The Answer to: "Should My Resume Be Submitted as a Word Doc or PDF?"

Your resume’s ready to go out there and get you the job. You’ve updated it, highlighted your transferable skills, and triple-checked for typos. Now the only question is how you submit it. Should it be a PDF or Word document?

The answer’s complicated, but to help you make the best, most educated decision, I enlisted the help of two of our career coaches who specialize in resume reviews. Alex Durand did not mince words when he told me that the answer is always PDF.

His sound reasoning? “Leaving your resume in any word processing format exposes you to the possibility that someone might inadvertently alter it. You want interested parties to review the polished, error-free copy.”

This is obviously a good point. A PDF cannot be altered, whereas a Word doc can. Durand instructs: “Don’t give your power away.”

On the one hand, it’s hard to find fault with that reasoning, but on the other, it seems that there’s a bit of gray. Coach Theresa Merrill, who says she feels “strongly” about this subject, notes that there are “pros and cons to both formats.” She goes on to explain: “How you use them depends on how you are submitting them.”

Aha! There’s that gray I mentioned a moment ago. Merrill advises: “If you’re emailing a resume directly to someone, then use a PDF as these are typically virus-free when downloaded. Also PDFs retain formatting.”

However, the reason you might opt for a Word doc is because of the complicated nature of ATS tracking systems. Although she acknowledges that it’s not as much of an issue as it used to be, problems can still occur. The issue, she explains “is that the software may not track or scan keywords on PDFs as well as it does on Word documents,” which means, regrettably, that your application could fail to reach a human.

If you have no idea what an ATS is or if you’ve ever used one, you should probably read this before you do anything else.