Not all file formats are created equal.

You've written your resume, keyword optimized it, and had at least three people edit it. Now it's time to save your document and send it out. Have you saved it in the best resume file format for hiring managers to process? We've all been taught to polish our resumes, divide it into readable sections, and stay away from the first person, but what about the actual format? No one ever mentions that detail. Which file format should job seekers use to upload, email, or submit their resumes? The answer: It depends on the situation.

Below are the pros and cons of each file format to help you choose the best resume format for every circumstance.

Hard Copy

Hard copy resumes may be rare, but they are not completely obsolete. Job fairs and interviews still call for the traditional resume, printed on professional-quality paper. The rules for hard copies are also simpler than their electronic cousins. Keep in mind the following resume tips:

  • Don't use paper colors other than white or eggshell. Other colors look unprofessional and can cause issues with readability.

  • Use new, unstained resume paper with a weight of 24-32 lbs. This paper stock is available at most office supply stores.

  • Stay away from graphics, fancy fonts, and colored writing.

  • Don't staple the resume. Use paper clips.

  • Place a cover letter on top of each hard copy.

Word Document

Microsoft Word is currently the most popular word processor for writing resumes. Documents written on Word will be saved as a .doc or .docx file, which is a popular file format to send as an email attachment. Indeed, many job ads specifically request Word versions over any other program. Do not use OpenOffice or other programs to save your resume as a .doc or .docx. These programs may save in the format but include minor inconsistencies that will cause your resume to look awkward.

Pros of Word Documents:

  • Word is standard in most businesses.

  • It maintains the overall formatting and keeps the same feeling.

Cons of Word Documents:

  • Some companies don't allow email attachments because of virus risks.

  • There are compatibility issues (.doc vs. .docx and Mac vs. PC) that may alter the format of your resume.


Some might consider the PDF to be the best resume file format. While Word has its ups and downs, emailing a PDF gives you complete assurance that the employer will see your resume exactly as you designed it. PDFs also come with extra protection. Hiring managers or other employees cannot edit or alter the document, ensuring your original copy arrives safe and sound.

Pros of PDFs:

  • Eliminates virus risk.

  • Compatible with both Macs and PCs.

  • No one can change the resume once it's saved in PDF.

Cons of PDFs:

  • The recipient must have Adobe Acrobat Reader.

  • Job seekers may not have the right software to convert documents to PDF.

  • Not all applicant tracking systems can view and parse resumes in this format.


HTML files are making a breakthrough in resume formatting. Job seekers can easily save their resumes as an HTML file, which appears similar to an Internet bookmark. Hiring managers open the file on their browser and view it much like a web page. An HTML resume can be sent as an email attachment or posted on a website.

Pros of HTML:

  • HTML retains formatting and layout when the resume is sent as an email attachment.

  • The recipient can view the resume right in the email browser without downloading it.

  • The resume can be posted to your website.

Cons of HTML:

  • You may require a separate software application to convert the document to HTML.

  • Not all browsers support HTML documents.

  • The resume file may be mistaken for spam, which is often sent in HTML.

Plain Text

A text resume has no special effects such as bold, italics, or centering. It contains only plain-text characters that can be created from the standard keyboard. This format is the best for applicant tracking software (ATS) purposes, as all ATS systems can sort through, decipher, and read plain text files that do not contain any design elements or conditional formatting.

Pros of Plain Text:

  • A text resume can be sent within the body of an email.

  • Plain text makes it easy for employers to place the resume into a searchable database.

  • Some creative effects can be added using keyboard characters.

Cons of Plain Text:

  • Text strips out all graphics and special text effects.

  • Isn't very appealing.

  • Often is hard on human eyes.

Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

Whether you select Word, PDF, HTML, or plain text for your resume, always keep in mind the applicant tracking system (ATS). This applicant-screening software is programmed with basic, common fonts and styles. Stay away from fonts that are stylistic in nature. Times New Roman, Calibri, and Cambria work best with the ATS. This software often cannot read tables, graphics, or colors, so another resume tip is if your resume is posted online for the computer to read, stick with basic formatting.

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