You’ve just finished filling out an online job application. You scan it to ensure your name, contact information, and references are correctly listed. Then you click on the “Attach your Resume” button, upload your resume, and send off your application.

Take a step back and think a moment. What was the format of your resume that you sent in? Was it in MS Word or a PDF? Will it pass the applicant tracking software system? Most often, the question that arises with online applications is, “Will my resume formatting stay the same?” For the most part, your document formatting should remain the same, provided the person on the receiving end has the same software version as you. This also matters if the company is using an updated Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) system.

Even though you can’t exactly know what document software or ATS system your potential employer is using, there are ways to get your resume to your end-user without sacrificing quality or the layout.

What is the Applicant Tracking Software system or ATS?

The ATS is a software application used online that intakes and stores job candidate information. About 98% of employers use an ATS system within their hiring processes. The purpose of an ATS system is to help employers accurately identify quality candidates, which saves money and time. Once all the relevant data is in the ATS, it becomes available to those in the hiring process.

So, what does the Applicant Tracking Software system read on your resume? It does search for keywords relevant to the job description, timeline dates, and job titles. Companies can also program their systems to use what’s called ‘knock-out’ questions such as, “Have you got a minimum of five years’ experience working as a managing director?” These questions eliminate candidates that don’t meet the minimum criteria.

Because of the ATS systems employers use, there’s been a discussion of the benefits and disadvantages to Word and PDF formats for resumes, and your best method for avoiding any formatting issues or compatibility issues. Below are comparison details concerning these two popular formats, and which one you should use as your resume when applying to jobs online.

Word Format

For most online job apps, employers will often request a Word-formatted resume. This is because MS Word is the most versatile and popular format used by employers. Plus, nearly all employers have some version of Word that they use in their daily work processes.


  • Most versatile and popular format
  • Simple to use
  • Easy to scan
  • Accepted widely by the ATS system


  • Incorrect word versions may cause compatibility issues
  • Special character conversion issues
  • Not enough creativity/flexibility options
  • Document formatting may be skewed if opened in incorrect program

What to Do:

To avoid skewed formatting by the ATS, the best thing you can do is save your Word-formatted resume as a .doc. Avoid the .docx file extension, because some of the smaller- to medium-level companies may not have access to the most current word version.

To avoid skewed formatting by the ATS, the best thing you can do is save your Word-formatted resume as a .doc. @RiseSmart #SmartTalkHR #jobseeker

Saving and sending your Word-formatted resume as a .doc will ensure its format remains the same, and resolve any issues with compatibility. The .doc extension allows for earlier versions of Word (97 - 2000) to open your document easily, without sacrificing your special characters, formatting or layout.

PDF Format

While most employers prefer Word, there are still many employers who prefer job seekers send in a resume in PDF format. The reason is that PDFs can be viewed on many operating systems, including mobile, without disturbing the overall formatting.

PDFs are often the chosen format for most creative resumes since they will always maintain the original formatting. Artists, graphic designers, musicians, and similar types of creatives often use InDesign or Illustrator to design their resumes, and then save the resume as a PDF. Even so, there are benefits and disadvantages to using PDFs, especially if your job type doesn’t fall within the creative industry.


  • No visual impairments (grammar/spelling lines as seen in Word)
  • Sharper image quality
  • Better graphically designed resumes
  • Can be opened anywhere


  • Text may not read on all ATS systems, especially older systems.
  • ATS will skip graphics or text hidden within images
  • Large PDF documents may not download, frustrating the end-user

What to Do:

If you’re sending in your resume in a PDF format, make sure that the text can be highlighted with your cursor. This ensures that the ATS system will be able to read the text. Remove any text that is in picture format, since the ATS systems will not read any images.

If you’re sending in your resume in a PDF format, make sure that the text can be highlighted with your cursor. @RiseSmart #SmartTalkHR #jobseeker

Follow the Directions

Both formats are used frequently for online job applications, so the important thing to remember is to send in the format that the employer has requested. Even if you’re worried that the format may become skewed, there is a reason the employer is requesting a Word.doc or PDF file. Pay attention to which format they want, and adjust your resume accordingly.

A key rule of thumb when submitting a resume is to have both a Word and a PDF version of your resume. Each time you update your Word-formatted resume, export and resave over your PDF version, so you’ll always have an updated copy of both formats.

18 January 2018

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