Software

Resume formatting: Word or PDF?

Toni Bowers outlines some issues with resumes formatted in Microsoft Word and those converted to PDFs.

A lot of people spend time formatting their resumes with eye-catching charts, tables, and graphs. Honestly, this can be a mistake for several reasons. One is that the information in your resume is important, not how it looks. In fact, excessive formatting can actually detract from the message.

Also, if a resume is formatted in one version of Microsoft Word, for example, you can't be sure the person looking at your resume has the same version. Your formatting could be stripped out anyway.

Some people convert their Word files to PDFs to avoid the version incompatibility issue, but even that can cause problems, because many companies and recruiters use applicant tracking systems (ATS). ATSs are keyword-searchable databases that allow companies to store information about candidates that have submitted resumes. A lot of times, PDFs don't convert well into these systems. Instead of searchable text, they convert in to indecipherable images with no discernable text.

This means the chance of your resume being seen has been lost. Newer applicant tracking systems are doing a much better job at reading PDF conversions, but you have no way of knowing if the company you're applying to is using a new version.

Also, recruiters often have to copy and paste information from a resume into a new format that follows their protocol before they forward it to a hiring manager. They can't do this with a PDF if it is a Word doc that has been scanned. (Copying and pasting is possible if the Word file is saved as a PDF.)

I'd suggest using Rich Text Format for your resume, and be sure you use lots of specific keywords so that ATSs or the eyes of a harried HR recruiter can catch them easily.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

134 comments
JJFitz
JJFitz

Convert the Word resume to PDF and don't lock it down. That way it is portable and fully searchable and the reader can copy all the text he/she wants. If all you have is a hard copy, get off your duff. Scan it, OCR it and fix the formatting or simply retype it. Your'e looking for a job. Don't be so lazy. I wouldn't hire you if you gave me an image of a document. You should always have an up to date [u]electronic[/u] copy of your resume handy.

bhuvana.v
bhuvana.v

Hopefully RTF helps avoid the formatting issues of MS Word versions. Is Microsoft listening to avoid version issues?

security101
security101

What if companies stopped making it so d@#$ difficult for good, decent employees to get hired? If companies want the best employees, they will go back to hand scrutinizing resumes instead of leaving it up to machines to do so. Every applicant in the world has caught on to the "keyword" trick. If you depend on that, you'll be missing some very good opportunities to hire more qualified applicants. Stop this lazy practice of letting HR personnel and machines dictate who gets an interview and who doesn't - your businesses are not being served well by this practice and, ultimately, your customers are the ones paying the price.

snjost
snjost

What's a resume? Tisk! Tisk! Big common error. Use re??sume??.

allennugent
allennugent

Recruiters and their helper monkeys use keyword counters to decide your career opportunities because they don't have the time (or ability) to properly assess your candidacy (forget lateral thinking & cross-training!). Therefore, job seekers need to know how to pump their CVs with targeted keywords -- like crafting web page content to rank more highly in search engines -- in order to fight back against the tyranny of mediocrity.

hectorj102
hectorj102

I've applied for jobs where the employer specified that they would [u]only[/u] accept resumes in plain text format, presumably 1) to eliminate layout and formatting tricks that are intended to appeal to human eyes but add nothing of consequence or value otherwise to the document and 2) to increase their "readability" by reducing font-induced inaccuracies for machines used to scan the resumes and narrow down the search based on certain keywords or similar criteria. I also agree with [i]apotheon[/i] that the potential employer has the last word on the subject. If they reject the format you're try to push, it's all moot anyway.

