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Resume Format: PDF, ASCII, .doc, or .docx?

Formatting Your Resume: PDF, ASCII, .doc, or .docx?  What is the best resume format to use?

Imagine you have just finished writing and editing your resume. You hold up that perfectly spaced, tabbed, indented, and designed beauty admiring it and decide you’re going to send it to your friend Mary because you’re so proud of it. You send it and immediately text her to ask what she thinks. Mary is at her daughter’s gymnastics practice but pulls it up on her Ipad. Her text back to you is shocking, “This looks terrible!”

What happened? Depending on the format the document was saved in, certain technological devices may not have a compatible program to view it. This is important to keep in mind when submitting your resume to different recruiters or job postings.

.docx

.docx is the default format for more recent versions of Microsoft Word. The problem is that not everyone has updated their copy of MS Word and may be using .doc. If this is the case your .docx version is going to look really funny when they try to open it. Your formatting may be changed, the font may have problems, and some of the symbols may come through differently than you intended. Of course, if the job posting or recruiter specifically ask for .docx then there would be no problem.

.doc

.doc is the older default which maintains it’s formatting whether opened with an older or newer Word program. It’s a good idea to save your document as Word 2003 or .doc if you are planning to send to anyone. This ensures all of your hard work won’t be wasted when the viewer opens your document. Additionally, Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are always familiar with this version. ATS is a scanning program which “looks” through resumes to pick up on keywords or phrases to save HR departments time when hundreds of resumes are received daily. This is why it’s important to use keywords and phrases generously throughout your resume.

.PDF

PDF is the safest format for emailing. It is also the safest format to choose in case your resume will be opened on a tablet or smartphone. Once you save your document as a PDF, it is essentially locked into place. Still, you must consider most recruiters would prefer a Word document and usually have the technology to “unlock” your PDF anyway.  The only PDF that cannot be opened and manipulated is one that has been scanned.  Keep in mind that if you are using MS Word, there are free add-ins available from Microsoft that will allow you to save any .doc or .docx as a .pdf.  While Adobe was the company to create the .pdf format, many complain that even the basic Adobe Reader for viewing .pdf’s is bloated and slows their system down.  If this sounds familiar, search for “Foxit reader”- it’s a lightweight .pdf viewer that does the same thing as Adobe Reader.

ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange)

Pronounced ask-ee, it uses plain text without any formatting at all. It won’t look as pretty as a formatted version, however you can rest assured that what you send will look the same when your receiver pulls it up, regardless of whether they’re using a PC, Mac, Smartphone, or iPad. While this format is starting to become outdated, it is still the best format to use when filling in an application. If you are required to fill in an application as part of a job announcement, copy and paste from your ASCII version to avoid any hiccups in formatting.

The best advice I can give is that it is always best if you know what your target audience prefers. If you don’t know that information, the safest approach is to provide a Word 2003 or .doc version.

12 Comments
  1. I work for the Federal Housing Finance Agency and I want to apply for other jobs in the agency. It has been a long time since I have updated my resume. I need help with style and grammar and updating it. Because I am older I have a lot to put in the resume. I may also have some abrievated forms because I am an internal candidate, so I would like help with those also.

    Let me know if you can help me.

    • Thank you for reaching out! I would be happy to help. I have replied to your email privately.

  2. Hello, I’m interested in hiring someone to revamp my resume and also put together a Linkin profile for me. Please contact me.

    Thank you.

    • S,
      Thank you for contacting me! I will reach out to you by phone.
      Best,
      Tina

  3. I’m currently a federal employee (9 years)and I’m looking for a new position and possible direction within the federal sector. What assistance are you able to offer me at this stage and would it be a waste of time and money to go through this process since I’m already a federal employee?

    • Thank you for your comment Remy! Actually many long-time federal employees contact me for assistance with their resumes and application packets. It may be beneficial for you to email your resume just for the critique. After that you can decide if you think you could benefit from further assistance. As you probably know, even if you’re already a federal employee, you can encounter many obstacles in moving up the ladder. One obstacle could be the quality of your resume. Feel free to email your current resume for a free critique!
      Tina

  4. So the question of this article is “What is the best resume format to use?”

    It was not answered. So what is the best format?

    • The last sentence of the post tried to answer the question: “The best advice I can give is that it is always best if you know what your target audience prefers. If you don’t know that information, the safest approach is to provide a Word 2003 or .doc version.” There are drawbacks to each format. This was a discussion of the drawbacks and advantages to each. My main goal was to get readers to give it some thought before sending their resume in for a position. I hope that helped clear it up a bit. If not, feel free to contact me if you have more questions. Tina

  5. Dear Ms. Sims,

    I am a 20 + year Commonwealth of Virginia career professional in the field of procurement. I am seeking to transition into a federal position as a Procurement Contract Specialist. I believe you can assist with my transition.

    I look forward to discussing the particulars and possibilities of my career evolution.

    Thank you.

    • Hi Priscilla, I would be happy to assist! I will contact you offline via email. Best,
      Tina

  6. Great!

    The best way to check if your resume is ATS compatible and will make it past screeners is to check it with Jobscan https://goo.gl/Fhzvye which let’s you pre-check against ATS you resume before you apply to the job.

    • Thank you for your comment! It looks like a great site to get more information and to play around with. It even has some free features. While I’m reluctant to allow the technology to modify my resume, I know there are many tools like this “out there” and you certainly can’t go wrong with trying out the free features.

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