Resume — PDF or Word Doc? I love this debate.
When writing a resume and cover letter, you need to think about which MS Word format to use when you save them.
What Does PDF mean?
First, let’s understand what PDF means. PDF is the acronym for portable document format.
This format allows resumes to be opened across devices without format glitches.
Users also think it prevents anyone from making unauthorized changes to their documents. In other words, PDF gives users total control of their resumes. (And don’t we often dream about having total control?)
The Problems with PDF Resumes
However, total control in any aspect of life tends to choke the vitality out of whatever a person attempts to control. That’s the case with resumes. While a DOC resume is a living, breathing, interactive document, a PDF resume isn’t.
The pro-PDF argument often assumes that other people, whoever they are, might change a resume in some sort of dishonest manner.
But consider this — maybe people (recruiters) want to annotate your resume to anticipate and answer hiring managers’ questions. When I was a search consultant, I:
- Asked candidates about missing information and added it their resumes (clearly noted as my addition) when I knew a given client would notice the omission.
- Noticed questions resumes raised but didn’t answer. I asked for the answers and added them (again, clearly noted as my addition) to candidates’ resumes.
- Added comments to highlight positive information.
If I had received an interactive DOC resume, I could easily give my clients richer information about candidates’ backgrounds.
On the other hand, if I had a locked-up, PDF resume, then it was harder to help those people (yes, those people).
I had to ask for DOC versions of their resumes, which slowed their progress through the assessment process (never good).
I didn’t send my clients incomplete resumes. It was my job to anticipate and answer their questions about the people I presented to them.
They needed to be able to look at a resume once and make an interview decision. Done. Final. Move on to the next step in the process.
When the Recruiter Asks for a DOC File
You will notice that many job postings and job descriptions specifically ask for DOC resumes. When recruiters then get PDF resumes, be sure that they draw bad conclusions about the senders. They wonder about topics such as:
- Attention to detail.
- Ability to respect processes.
- Will their clunky, old applicant tracking system be able to read this?
Always send a Word document; it’s the standard. Then, if a recruiter asks for a DOC file, give them a DOC file. Don’t annoy them (see cat above).
However, if you don’t care about recruiters’ emotional states when they’re considering your candidacy, go ahead and submit your resume as a PDF file.
If they don’t ask for a DOC file, don’t worry about it, go with your preference.
Please think about what I’ve written here about the resume — PDF or Word DOC the next time you apply for a job.
Oh, and that “total control” thing I mentioned above? Pure illusion. Check out the comments below. (BTW, it doesn’t work in interviews either.)
Note: This post has upset some readers. I welcome your comments. Kindly keep them constructive and within the bleeding edge of civil discourse.
Updated March 2019
© 2013 – 2019, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.
Donna Svei, an executive resume writer and former C-level executive, retained search consultant, and CPA, writes all of AvidCareerist’s posts. She has written for and been quoted by leading business, general, and career media outlets, including Forbes, Mashable, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Lifehacker, Ask.com, Social Media Today, IT World, SmartBrief, Payscale, Business News Daily, and the Muse. Let her background and experience inform your job search strategy and decision making.