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 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 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 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.