foreigner
foreigner

Since the mid-90s I had used the RTF format for all job applications with the objective to avoid the potentially corruptive effect of the local Word ???normal.dot??? and thus, to ensure that the reader see largely the same presentation that I did. Later, in transition to FOSS including Linux and LibreOffice, I thought that RTF would be an ideal format to exchange documents, not only for within the Microsoft platform, but also between all other platforms/products that can manipulate RTF. I realized too late that this is false. By opening/editing the same RTF document back and forth between Word 2000 and LibreOffice 3, I have been shocked to see unacceptable results that I had not intended! For this reason I recommend no longer RTF, but PDF instead. The ???Export as PDF??? in Open/LibreOffice is a very cheap and useful tool and a good one as it has many configurable options that other ???free??? tools do not. I am not an expert with PDF but I am aware that it has numerous complex features. I do not recommend, for example, to export in the ???PDF/A-1a??? standard format, because a distractive information strip would be displayed across the top of the page that the reader does not want and may not understand as well as the participants here! To enable a PDF file exported from LibreOffice to display as you wish and over-ride the receivers' defaults, one may experiment with the PDF options under the tabs ???Initial View??? and ???User Interface???. It is in one's interest to understand all of them. Of course, one should not forget the ???properties??? on both the source and destination files. Many properties are converted. Clean them out or enhance them. I usually appreciate Toni Bowers' articles. In this one she lacks precision. The conversion (export) mentioned above of text to text yields a PDF file that is searchable and copyable. Of course if one were to scan an image of text and not to use OCR in the process, then the result in the PDF would be, also, entirely image and obviously useless for ATS. Always control the quality of the text output! I appreciate the comments to the effect that in 2012, any office that cannot handle multiple common and legitimate formats is not serious.

MrRess
MrRess

Every posting I've seen lately specifies MS Word .doc format, so that's that.

Gh0stMaker
Gh0stMaker

The ATS insight is very helpful knowledge for potential I.T. professionals to know

pmmrozinsky
pmmrozinsky

Because most recruiters use some sort of character scanning software that does poorly on formatted MS Word documents with font changes. I then did a Rich Text resume and began sending it out. Very quickly I received emails stating that they could not accept a RTF file, to issue it as a MS Word file. If a recruiter cannot open a RTF file with MS Word; do I really want to work with them? I then saved the RTF as a DOC for the ignoramuses. I now have three resumes, one is a formatted MS Word with tabs and bold text headers that looks good printed, the RTF saved as a DOC, and a HTM version for the Internet crowd. The bullet resume crowd still has problems with the scanning software the same as the formatted MS Word. You cannot please everyone.

Gisabun
Gisabun

You may have suggested RTF, but nobody wants to user RTF. It has some security issues associated with it. I generally send out mine in DOC format. Just about everything opens it correctly as it is the standard. I've heard of recruiters who will ignore any other word processing format. I have the PDF version available but generally don't use it. Not because of the ATS but if I did use it, I'd add security to it and I suspect ATS can't decipher it. I think the majority reading this column are IT professionals - whether developers, administrators, support, etc. There shouldn't be any reason to fancy it up with charts and stuff. Mine is in a single font, sometimes boild, sometimes a larger font, etc. No lines, no images. My resume is in 3 pages [comfortably]. A recruiter tried to cram it in 2 but looked horrible. I could remove some stuff but not to 2 pages.

ColinFromTheCrypt
ColinFromTheCrypt

Nice, brief outline. I really couldn't be bothered with articles that bang-on about flowery or philosophical differences and so-called issues. Thanks Toni for just giving the bare essentials.

Uncle Stoat
Uncle Stoat

Why use a proprietary format with a history of being a moving target, or one which has had some pretty nasty payloads attached recently.

