Here's a common question … and common mistake I see all the time. In which format should candidates send their resume – .doc or .pdf? I set up a poll on Linkedin Answers to see what HR professionals and recruiters think.
The answers might surprise you, especially considering that about 25% of the resumes I get are in .pdf. Learn why this is a bad idea …
This is a discussion that I bet will bring out strong candidates preferences, just like Bullets vs. Paragraphs (http://recareered.blogspot.com/2010/09/which-are-more-effective-in-resume.html), and Should You Include Your Address? (http://recareered.blogspot.com/2010/09/should-i-include-my-address-on-my.html).
Candidates often have such ingrained habits in job search that they sometimes hold onto these habits fiercely, because candidates gravitate to what they are comfortable with. When there is so much out of a candidate's control in job search, and so much has changed, it's human nature to cling to comfort zones – even when these habits don't work.
When resumes were first sent online, 10-15 years ago, and before the advent of ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems), there were a number of popular Word processing systems. Before MS Word took over the word processing market, there were 3 major office suites for PCs, plus Apple, all of whom had conflicting compatibility. Some of these word processors could translate formats, but not perfectly, in ways that could throw formatting way off.
Today there's Word, Word compatible systems (including Google Docs and other open source), and Apple (that can read and convert to .doc files). Most also allow saving as a .pdf, which is basically a picture of the document.
When there were so many incompatible systems, and employers also had a number of different systems, a .pdf made sense, because it could be read by software that was included on almost all systems.
However, today most companies use Word or Apple products to read resumes – products that have a common format … .doc. Because of this most companies convert all resumes into a common format, typically .doc before saving in their database. This means that .pdfs get converted also, raising questions about how the formatting is translated. Typically, much of the formatting on a .pdf is lost in translation – so if you submit a .pdf, you should expect that your resume will not look the same to your reader as it does to you, because it looses at least some of its formatting.
This might mean that tabs don't appear, or appear differently when translated to .doc. Graphics won't appear, or may appear as strange collections of characters. Colors and fonts often don't translate. Your resume, after translated from .pdf to .doc might appear as a mess.
As a candidate do you want to take this risk?
It turns out that neither HR nor recruiters want to see .pdfs either. While 81% of the total poll preferred .doc to 16% who preferred .pdfs, when I removed candidate responses from the poll, it became a 100% .doc preference.
Why do HR reps and recruiters care?
.pdfs are a pain for HR and recruiters who have to add a translation step. In addition, some resumes become unreadable after translation, so they aren't able to be presented to the hiring manager. Imagine how frustrating that is to an HR rep who's found an awesome candidate, only to find they are unable to submit their illegible resume to the hiring manager. Most won't contact the candidate for another version, but just move on to the next applicant.
Most outside recruiters won't touch .pdfs, because it's difficult for them to put their logo on a .pdf resume. Putting the recruiting firm's logo on your resume lowers the recruiter's risk of getting stiffed by the employer – in a sense, recruiters want to brand your resume as coming from their firm.
What about other formats?
Apple's .dot doesn't translate well to Word – there are often differences. Unless you are certain that your target company is 100% Mac, I wouldn't submit in Apple's .dot format. .docx is the Office 2007 & 2010 format, and is unreadable by anyone using Office 2003 or earlier and most companies today still use Office 2003 or earlier – even large companies. If you're sending to Microsoft, you're safe sending as .docx. Otherwise, save in what's called “Office 97-2003 compatibility mode” (.doc) to have the best chance that your document won't have to be translated, with unknown formatting results.
HR & Recruiters – Please comment with your opinions. Why do you prefer .doc or other formats?
Author: Phil Rosenberg