If you haven’t been out testing the waters of the job market for a long time, dusting off your resume may feel like unearthing a relic from centuries past. But once you have it ready, you might be wondering about the best potential format for dispersing it among all the employers who may want to hire you.
While using Microsoft Word may have been the best practice of years past, it’s a bit more common to send a resume as a PDF nowadays. There’s a number of advantages to using a PDF, but there’s still a host of employers who ask for Word documents for their own reasons.
Once you’ve got your resume up to an interview-ready standard, here’s how to navigate the potential job-hunting dilemma of resume format.
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One PDF advantage is formatting
A PDF is basically a one-size-fits-all file that looks like same no matter the device you’ve used to download it. That isn’t really true for Word documents, as some of the trickery you’ve employed to give your resume a flash of personality can get jumbled from one computer to the next. The formatting will also change if the recipient has a different version of Word than you.
As Resume Coach explains, the quirks of passing a Word document across devices can present multiple headaches:
Often the margins are different sizes, a one-page resume can spill over onto the next page, fonts can appear differently (as the program may not have the font you chose), or even worse, your resume may just appear as undecipherable code.
If you’ve spent valuable time working on your resume, focusing on the resume format and layout, it would be tragic for an employer to open a messy resume instead of your well-produced resume. It gives entirely the wrong impression.
PDFs can also be locked and code-protected, which is a bonus if you’re weary of somebody, uh, sabotaging your candidacy.
When you might use a Word doc
If you’re emailing or DM’ing a recruiter or potential manager your resume, I’d recommend opting for a PDF, owing to all formatting advantages and the general ease of opening the document. But when it comes to applying on lots of company websites, you might want to opt for the Word route.
Many companies use applicant tracking software (ATS) that more readily scan Word documents. For example, you may have submitted a PDF on an online job listing only to find that your experience looks scattered and inscrutable once the system digests it and spits it back out.
As ZipJob explains:
When applying to a job online, the best format to send your resume in is usually a Word doc. This format is most easily read by the majority of applicant tracking systems (or ATS). While it is more and more common for companies to invest in more sophisticated ATS software that will parse your resume, you can be confident that virtually all ATS scans can read a .doc file.
Most ATS systems are compatible with PDFs nowadays, but it never hurts to be doubly sure.
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Word docs are editable, for rare occasions
This happens more often with recruiters, who like to offer edits to resumes that can better augment your chances of getting a job. Since a PDF isn’t exactly a living document that anyone can change, you might want to send your resume to a recruiter in Word form, just so they can tinker with it and strengthen what’s necessary.
It’s good to have both on hand
I generally get by with PDFs, but one general best practice remains true across the board for everyone: submit the format that the employer is asking for. Every company has its own policies and workflows, so you might be asked to submit a Word document one day and PDF the next. In my experience, most employers ask for PDFs, but there’s no telling if you’ll be asked for a different format at some point. It’s definitely best to have both.