Professor8
Professor8

If you want your resume to not be seen by thoughtful human eyes, and, instead, be fed directly through a parser which mangles and grabs random scraps to toss into a black-hole data-base as part of an "applicant tracking system" or "talent management system", then use the evil MSFT Word formats (including "plain ASCII text". If you wanted to avoid such brain-dead, thoughtless, lazy "recruiters" and reach a thoughtful, conscientious, industrious head-hunter, then it used to suffice to use PDF. Unfortunately, the execrable *$^+*'s have developed PDF parsers, and (mangled scraps of) your info ends up in the same black-hole, and passed around to foreign bodyshops where the cheap, pliant labor with flexible ethics can and have incorporated pieces of your resumes into theirs. It's a Red Queen problem. I'm sure there are TeX and LaTeX and RTF parsers by now. (RTF parsers are relatively simple, and are often built in to even the simplest word processors, so, if nothing else, they could simply run a script to import the file into a word processor and then export it as whatever their resume parser wants.) There are also primitive HTML parsers, and, of course, XML parsers are readily available and easy to create. But the big problem is that those thoughtful, conscientious, industrious head-hunters appear to be extinct, having died off some time in the late 1980s or early 1990s according to the historical records. Many of them didn't use resumes or CVs. They simply asked what sorts of work you'd done and knew the field well enough to, gasp, understand what you told them, at least in terms specific enough to honestly represent you to the appropriate hiring managers and generate interviews. I wouldn't put a full resume up on the web because it's going to be abused. Be a little more general/less specific about where you worked, experience, skills... Recruiters will try to use it to find clients instead of using it to help you get work. Dishonest job seekers will plagiarize it to try to make themselves look better than they actually are, and thus obscure and degrade the recruiters and hiring managers, in that crucial first glance, put on your own merits. Dal90 wrote: "No one's advice on Resumes, their length, or their formatting matters unless it's the advice from the person whose going to be reading it." I tip my hat to you. At one time or another I worked through all of the formats and, in some cases, 2-3 variants of each, that anyone can find in the resume-writing books, and every time some "recruiter" or hiring manager would throw a fit, saying that it had something the other guys demand but he hates, or that it was in a format he hated. It seems that you could waste your life cycling through the different formats and still manage to send every one of them his most hated format. A good hiring manager -- someone you'd really like to work with -- doesn't care. He's focused on whether you're bright and whether you could do the job with minimal training. That's the person we want to reach. I'd also recommend that job seekers sign up for UC Davis CS prof Norm Matloff's free, e-mailed "H-1B/ L-1/ Off-Shoring News-Letter", which often provides insights into how the execs and HR people and hiring managers and lawyers look at the process, and, from time to time, the anonymized experiences of some of his current and former students and other subscribers to the news-letter.

kpdriscoll
kpdriscoll

Do a thorough profile in LinkedIn and put the link in your email signature. Besides, that has references as well. Why create a hard copy when they can just look at the living document. If it has to be a hard copy, print your LinkedIn profile to a PDF. Better yet, make your own business card with your LinkedIn profile address printed on it. The different format should grab their attention and your efforts to reduce paper should be seen as a positive.

Anthony Rice
Anthony Rice

I am finding a significant lack of depth in TR's *feature* stories of late. I call fluff.

Dal90
Dal90

No one's advice on Resumes, their length, or their formatting matters unless it's the advice from the person whose going to be reading it.

1madman
1madman

It seems to me that you should have multiple formats. I have a Word version with embedded fonts saved in a .doc (not docx format) for Word folks. My main and preferred resume is a PDF. I can control what it looks like and how it presents. And since I have a graphic component to my skillset, what my resume looks like is important. One issue with RTF is the size--some RTF can expand the size of the document. A TXT version to upload to sites is also something to have. You can do minimal formatting, but you can do some. An HTML version, hosted on a website, is also a great thing to have. In all of these, no graphics! There is no need. And no PDFs from scanned material--that is just a given...

danekan
danekan

it's possible to embed tracking in PDFs, and really the person viewing/printing/forwarding the PDF might have no idea this info is being sent back... (this is popular with e-transcripts). would that be considered a pro or con? i agree about the cons of Word metadata... I wonder how many people don't realize it's really easy to know exactly how many minutes you spent on that resume, when it was created, or how many times it's been saved, if they were using their work computer, all which seem trivial to know, but might say a lot about a candidate that isn't being written on the resume itself.

chaapala
chaapala

Word documents can contain invisible data such as past deletions. That can be embarrassing, if care isn't taken to strip out such metadata.

blarman
blarman

"A lot of times, PDFs don???t convert well into these systems. Instead of searchable text, they convert into indecipherable images with no discernable text." This only happens if you are embedding the text as images. You can create your resume in whatever program you want (I like OpenOffice) and then use any number of free or paid PDF converters. One of the PDF conversion options is to keep the text as text or convert it to an image. Keeping it as text not only eliminates the problem of a PDF becoming non-searchable, but also reduces the size of the document in most cases. PDF is also by far the most resistant to version incompatibilities that so plague Office because PDF is based on standards and the PostScript language.

