Friday, October 5, 2007

.doc vs .pdf - What Resume format do HR departments & recruiters prefer? Page 2

This is a discussion that I bet will bring out strong candidates preferences, just like Bullets vs. Paragraphs (, and Should You Include Your Address? (

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 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 a 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.

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?

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Giselle said...

I use a Mac and Pages (Apple's word processing software). I've been told that my resume edited in Pages and saved as a .doc went from 2 pages to 3, the bullets got screwed up as did the fonts. I'd rather be sure that it will be seen as I created it by saving it as a .pdf. Pdfs are automatically read by Acrobat Reader which mostly everyone has. If someone tries to convert it to a Word doc, they should expect formatting problems.

Phil Rosenberg said...

@Giselle, Thanks for your comment. That's what you may want to heppen, but it's probably not what HR and recruiting departments do with your resume. Just because most people have Acrobat Reader doesn't mean that they store resumes in different formats (otherwise, how could they search).

Most HR departments and recruiters translate resumes that are not a .doc into .doc, including .pdfs. So if you want to control how the format looks, submit in .doc, not in .pdf.

If there are differences between Apple and .doc, then I recommend you correct them so they appear as you want as a .doc.

Daniel K said...

Hi Phil, I worked with HR's and most of them prefer Word documents because this would save more memory space than pdf format. The only one employer that requested pdf format only was one from the architect/design industry.


Phil Rosenberg said...

@Daniel K - You're right on the money. Architects and design firms are some of the exceptions. They typically want a resume that demonstrates a candidate's design skills - and a .pdf is the best way to demonstrate this for companies that expect .pdfs.

Chris said...

My question then is why are there a lot of job web sites that require PDF versions of your resume? It is not easy to afford the software that will make a PDF out of a Doc and then get it sent to the site.

Phil Rosenberg said...

@Chris - there are often exceptions to the rule. This is one that graphics, design, even architecture firms may employ, by requiring .pdfs. In that way, these firms allow candidates to make their resume an example of their design skills.

phil said...

Wow! I had no idea things in HR departments were so backward. Word files can easily be exported as PDFs, and PDFs should always keep their formatting across any software or system. PDF is an open standard as of sometime in 2008, with an ISO designation and all. I'm not going to deny a strong personal bias, but when I try to look at it objectively, it just seems silly to covert everything to .doc instead of pdf.

On the other hand, maybe it's automatic screening built-in for me. I don't want to work for an employer who forces .doc. I'll just keep pdf'ing it.

Phil Rosenberg said...

@Phil - While it's easy on an individual basis, it's much more of an investment of time and resources to do this on an overall basis, when a company/recruiter may be receiving thousands of resumes per day.

This is why 100% of recruiters and HR managers polled said they wanted to receive resumes in .doc format.

It sounds like you're just being stubborn - that's ok. Just dig your heels in, keep sending in .pdf's and you'll just have your resume seen by fewer employers.

It's your choice - I'm just delivering the poll results.