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.
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Merrill sees no harm in submitting both—if you’re applying through LinkedIn or the company’s website—however, in most cases, this isn’t possible. After all, you’re often prompted to attach your resume—not two.
So here’s what to know as you make your decision: The PDF’s typically going to be the better-looking version, but if you have any tiny worries about an ATS missing your keywords, the Word version is the way to go.
I know what you’re thinking—I’m job searching, I’m full of tiny worries.
I completely understand. Think about it this way: If you’re applying to a role with no referrals or internal connections, you should play it safe and submit your resume via Word because you need all the ATS help you can get (and it’s simply not worth it to take any chances).
But, if you have someone on the inside looking out for your application or you’re emailing your materials directly, then a PDF’s better.
The key, in any event, is to stand out and get noticed—and more often than not, simply applying online won’t make that happen. So if you have the hiring manager’s contact info, go ahead and send your resume and cover letter in a separate email, noting that you also applied online. Not sure how to track down who the hiring manager even is? Career expert Jenny Foss has three fantastic ideas for how to do just that.
And before you stress out too much about this decision—keep this in mind: The fact that you’re even taking the time to read up on this shows that you’re ahead of the pack. That tells me that you’re a hard worker who will land the right job. So, proofread that resume one more time and then submit it.