_J0N0_
_J0N0_

I have my CV on a web page which is great. I always have it available and I have a nice edit page to update the data on MySQL as life rolls on. Hirers can select the level of detail and the skillset they are interested in and PHP does the rest. If they want illustrations (I've worked as an illustrator) they can have them, or scans of references or other documents. Unfortunately the "the disreputable scum of the head-hunting trade", who I must negotiate with for the programming work I do now, [b]REQUIRE[/b] my CV in Word. I don't use word, I don't have it and I don't want it, and besides, I like my CV as it is, and so do employers. Open Office creates Word format, but it's not reliably compatible with the big W... I tried PDF, but no, Word or nothing said the the disreputable scum. And besides, I didn't feel like merging a Word template with my MySQL data via ODBC just for the sake of getting a job. In the end I wrote an HTML to RTF XSLT transform so that my web page could be downloaded in the form currently being viewed, from a link on the page. This worked well enough, although recruiters still wanted 'Word' format, The problem was that even tho the 100% compliant RTF I generated worked fine in Wordpad and every other program I tried it with, Word still manged to import it as unrecognizable jibberish. I think the requirement for Word is simply a way of testing the resilience of applicants who don't dwell in M$ land, to ensure they will manage in the corporate environment. Which I avoid. So problem solved. I now hawk my skills direct to market, which loves my web page. :P

Assaf Stone
Assaf Stone

... his online presence speaks volumes about him, that no CV could match: Blog, open source projects, LinkedIn, etc.

mcook
mcook

If the HR Dept or recruiter won't look at PDF, having a nice PDF is useless. If the recruiter wants machine readable, HTML would be ideal. But they (or their consultants) think going with the industry standard MSWord is the way to go. So if you want a job, submit in Word. (Sometimes the computer can handle plain text, and believe it or not, the result may get slurped into the computer's database more accurately.) I know, submitting in PDF and following up with Word makes more sense, but remember, you're dealing with the recruiter's consultant's idea of what works, and it's not what you think works (even though you are right and the consultant is all wet). It doesn't matter whether you can copy and paste text from PDF. If the recruiter (or rather, the recruiter's consultant's computer program) can't extract text from the PDF, it's useless to you. And they can't (or more accurately, won't). It's the golden rule. Those with the gold make the rules. You do your resume in the format that they want, not in what makes sense technically or makes your resume snap visually. You should have a paper copy when you go for the interview; that's about the only place you have any control over formatting. Have a PDF version available in case a real human asks you to e-mail them something. Otherwise it is all about keywords and a machine being able to read your Word document. Sorry.

sboverie
sboverie

To PDF, DOC or RTF is an interesting problem. It seems to depend on who the recipient is and what they are using to read/view your resume. Emphasis on keywords is a technique to get past the HR department, but if you are submitting a resume directly to the hiring manager then the keywords may or may not be effective. The best advice on resumes is to consider the audience, if you are responding to a blind ad then assume it is going to HR to be filtered, if you are sending directly to a hiring manager then show that you researched his company or at least paid attention to the ad. Most important is that your resume has about 20 seconds to hold the reader's interest. What helps to improve your resume is to peruse the resumes on the online job forums like Dice, Craig's list and so on. If you go through a pile of 100 resumes then you will find yourself with that 20 second mindset and see what interests you and what stops you from continuing to read. A resume is a short document that should feel like it is talking about a living individual and not an obituary (Here lies John Tech). The resume is only to get you in the door, it is a personal advertisment to show how dynamic you are and what you can bring to the employer. A cover letter can help focus on the stated requirements without having to pad the resume.

