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In What File Format Should I Send My Resume?

As I discussed strategy for his employment search with one of my executive clients today, he posed a question I frequently hear: Should I send my resume to recruiters and companies as a Word file, text document, or PDF? Coincidentally, this was also the subject of a recent thread in a career professionals forum in which I participate.

From my research on the subject, my colleagues’ opinions, and surveys of hiring professionals, I would say that both text and Word formats win out over PDF files, despite the clear advantage that PDF’s have in terms of WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get). A colleague in Maryland indicates that his survey of HR professionals at a recent SHRM meeting indicated a nearly unanimous opinion: 90% did not accept PDF files.

Several of my colleagues indicated that recruiters seem to prefer Word format for ease of editing and tweaking for the particular job order they are working on, which confirms my experience. A neatly formatted text document is also welcomed by most recruiters, but this does not mean doing a “save as” of your Word document to text and sending it as is! Your format will be a terrible mess and, besides making a bad impression, will be very difficult for the recruiter to manipulate. Typically, I recommend sending your executive resume in both text and Word formats when dispatching an e-mail. The text version can be placed inline (in the body of the e-mail below your message) or attached as a .txt file.

If you are sending your resume in Word format, beware that word processor files are notoriously subject to format damage when brought up on a system other than the originating one, due to differences in word processor settings, fonts, etc. That resume you so carefully and nicely fit into two pages may now carry over an awkward 2 or 3 lines on a third page. Or a comical or difficult-to-read font may be substituted for the attractive, conservative font you used.

So take care to use relatively simple but attractive formatting that will tend to translate smoothly on other systems, avoiding complex tables, columns, etc. Use fonts that are fairly universal on Windows systems (some are Verdana, Tahoma, Garamond, Futura, Palatino, New Century Schoolbook, Times New Roman, Arial). I personally balk at using Times and Arial because they are so “ho-hum,” but sometimes it is necessary in order to have reasonable assurance that your resume is going to look anything like you intended it to when your recipient views it.


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5 comments on “In What File Format Should I Send My Resume?
  1. Anonymous says:

    I found this very succinct and helpful, and it popped up immediately when I searched. Thank you so much!

  2. As a former recruiter come resume writer (CDI member) I would agree that MS Word wins hands-down. Also, it’s best to stick to MS Word 97-2003 format for the time being as there’s a number of organizations who are avoiding upgrading to Office 07 and therefore you need to ensure the document is both backward and forward compatible.

    On the subject of .pdf files for resumes (executive level), these can serve a purpose when you want to ensure that the recruiter does not send your resume or cv without your permission – a common problem in the market amongst poorly trained recruiters.

  3. Your résumé is the first step in the process of a strategic career move. The résumé is an essential piece to all types of job searching approaches, as well as playing a crucial role through the interview and selection processes.

    One of the most useful techniques for constructing your résumé is to focus it on a specific target job, and then go through and deconstruct the deliverables of that job from other related job postings. Accomplishing this successfully will generate a résumé that not only opens doors toward future career success, but assists you in preparation for the interview process.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Since this entry was written in 2007, is there anything you would change or update? This was the first link that popped up when I asked Google my question of "what format should I save my resume in". Your answer here is .txt but all other links say to use .pdf. I have written my resume on Wordpad because that's all I have and it automatically saves in .rtf. Will that transfer well when I email it to potential employers? Thank you for your time.

  5. The consensus still seems to be that Word 97-2003 is the best format in which to send your resume, as most recruiters can readily retrieve the .doc format (.docx is still not universally adopted). Text is universally accepted but has obvious drawbacks due to very limited formatting capability, although if you are sending out a significant quantity of resumes at once it is more practical to insert the text in your e-mail than to attach a Word file. RTF format is very "Word-like" and will also be readily accepted, as it can be retrieved into Word.