Lost In Translation – How The “Wrong” Resumé File Type Can Harm Your Chances Of Getting A New Job…

MS WORD                 PDF

Firstly, let me acknowledge that, on the surface, an article about the “best” type of document file type (eg: .DOC, .PDF, etc.) to send your resumé/CV in might not sound like a tantalizing read. However, dig a little deeper into the subject and you might find that the optimal file type for your resumé/CV is a crucial part of your job search and can lead to being considered for a position or not.

We simply hope this bit of education helps you better understand which document file types are ideal and why, what happens behind the scenes when you don’t provide the ideal ones, and why the wrong file type(s) can be detrimental to your job search and getting noticed by the hiring decision-makers. Avoid epic file type fail!

Your resumé represents your very first, crucial impression on the decision maker and you want to make it easy for your recipient to open, read, share, print, and get your resumé into their database for not only present but also future job opportunities. One statistic being thrown around out there right now is that time-strapped hiring managers or recruiters might spend just an average of 6, count ‘em 6, seconds scanning your resumé. Hint: Think of your audience! (hiring manager, recruiter, company president, etc.) Whether this is true or not, you DO want to ensure your resumé is optimized for as large a hiring audience as possible and the first step is…<drum roll please> actually being able to open your resumé! If a hiring manager or recruiter only has a moment to read the resumé you’ve sent them, you better believe if they have to struggle and fight to open your resumé at best they read it while frustrated and at worst ultimately cannot open the document at all, well…where do you think your resumé and candidacy is likely to end up? Exactly.

But it’s the 21st century you say. Technology is supposed to be better and make all of our lives easier. As true as that may be, in reality increased technology, software, and (especially) alternative word processing options have actually increased the frustrations and complexities associated with the simple task of opening and reading a document. Throw in the emerging distaste for I.T. monopolies, the fact that today’s computers often no longer inherently come with word processing software, plus, the prohibitive costs for such software and it’s no wonder that so many alternatives have emerged over the years. Problem is they don’t all play well together. And so here’s why you should stick with (SPOILER ALERT!) Microsoft Word (.DOC) or Adobe-created .PDF and why all other document file types are a distant, distant second.

Best: These are the tried, true, and optimal word document file types. Try to stick to these, and only these, and your audience ought not have an issue opening, viewing, printing and saving your resumé.

Microsoft Word .DOC: Why?

  • Word is prolific, comfortable, generally trusted and pretty much known to all. And like Visa or MasterCard, MS Word is accepted virtually anywhere.
  • Hiring managers and recruiters inundated with electronic applications often have to rely on computer programs (in recruiting, they’re generally called “Applicant Tracking Systems” , ATS for short) that can scan a resumé, extract one’s information and employment history and quickly get your profile created and resumé uploaded to their database with the click of a button or two. MS Word (.DOC) is very compatible with these kinds of software and this makes the hiring manager’s life a little easier, and certainly easier to get you into their system, consider you for an opportunity and find you again readily in the future for other right-fit positions.
  • Nobody’s perfect and if there is a slight error (spelling, grammar, employment date, new cell number, etc.) a hiring manager or recruiter can (in discussion with yourself) at least amend your resumé accordingly without having to wait for you to do so before presenting it to higher-ups or the like.

Adobe .PDF (original, created via Adobe or other .PDF creation software): Why?

  • Adobe .PDF documents get a very honourable mention, if created in Adobe originally they’re typically very easy to open, as most any computer nowadays has the free version of Adobe Reader inherently installed and/or is easy to download and install free of charge.
  • .PDFs are generally very Applicant Tracking System friendly, per above, and hiring managers and recruiters can typically extract your information into a file with a click or two of the mouse for present and future opportunities.
  • However, without a paid version of Adobe (usually referred to as Adobe Professional, costing hundreds of dollars for just 1 or 2 users/licenses) it is not easy to make and amendments should a small change to your resumé be needed. Most every business I’ve ever encountered has MS Word, BUT not all have Adobe Professional.
  • An important distinction about PDFs: Not all PDFs are built alike nor ideal. A scanned version of your hard copy resumé into a PDF file is NOT an original/Adobe PDF and is not Applicant Tracking System friendly so getting you into a database will take manual effort and time. Adobe Professional has a feature called “Recognize Text” which CAN work to scan, identify, recognize, and translate your scanned PDF converting it into actual text which can THEN be extracted into a database more easily. BUT often the output after “Recognize Text” is run comes out somewhat garbled, with formatting issues, typos from text Adobe Professional couldn’t properly identify etc. and is NO substitute for a properly formatted, polished, professional looking resumé.