Hazydave
Hazydave

I send PDF unless the prospective employer requests something else. This is the "executable", it's the finished application, etc. If they want the source code (.odf, or translated to .doc), they request it. In addition, I have a complete portfolio online in HTML, which follows the resume but elaborates in great detail. This is useful as a followup, once you have their interest.

dvroman
dvroman

My resume is a ASP program. I select what I want for the content and export it to the approptiate format. It depends on who is getting the resume and their requirements. Very few are Word files and I only do word if specifically requested, many more are text formatted as PDF, some are plain text and most are rich text.

bill
bill

I hate receiving Word documents unless I am supposed to use/edit the document. If I only need to read (and extract information), a properly produced PDF works fine and load much faster. You may need to get a good PDF conversion tool. I personally use Adobe Acrobat. Besides producing text from Word documents, it will also OCR scanned documents. I can not comment on all Applicant Tracking Systems, but my document imaging system will pull text directly out of the PDF. Even with PDFs, you may want to limit permissions to avoid changes. I have compatibility set to Adobe 7 or later, but I can go back to Adobe 3 or later.

shryko
shryko

I generally will send both the .doc and .pdf versions of my resume if they don't specify formatting. I use OpenOffice/derivatives, so I don't want to rely on the .doc for formatting, but it has all of the content and is generally the same in appearance on other systems/programs. As well, the .pdf is fully tagged and copy/paste-able. Giving the employer the choice between the 2 is the goal. And hey, it's done me well so far. I even got compliments/thanks on multiple occassions, when the recruiter was used to seeing only one or the other and resented having to ask for the "right" one.

gpachello
gpachello

Perhaps it's time for Recruiters to adopt the same criteria at the time of requiring a Resume. And I'm not talking only about file extensions, but the way of presenting and organizing the information. I've found a valuable resource for example in Europe [http://europass.cedefop.europa.eu/en/home]. I think in a global economy at these times it becomes essential to have standardized methods for selecting human resources.

jdm12
jdm12

Ah, your site doesn't support proper formatting. I tried spelling the word correctly, with the accented "e" but it shows up incorrectly. This wouldn't happen with a PDF. And perhaps that's why so many respondents are using "CV" as as if it meant the same thing as "resume," when it does not.

apotheon
apotheon

I agree completely. Go make it happen.

apotheon
apotheon

Using Unicode characters often breaks display of a word, as in the case of your comment. In this case, it's you who made a "common error".

apotheon
apotheon

When the employer asks for a specific format, that's the format to use. This trumps all other concerns. Well . . . sorta. It might make sense to use RTF, but name it with a .doc filename extension for those too stupid to realize that MS Word works just fine with RTF.

apotheon
apotheon

Quote 1: RTF. . . has some security issues Quote 2: I . . . send out mine in DOC format Can you not see the contradictory nature of these statements? One of them suggests security is an issue, and the other ignores security as an issue.

apotheon
apotheon

LaTeX is (hopefully) not the format you send to the HR drones. Your LaTeX document gets parsed and processed, outputting . . . what? It's the "what" that we're discussing, here. Use the simplest, most portable format that meets your needs.

nick
nick

You have to hand feed recruiters and potential employers. As some one who has read many hundreds of applications with resume's (or CV's) I can tell you that to follow a link to an online resume is sufficient trouble that the application goes straight to the "thanks but no thanks" pile. As a manager you rarely have time to give each application the attention that it deserves. You end up finding reasons to discard the "dross" and focus on the quality that is left. If you have the luxury of an assistant or someone in HR to screen the applications it is a task that often gets pushed down to the least skilled (= least paid) person and quite often they are not technically skilled enough to follow links and download documents. They are also under time pressures. I will agree that if you are a high level manager or executive dealing with quality recruiters, they will probably download your CV but otherwise I recommend the hand feed.

nick
nick

Except I cannot see that post at the moment. The blurb at the head of the article does say "outline of issues" so technically you should not expect depth.

blarman
blarman

Many employers with any kind of security system are going to be questioning why a document you sent in is trying to phone home. This is a good way to get yourself blacklisted.

