separate browser tab instead of saving it as a separate file. You can post it on your website or send it as an email attachment and the layout will stay the same, however, it is not normally appreciated in the HR field.

Plain Text is a safe, however not a very visually appealing option. The pros of a plain text resume are that you can post it in your letter body and the recruiter will get straight to the point as soon as he opens your email. On the other hand, it limits your creativity and the recruiter will have to look for your email if he wants to take a second look at your resume.

If you are applying for a job where you absolutely want to show how creative you are, keep the text layout and create a very graphic resume, you might be tempted to use an image format, such as JPEG, GIF or others. Creative professionals usually prefer these formats. However, the image formats might have a poor resolution and the text is not recognizable by scanners, so it would be better to stick to the PDF format if you absolutely want your CV to look as an image.

You can upload your resume to Google Docs – it is a huge timesaver and you can simply paste it as a link in the body of your email. Given the growth of Google services, this format becomes more and more popular. This format also has its pros and cons, including the fact that it is easily transformable and downloadable, that we will cover later in details.

The battle as old as time: PDF Resume Format vs Word Resume Format

PDF and Microsoft Word remain two most used formats among candidates and both have their pros and cons. Before you export your resume as a PDF or a Word document, there are several things to consider.

Sending your resume in Microsoft Word format

Pros:

  • Word is the format recognized by all the Applicant Tracking Systems.
  • It is clean, simple and it is standard for most businesses.
  • It is easier to open, print and forward for pretty much anybody.

Cons:

  • Word documents leave you less space for creativity.
  • Somebody else can edit your Word document, whether intentionally or not.
  • Word documents a slightly higher virus risk than PDFs.
  • If a recruiter/company opens your CV document with a text editor different from Word, all of your editings can disappear.

Things to remember:

Font choice. Make sure you select a simple font. Sometimes if your font is too sophisticated, it might not be supported by the recruiter’s software. If it is not supported, the recruiter’s Word version will pick up another format, change the layout automatically and your original layout will get ruined.

TIP

Turn off tracked changes and remove all the comments in the file. Double-check you are sending a clean file. There is probably nothing more off-putting for a recruiter than to see the tracked changes.

Sending your resume in PDF format

Pros:

  • Once the resume has been saved, nobody else can modify it.
  • The layout stays exactly the way you designed it and you can use extra creativity to make it stand out.
  • You can create your resume in Word, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc. – the sky is the limit!

Cons:

  • If you need to edit something in your PDF file, you have to have the editable file (Word, .psd or other) saved if you don’t want to redo the whole resume.
  • Some computers may not have the necessary software, such Adobe Acrobat Reader to view a PDF document.

Things to remember:

  • Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) can’t read non text-based PDF documents and they cannot recognize words hidden in images. Make sure your PDF file is text-based. If you convert a Word file into PDF, the entire contents of your resume will be searchable for the ATS.
  • In order to check whether your PDF file is text-based and not saved as an image, try to highlight the text in the resume and then copy and paste it into any text editor. If it works, then your PDF is text-based.
  • Graphic parts of the PDF documents may be an extra barrier for the ATS.
  • If you are sending your CV document to a recruiter first, there is a chance they might want to edit it (for example, remove your contact details) before they send it to the company, which is impossible to do with a PDF file.

Is Google Docs resume format the new black?

Google Docs is available to anybody who has a Gmail account. It is completely free to use and some say it is becoming a preferred alternative to Microsoft Word.

Pros:

  • As long as you have Internet access, you have access to your Google Docs resume. If you suddenly decide to edit your CV, it’s just a click away.
  • In order to send your CV document to somebody, you can simply share it as a link – no attached files and no risk of viruses!
  • If you make your resume “public” in your Google Docs, it becomes discoverable through Google Search, giving you more chances to be found by potential recruiters.
  • It is very easy to create a resume in Google Docs thanks to a huge variety of templates available.
  • You can export your resume in any format.

Cons:

  • If the recruiter wants to take a second look at your resume, he will have to search for the Google Docs link. It’s better not to give the recruiters extra work.
  • Some companies may block access to Google Docs to their employers.
  • If the recruiter chooses to download your resume in Word format, the original formatting may get messed up.
  • Despite Google Docs being very convenient and easy to use, a lot of companies still prefer traditional resume formats.

Other resume formats

If a resume format is less popular, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worse. There are quite a few other formats that can help you create resumes that will stand out if used correctly.