Just Okay:  The following document file types are either older, less used, less familiar or less recognized and might give your intended recipient headaches trying to open and read.

  • .RTF (rich text file): These aren’t bad; they generally look and behave just like a regular old .DOC document, are Applicant Tracking System friendly etc. Optically however, a .RTF is less recognized, less common nowadays, and may or may not cause the recipient to pause and wonder just what attachment they’re about to open…or not open altogether.
  • .XPS: This file type is Microsoft’s answer to the otherwise popular Adobe .PDF file type. But .XPS files are generally harder to open than a regular old .PDF and unless the recipient has an .XPS file viewer on their computer, they’re going to have a truly difficult time just opening your document. Why bother with .XPS? It didn’t catch on with folks like Microsoft hoped (plotted?) and while it’s indeed still around and used by some, why not just go with .DOC, .PDF, or even .RTF if you can?
  • .PAGES (Mac-specific): We get it. You’re trendier than we are. You’re a Mac user. And while Mac went so far as to accommodate all the pressures of a PC-world and offer an MS Word version for Mac, documents in Mac are inherently created in .PAGES file type. If your recipient doesn’t have a Mac, guess what? That’s right. They’re going to have trouble opening your document and you run the risk they throw their hands up, give up, move on and then distract themselves with their own iPhone or iPad 😉

Simply Poor:

  • .JPG, .PNG, .BMP or any other “image” file type: Here’s a question for you…why are you sending folks a document as an image? I get that sometimes you might only be able to scan your document as .PDF, but as a .JPG? This just a poor practice, sorry to say if that’s your preferred method. They’re not Applicant Tracking System friendly whatsoever so unless your busy recipient wants to manually key in your entire resumé into their database, you’re not likely to get into the system for present and future opportunities. They typically print more poorly than any other type of regular document file type. Can come out askew and looking unprofessional. I could go on but I think you get the, ahem, picture.
  • .TXT: it’s not 1993 anymore folks. .TXT is perhaps the most basic form of word processing document and it really shows. Your resumé ought not be in a .TXT format, plain and simple. It looks archaic, sophomoric, and can make you look very much behind the times <think chiseling your resumé into a stone tablet. While best not to judge a book by its cover, a .TXT resumé  can say a lot about you. But hey, at least .TXT opens on virtually any computer, with or without MS Word or Adobe etc. So there’s that.
  • .HTML/.HTM: What…should I risk you’re sending me a virus, click your .HTML link, (breathe a sigh of relief it’s in fact your resumé and not a company-crippling virus) and then cut and paste your resumé into my word processor, fix any formatting errors, make it resemble the formatting as you have it on the .HTML page, and then save it to my computer and then finally upload it into our database? Probably not going to happen folks. Make it easy for your audience! That should be the mantra you take away from all of this.
  • File sharing programs/URLs: (eg: Google Docs, Dropbox, Box.net, OneDrive, etc.) Um, virus anyone? Ok, likely not a virus but hear me out. More and more folks have become tech savvy/paranoid enough and aware of spammers, hackers, malware-proliferators’ tactic of including malicious attachments in their emails in hopes you’ll double click to “open” their havoc-creating files. Nowadays, these ruthless, enterprising troublemakers get through your anti-spam and antivirus programs by including a URL/link within an oft-disguised-as-legitimate-looking-email from an otherwise trusted or intriguing source in hopes you’ll be duped into clicking the link. If you do, before you know it…well, it’s too late and many of us have been there and had that sinking, pit of your stomach feeling set in. As a result, more of us are ever-vigilant and reluctant to click on any link from a stranger. Granted, file sharing programs like Google Docs, Dropbox, and Box.net are 100% legitimate and actually quite useful in the right situation. However, expecting a hiring manager, recruiter or business owner to roll the dice and click a URL/link to get your resumé, at the risk of becoming the office pariah for unwittingly infecting the entire companies’ I.T. infrastructure, could be construed as naïve and ultimately is just not a great way to send your resumé.
  • .ODT (“Open Document Text” – free open-source word processing file type): Heck, when I was in university and couldn’t afford the Microsoft Suite of Products, from home I would use an .ODT word processor program I downloaded for free. However, I wouldn’t submit an assignment electronically in the .ODT file format because I knew my professors wanted a simple MS Word .DOC file. I’d got to a library computer with MS Word, plug my file in, open, copy and paste it into MS Word. Magic! What do you think would’ve happened if a busy professor with a tonne on his or her mind struggled/failed to open my assignment because it was in a more obscure file format like .ODT? “Resubmit in Word please”, docked percentages for it being late as I squirmed to accommodate, or worse an outright “fail”.
  • .PPT (PowerPoint…for your resumé?! A regular document processing program will suffice for your resumé, thanks. Save PowerPoint for graphic laden, moving-part containing, flashy demonstrations. Such a piece could accompany your resumé perhaps, but not every hiring manager or recruiter has PowerPoint on their computer and they simply won’t be able to view your .PPT resumé as a result.
  • .ZIP: Zipping a file is typically intended to help deliver a rather large and otherwise unwieldy-sized file to another recipient, such that the file is (depends on the company!) permitted through a firewall, can actually reach the recipient and get past their email file size limit, etc. There is little-to-no-reason you ever need to zip your resumé.  So don’t! .ZIP files are another way malicious individuals, hackers, troublemakers etc. can proliferate viruses and the like. So much so, that many organizations have adjusted their firewalls, antivirus programs and email filtering to outright reject any emails with a .ZIP attachment. So if you don’t want your resumé to ever reach its recipient, go ahead and send it as a .ZIP file/attachment, you can be pretty confident it will never be seen or opened.