_J0N0_
_J0N0_

Perhaps thats why its required.

apotheon
apotheon

Why edlin? You should be using ed (on a Unix-like system) if you want to claim real geekness. I'm not that cool. I stick to vi.

apotheon
apotheon

It sounds like you've got your priorities straight. The only way you should diverge from the approach that works for you that well is to serve desperation and, with luck, you'll never be that desperate for a job. My approach is similar in many ways, but I use Markdown formatted plain text and skip the SQL. If I was going to store it in an SQL database, I'd probably go for SQLite instead of MySQL, anyway; the latter seems like overkill, and not the best choice for overkill. To each their own, though, especially if you're keeping your skills sharp because using MySQL is a skill you use to differentiate yourself.

apotheon
apotheon

. . . but for some reason everybody keeps asking for a resume.

apotheon
apotheon

HTML is not the best choice when optimizing for "machine readable". No document format, to my knowledge, is more widely and easily "machine readable" than plain text.

Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost

Many companies in Europe want a photo of the applicant. They also want your age - in Europe age discrimination is legal. So it may not be the best point of comparison.

Craig Dedo
Craig Dedo

I very much doubt that is the reason. Please remember, TechRepublic is read all over the world, at least in the free world. Unfortunately, many people in the USA tend to forget that. Persons from countries outside of the USA will refer to a CV out of habit because that is the standard document in their home countries. In most countries outside of the USA, the standard term is "curriculum vitae", almost always abbreviated to "CV". Properly constructed according to the laws and social customs of countries in which a CV is the standard document, a CV contains a lot of information that is illegal to ask about in the USA, e.g., photo, date of birth, marital status, children, etc.

Craig Dedo
Craig Dedo

The word "resume" is not being misspelled. The word "resume" has been fully assimilated into English as a standard English word. In English, fully assimilated words drop any diacritical marks that they may have had in the languages from which they came. The noun "resume", in the sense of the job application document, came directly from modern French. The verb, "resume", to begin an activity again, came from Middle English and, before that, from Middle French, and, before that, from Latin. My dictionary, Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, 2nd College Edition, by Simon & Schuster, (C) 1980, spells the noun, "resume", both with and without the accents.

apotheon
apotheon

I prefer ASCII-compatible characters when at all reasonable, because cutting and pasting, viewing with different software than me, using different local typefaces, and so on, can result in a nice, neat, carefully crafted document's content looking like crap.

apotheon
apotheon

Quote: You end up finding reasons to discard the "dross" and focus on the quality that is left. Unfortunately, the "dross" often contains some of the best candidates for a job, because people latch onto any excuse at all to throw away some resumes rather than coming up with good, productive approaches that will only involve some of the more poorly qualified candidates being discarded. Yes, candidates need to try to account for that, but that doesn't mean the hiring managers in question aren't being colossal idiots about it. The end result is often that the hiring process does not select for talent in the job skills needed, but instead selects for good liars, office politics masters, manipulators, and scam artists in general who want to get something for nothing.

_J0N0_
_J0N0_

MySQL is already running on my server, so ... But SQLite rocks. Maybe the best way to distribute a CV is a zipped folder with a database and a document server that provides info in the required format. A python script should do it. :) Unfortunately, Word 'format' is not something that common or garden software can create, since it requires several layers of opaque GUID strings pointing to redundant versions and no longer installed software. Nothing but genuine Word can provide the full user expereince.

Professor8
Professor8

Even among systems and apps that support some Unicode variants (I generally use UTF-8), the accented "e"s get mangled. Maybe in another decade or so the interoperability will have improved to the point that most people can exchange the non-ASCII characters (past code point 127) safely round-trip. Until then, it's "resume".

apotheon
apotheon

"The full user experience" is pretty horrifying. It's depressing that this is what has become "normal".

apotheon
apotheon

I tried posting a link to a shirt on a t-shirt site -- a shirt that I have, which humorously refers to exactly the sort of problem you just described -- and TR's broken friggin' filtering ate it. I tried posting the link differently: same effect. I tried posting something talking about it in a way that might give you enough information to go there and find the shirt yourself: same effect. Maybe this will get through, but I'm not holding my breath. Who needs to be fired to stop this stupid crap from happening at TR?