Some professionals in the creative industries go for the image resumes. It can be a design, a graph, a chart or an infographic. These resumes are very visual and will definitely show your design skills. However, ATS can’t pick out keywords from images so if you think your resume has a chance of being scanned, it’s better to stick with a scannable format. If you are applying for a job where your design and creativity are on the top of the requirements and you absolutely want the company to see it, you can always send your non-traditional resume to the company by regular mail. It is good to follow up by a regular traditional resume – better safe than sorry!

HTML resumes are a good way of showing that you are confident with creating web pages. Having an HTML resume is basically like demonstrating you have this extra skill without directly pointing it out in the CV itself. These resumes are accessible from everywhere and easy to share. Clickable links to your project or previous work experiences look way better in the HTML resumes.

Even though HTML resumes are accessible from everywhere, in order to save it, the recruiter has to go through an extra amount of work. Also, just like with PDFs, if you are applying for a job via a recruiter, in case he wants to add some changes to your resume before sending it to a company, he won’t be able to do so with the HTML format.

Some companies also block access to external websites, which can make it impossible to view your resume online as an HTML page. It can also happen if the email program recognizes an extra link in the letter as spam.

Rich Text Format (RTF) resumes are basic files with simple editing features that can be read by any ATS software. It is a very safe and easy version, despite the very limited creative options. RTF files can be opened by any operating system. Just like with the Word resumes, make sure you stick with a simple font in order to avoid the change of layout on another computer.

Breaking the ATS shield with the right resume format

We have mentioned Applicant Tracking System (ATS) before – it is a software that does the first resume scan for all types of companies. Very often it is where your resume might end up in the “No” folder without even making it to the first tour simply because you didn’t use the right wording or the right resume format. 72% of the resumes are never seen by human recruiters for this very reason – they just don’t pass the first scan!

When you apply for a job online, all of your resume information is uploaded into the company’s searchable database. This is where ATS interferes. It scans your information for the right words and keywords, stores, organizes and distributes your resume. While there is a whole lot to learn on how to perfect your wording to pass the ATS scans, it won’t matter if you don’t pick the right format.

The bigger the company, the more chances you have that your CV will pass the ATS test. This is one of the reasons why large companies and recruiting agencies usually prefer the Word format. If you are sending your resume to a company with over 100 employees, go for the Word format without the slightest hesitation.

RTF format is also a safe option when you are almost 99% certain that the resume will be scanned.

If you want to stick with the PDF format, make 100% sure that all the parts of it are scannable. Use a simple readable font. In case some the whole CV or some parts of it are recognized as an image, there will simply be no information for the ATS to scan, hence no keywords to withdraw from your resume. This is how a lot of resumes fail to survive the initial scan.

Try to avoid complicated templates in any of the suggested formats. Sophisticated graphs and images can confuse ATS software.

It’s all in the name – picking the right words to name your resume

When choosing a name for your resume, remember that it has to be simple, easy to find and straight to the point. There are a few simple rules to follow when picking the right words to name your CV.

DO's

  • Make it clear and use your name, the recruiter will know at the first glance whose resume it is.
  • Use capital letters for your name and surname. Using lower case only makes it look as if you were in a rush to save it and didn’t have the time to click on “Shift”. Capital letters make it easier to read.
  • Stay consistent. Make sure the names of your resume, cover letter and any other documents you wish to attach to your job application are of the same format.
  • Use spaces, underscores or hyphens to separate the words in the name of your resume. Make sure the use of signs or spaces is consistent within all the files you send with your application.

DON’T’s

  • Don’t use a generic name. If you name it resume.pdf, the recruiter will have zero chances of knowing whose resume it is and it will end up lost.
  • It is possible that you have a few resume copies and formats saved on your computer or drive. However, don’t make it obvious for the employer – avoid version numbers. The employer has to feel like he is the one and only for you, not like one of your many options. Naming your file “John Doe Resume 7” makes it seem like you have applied for 6 jobs already. You probably have but the employer doesn’t have to know it!

MAYBE:

  • Include the title of the position you are applying for if you feel like it is appropriate.

The best format for the resume

There is no one right format for all the recruiters and companies out there. Taking into account all the possible options, company details and requirements is something that can maximize your chances of getting that phone call. Regardless of which format you decide to pick, make sure you give it a test drive on a couple of different devices to check out how it will look once the recruiter opens it.

You can attach both formats and the potential employer/recruiter will have the possibility to choose which one to save. Make it easy for them!

The best resume format for you is the one that the company is looking for. Keep several options of your resumes available, and just like you would tailor your resume before sending it to the company or the recruiter, do the extra research, and find out what would be the suitable format for each and every resume you send out.

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