Should I Submit My Resume as a PDF or a Word Doc?

Aug 16, 2021 | Resumes

pdf vs word
Whether you should use PDF or Word depends on the situation. Read on to figure out the right format for you.

By: Grace Mitchell | Contributor for Let’s Eat, Grandma

So you’ve written a killer resume, and you’re ready to send in that application. But wait! How do you know you’ve chosen the best file format?

When submitting your resume digitally, there are only two acceptable formats: Word (.doc or .docx) and PDF (.pdf).

While you may have a deep emotional connection to .pages, .otf, .rtf, or .txt, using one of these formats may result in your recruiter not being able to read your document at all. For instance, Pages documents only can be opened on a Mac. Opening these documents on a Windows device will show an error message instead of your amazing resume.

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Whether you should use Word or PDF depends a lot on the job you’re applying for and how you’re applying. Let’s look at the stats for these two contenders and see how they apply to different job application scenarios.

PDF or Word Resume: What’s the Difference?

person on computer. Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

You’ve worked so hard on your resume – the last step is making sure you submit it in the right file type. Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

PDF

Pros: Retains formatting best, sparing you from sleepless nights wondering if your bullet points were properly indented.

Cons: Some older Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) have trouble parsing them.

Word

Pros: Generally a safer bet with an ATS.

Cons: Riskier with formatting — if the recruiter reading it has an older version of Word, your formatting, tabbing, and even font might not transfer correctly. This also means that the resume you painstakingly reduced to one page might arrive to a recruiter as one page plus an extra line — one of the greatest frustrations in resume-writing.

When to Use PDF or Word Format for Your Resume

Scenario 1: The job listing specifies which format to use.

Word or PDF? As with all things resume-related: refer to the job posting! Some recruiters have a preference, and they’re not listing it to trick you. Not only does finding this information in the listing save you from having to choose between the two formats, but you’ll also demonstrate that you’re great at following directions.

Scenario 1 ends in a tie between Word and PDF.
Running Score: Word: 1 | PDF: 1

Scenario 2: You’re applying to a large company with a ton of applicants, and you don’t have a way to send it directly to a person or know what kind of ATS they’re using.

Word or PDF? When you’re applying for a large company, it’s likely they’ll use an ATS to parse resumes and filter applicants. After all, these postings often generate hundreds of applicants, and an ATS helps the recruiter wade through unqualified applicants. In this case, readability is crucial to give your resume the best chance of appearing in the recruiter’s search results, which makes Word a safer bet.

Scenario 2 gives Word the edge.
Running Score: Word: 2 | PDF: 1

Pro-tip for formatting with Word: Save yourself some headache by using a font that’s consistent across all versions of Word and avoiding trendy graphics and images (which shouldn’t be in your resume anyway).

Scenario 3: You’re applying via email, sending your application directly to a person, or applying online to a small company.

Word or PDF? If you’re sending your resume to a small company or to an individual, it’s unlikely that your resume will be sent through an ATS. It’s also extremely likely that they’ll be sensitive to formatting issues (that’s how the human brain works, after all!), making PDF the ideal format here.

Scenario 3 gives PDF the edge.
Running Score: Word: 2 | PDF: 2

Pro-tip for formatting with PDF: Make sure you’ve saved your resume as the right kind of PDF and that your hyperlinks work! Here’s a helpful test: trying highlighting and copy/pasting text from your PDF resume — if you can’t do it, then the ATS will have a hard time with it, and you need to convert it from a Word doc instead of a scanned image!

Scenario 4: You’re applying online, but the application includes a form in addition to submitting your resume.

Word or PDF? If there’s a form included with the application, the ATS will pull the information it needs from the form rather than your resume, meaning the only audience for your resume itself will be those format-oriented human eyes of your recruiter (and, hopefully, hiring manager). PDF is a better choice here.

Scenario 4 gives PDF the edge.
Running Score: Word: 2 | PDF: 3

The Results

With a score of 3 to 2, it’s slightly more often that you should use a PDF instead of a Word doc for your resume file format. As you can see, though, the two have pros and cons for specific situations, so always consider whether formatting consistency or ATS readability is more essential for the specific job posting you’re applying to.

Now that we’ve demystified Word versus PDF, it’s time to get your appropriately formatted resume to get out there and land that interview!

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