The Conclusion:

I want to stress to readers of this article that “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. I am not saying if you don’t send your resumé in .DOC or .PDF that it will NOT be seen by your intended recipient. For instance, we here at Stoakley-Stewart Consultants don’t discriminate against any file type or document, we’re appreciative of candidates sharing their resumés with us, period. That being said, 95% of resumés we receive are in either .DOC or .PDF format and for this we are grateful, thank you!

Those other 5%, we can indeed get open, it can just take a while and/or requires some legwork and creativity. We have amassed the technology, groomed savvy personnel and possess the willingness to go the extra mile to wrestle any document into submission such that it eventually lies at our feet, pliable, compliant and, most importantly, readable. I am sure there are many organizations out there with a similar credo; however, I can’t guarantee that this is the case in every instance. I would follow the simple rule of thumb which suggests that you will want to make it as easy as possible for your intended recipient and figure that if they have to try more than once to open the document, their second click will be on the delete button.

So…how recipient friendly is your resumé?

Andrew Stapinski
Manager, Marketing & Social Media
Stoakley-Stewart Consultants


One caveat before the inevitable (and justified!) comments from Microsoft Word opponents and naysayers pour in…We don’t “sell” MS Word, are not pundits for Microsoft, and aren’t necessarily married to it. This is not a forum to shill for Mr. Gates and Company. Mac computers are wonderful and suit some much better than traditional PC’s. I will be the first to admit that in the past MS Word has personally frustrated me to tears, fits of keyboard-pounding rage, back to tears again and culminating in a near-boycott of the program…only to come crawling back. Sigh. It has quirks, nuances, and proclivities that can boggle the mind and make you wonder if anyone at Microsoft has ever used MS Word themselves. That being said, in my experience, it’s still the best of what’s out there and perhaps most importantly it’s what the majority of folks have and use for their word processing needs. At least at the business level, MS Word is still king and the hiring managers, recruiters and business owners of the world will likely be using MS Word to open your resumé. Question is…(assuming it’s anything other than an Adobe PDF) will your resumé, in its current format and incarnation, open in MS Word? If not, you’re hurting your chances of even being considered for that job opportunity you covet and are doing your job hunt a serious disservice.