One of the most frequent questions I receive from job seekers is “how should I save my resume to make certain ATS systems will read it?” The three options are to save your resume as an MS-Word file, PDF file, or text file. Each option has advantages and disadvantages.
Option 1: Send MS-Word documents.
It’s common to submit resumes and cover letters to job sites and employers in MS-Word format but there are some caveats. First, there are two common kinds of MS-Word files. Older versions of MS-Word generate files with a DOC extension after the file name, such as resume.doc. MS-Word 2007 and later generate DOCX files such as resume.docx. Word warns us that certain formatting will be lost if we save our work in the older format because newer versions of Word have more advanced features. Resumes and cover letters typically use relatively basic formatting so either file type should work.
There is usually a list, or a link to a list, of “acceptable file types” on upload pages. Check this list to make sure the older format is acceptable if you are using a DOC file format. The best practice is to upload files using the more modern and widely recognized DOCX file type.
Don’t worry if the “computer jargon” is confusing to you. Your MS-Word software will normally save the file in the correct format.
It’s easy to create and submit Word files but there is a downside. Specifically, there is no assurance that your resume format will look the way you want it to look on the hiring team members’ screens. Sometimes, the settings on the recipients’ systems differ from yours. It’s even possible that the recipient’s software does not have the text font you used. A new issue is that, according to one survey, 59% of hiring team members look at a resume for the first time on their smartphone. You’ve probably noticed that MS-Word documents do not necessarily look the same way on a phone as they do on a computer screen.
The upside to keeping your resumes and letters in MS-Word format is that you can easily modify both documents for every employer you apply to. Employers will be impressed if you take the time to address their specific requests and requirements.
Option 2: Save and send PDF files.
Issues with sending resumes in MS-Word format have led to a search for alternatives since the earliest days of electronic resumes. The most popular solution today is to convert your documents to Adobe Acrobat, or PDF files. Many word processing system will allow you to either “export to PDF” or “print as PDF.” A PDF document is supposed to look the same no matter what kind of screen you look at it on, so it is a popular way for many organizations, as well as job seekers, to distribute documents.
PDF documents have also become popular because they cannot easily be modified the way anyone can edit a Word document. You will have to use Word for changes, and then create a new PDF file.
The PDF format has advantages, although it is not a panacea. The “save as PDF” and “print to PDF file” options found in word processing software, seem interchangeable at first glance, for example, but they are not equivalent. For example, the print as PDF option, according to an MS-Office help blog, “intercepts the printer” to create a PDF file instead of printed pages. This means the PDF document will not have links for information such as your LinkedIn profile, email address, and the web sites of your previous employers. It may not be an issue for you if the only linkable information on your resume is your email address—it is easy enough for someone to copy and paste the email address into a message. Keep in mind, though, that your goal from a marketing point of view is to “make it easy for the customer to buy.” In other words, saving or exporting the document to a PDF file may be the best option if available.
The PDF format is not trouble-free. Occasionally, I receive a resume from a job seeker that is in an “image PDF” format. The originator may have photographed a paper document with their smartphone, and then converted it into a PDF.
Image PDF files are problematic because the text cannot be lifted out of them easily. Try copying and pasting the content of an image PDF. You will probably have difficulty. An employer’s ATS will not parse the text if copy-and-paste won’t work.
Option 3: Save your resume as a text file.
The “old school” solution to make certain an applicant tracking system is able to read your resume content is to save it as a text, or TXT file. You can then paste your document into an email message, or a text box on a job application. The problem is that all your formatting is lost. Most experts I’ve spoken to say “it looks terrible.”
Modern online applications can handle MS-Word documents and PDF files other than image PDF files, so the text file option is rarely needed. Keep it in mind though if you are applying to organizations with obsolete systems that require you to supply your information in the body of an email, or in a text dialogue box. Some not-for-profit organizations and public agencies may still have systems like this.
So, what is the answer to the format dilemma?
My solution is to keep the resume format simple so you will be able to convert your resume and letter into any format the online application accepts. Hiring teams need text that provides them with your contact information, accomplishments, work history, and educational credentials. Elegant graphics take up space on the screen or page, and may distract readers from your content. Even worse, ATS systems do not “see” graphics and photos.
There are websites that will scan your documents and evaluate how “ATS friendly” they are. You don’t need them. Just copy and paste your document into Notepad to see if it is readable. ATS systems should read your document if Notepad reads it. Either a Word document or PDF document will work fine in the vast majority of situations.I provide Word and PDF documents to my clients. As always, my readers and I would love to learn about your experiences in the comment section below. You are of course, also welcome to click here for an appointment to discuss your own job search communications needs.