Not all file formats are created equal.

You've written your resume, keyword-optimized it, and had at least three people edit it. Now it's time to save your document and send it out. But have you saved it in the best resume file format for hiring managers to process? 

We've all been taught to polish our resumes, divide them into readable sections, and stay away from writing in the first person, but what about the actual fire format? No one ever mentions that detail. Which file format should job seekers use to upload, email, and submit their resumes? The answer: It depends on the situation.

Below are the pros and cons of each file format to help you choose the best resume format for every circumstance.

Hard copy

Hard copy resumes may be rare, but they are not completely obsolete. Job fairs still call for the traditional resume, printed on professional-quality paper, and you might want to consider bringing one with you to your interview just in case.

The rules for hard copies are also simpler than their electronic cousins. Keep in mind the following tips when printing out your resume:

  • Don't use paper colors except white or eggshell; other colors look unprofessional and can cause issues with readability.

  • Use new, unstained resume paper, which is available at most office supply stores.

  • Stay away from graphics, fancy fonts, and colored writing.

  • Don't staple the resume; use paper clips instead.

  • Place a cover letter on top of each hard copy.

Word document

Microsoft Word is currently the most popular word processor for writing resumes. Documents written on Word will be saved as a .doc or .docx file, which is a popular file format to send as an email attachment. Indeed, many job ads specifically request Word versions over any other format. 

Do not use OpenOffice or other programs to save your resume as a .doc or .docx; these programs may save the format but might include minor inconsistencies that will cause your resume to look awkward.

Pros of Word documents:

  • Word is standard in most businesses.

  • They maintain the overall formatting and keep the same feeling.

Cons of Word documents:

  • Some companies don't allow email attachments because of virus risks.

  • There are compatibility issues (.doc versus .docx and Mac versus PC) that may alter the format of your resume.

PDF

Some might consider the PDF to be the best resume file format. While Word has its ups and downs, emailing a PDF gives you complete assurance that the employer will see your resume exactly as you designed it. PDFs also come with extra protection since hiring managers or other employees cannot edit or alter the document at any point, ensuring your original copy arrives safe and sound.

Pros of PDFs:

  • They eliminate virus risk.

  • They are compatible with both Macs and PCs.

  • No one can change the resume once it's saved in PDF.

Cons of PDFs:

  • The recipient must have Adobe Acrobat Reader.

  • Job seekers may not have the right software to convert documents to PDF.

  • Not all applicant tracking systems (ATS) can view and parse resumes in this format, which could cause your resume to get thrown out before it reaches the hiring manager.

HTML

HTML files are making a breakthrough in resume formatting. Job seekers can easily save their resumes as an HTML file, which appears similar to an internet bookmark and can be sent as an email attachment or posted on a website. Hiring managers then open the file on their browser and view it much like a web page.

Pros of HTML:

  • It retains formatting and layout when the resume is sent as an email attachment.

  • The recipient can view the resume right in the email browser without downloading it.

  • The resume can be posted on your website.

Cons of HTML:

  • You may require a separate software application to convert the document to HTML.

  • Not all browsers support HTML documents.

  • The resume file may be mistaken for spam, which is often sent in HTML.

Plain text

A text resume has no special effects such as bold, italics, or centering; it contains only plain-text characters that can be created from the standard keyboard. This format is the best for applicant tracking software (ATS) purposes, as all ATS systems can sort through, decipher, and read plain text files that do not contain any design elements or conditional formatting.

Pros of plain text:

  • A text resume can be sent within the body of an email.

  • Plain text makes it easy for employers to place the resume into a searchable database.

  • Some creative effects can be added using keyboard characters.

Cons of plain text:

  • It strips out all graphics and special text effects.

  • It isn't very visually appealing.

Keep the applicant tracking system in mind

Whether you select Word, PDF, HTML, or plain text for your resume file format, keep in mind the applicant tracking system (ATS). This applicant-screening software is programmed with basic, common fonts and styles, so stay away from fonts that are stylistic in nature. Times New Roman, Calibri, and Cambria work best with the ATS. This software also often cannot read tables, graphics, or colors, so stick with basic formatting to be safe.

Choosing a resume filename

Once you've decided on which file format to save your resume as, you need to make sure you choose an appropriate and clear filename — you don't want to confuse the hiring manager or have your resume end up getting lost in the shuffle. 

That means, instead of using the generic “resume.doc,” use your name; for example, “JohnDoeResume.doc” or “johndoeresume.doc” would work just fine. Make sure you include the word resume in the name so you can distinguish it from your cover letter, which should also take on the same format when saving: “JohnDoeCoverLetter.doc” or “johndoecoverletter.doc.” 

While naming and saving only takes a few clicks of your keyboard, they can make a big difference in your job search; don't take it lightly. 

Not sure if your resume will make the splash you want? Check with a free resume review today! 

This article was updated in March 2020 by Danielle Elmers.

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