Great Resumes Fast » Resume Writing Tips » Is It Better to Submit a Word or PDF Format of Your Resume

Does it make a difference what software program you use to create your resume? What if you use InDesign, Canva, or PDF to create your resume instead of a Microsoft Word document? Will it affect how applicant tracking systems (ATS) read your resume? If you’ve been wondering which software program is best to create your resume with, and which format is best to use when submitting your resume via online applications, this article is for you. 

In today’s article, I’m discussing how the software program you use to create your resume can affect the way an applicant tracking system will parse the information and then score your resume. 

Is It Better to Submit a Word or PDF Format of Your Resume?

Why Do ATS Matter?

Applicant tracking software or recruiting/talent management software programs are designed to help recruiters and hiring managers manage their talent pool, and find and interview the most qualified candidates. When an in-house recruiter is filling 10-15 roles or more and has 250+ candidates applying per position, it can get unwieldy if they don’t have a way to manage all the data and applicants. 

When you submit an application online, your resume and candidate information is uploaded into a database. The recruiter can then review your application or search through the candidate database to see if the database contains a candidate that meets the search parameters. 

LinkedIn works similarly. If you apply to a job on LinkedIn, you’re added to the candidate database for that role. The hiring manager can then review your profile, resume (if you’ve attached one), and your application. 

Applicant tracking systems can rank candidates according to fit based on the parameters or search terms that the recruiter chooses. For instance, if I’m hiring a project manager and the position requires PMP certification, I can use that certification as a search term and the applicant tracking system will pull the most relevant candidates.

It’s almost like SEO on Google, but for your resume and application. The more keywords, skills, and requirements your resume and online application contain that match the search terms the recruiter is using, the more relevant your profile is deemed and the higher you end up in the search results. 

How Does This Impact the Resume Format I Use?

Here’s where things get a little more convoluted. There are currently more than 400 different applicant tracking systems on the market today. Knowing which software program a company uses and what the exact requirements and specifications are for that software program is virtually impossible—not to mention a waste of your precious time that could be better invested into more fruitful job search efforts (like networking or using LinkedIn).

What we do know is that it’s important to make sure your resume is as ATS-compliant as possible because according to JobScan more than 98% of Fortune 500s are using ATS. There are some general guidelines that we know are pretty standard across the different programs. 

1 – Keywords and hard skills are the main search terms that recruiters will use. Make sure to include the ones that are most relevant to the position you’re targeting. 

2 – Don’t use tables as the content within the table is not able to be parsed in some software programs. 

3 – It’s been shared widely that there are applicant tracking programs that cannot parse the content from a PDF document, which means that if the program is scoring relevance and searching for keywords, PDF resumes would score a 0 and be at the bottom of the search results. This may not be true for every ATS program, but we do know that it is true for some of them. Therefore, it’s better to be safe than sorry when creating your resume.

Which File Format is Better: Word or PDF?

I tend to recommend using both but for different situations. First, if you’re applying online, see which file formats are requested. The online application may stipulate that they only accept Word or they want all resumes in PDF. Adhere to the request. If there’s no particular file format specified, I recommend submitting online applications with your Word document. If you’ve ever submitted your resume in a PDF format and then the program asks you to enter all the information from your resume into the application, it’s likely because the system didn’t pull the information out automatically and now it wants you to manually enter it. Try using the Word file next time to see if it helps.

PDF file formats are great when you’re emailing your resume to a recruiter, hiring manager, or decision-maker. They’re also fantastic for including when applying via LinkedIn. I prefer PDFs when sending your resume to a person because you know that no matter what version of Adobe they’re using, your document is going to look the same on the other end. They’re seeing what you’re seeing without any weird spacing or formatting issues or blank third pages. You don’t get the same guarantee with a Word document. You could be using the newest version of Word and they could still be using 2003 and who knows what the resume will look like when they open it.

Is It Okay to Create a Resume Using Canva?

Yes, one of the great features of Canva is that you can download the resume in different file types. You can save it as a PDF file and send that to the hiring manager. I’d be wary of using resume templates, though, as they tend to all look the same and that’s the exact opposite effect you want in your job search. 

Is It Okay to Create a Resume Using Adobe PDF or InDesign?

Yes, you can use either program to create a resume. You can also Adobe Creative Cloud to convert a Word document to a PDF or a PDF to a Word document. You can also edit PDFs with it, too. I strongly recommend that you have a PDF and a Word version of your resume. I wouldn’t recommend sending documents in a Notes file, .pages file, or InDesign file. These are not common file types and there’s no guarantee that the person on the receiving end has the software to open the resume. It’s better to stick with the two most common file types. 

One final word of caution when creating your resume. If you’re not in a creative field, play it safe and avoid overly creative designs. InDesign and Canva may offer some great creative options for resumes, but if you’re in a more traditional career field like finance or law these will not be well received. However, if you’re a graphic designer or artist, your creativity is part of your brand and it’s okay for your resume to reflect it.

Wondering how far back should job history go on your resume? Check out my recent article on How Far Back Should Job History Go on Your Resume.

If you’re not getting the responses that you hoped for from your resume, take a few minutes to review these five critical components to an effective resume. You’ll find out what your resume is missing, fix it, and start receiving more responses. 

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About the author

Jessica Hernandez, President, CEO & Founder of Great Resumes Fast

Hi, I’m Jessica. I started this company back in 2008 after more than a decade directing hiring practices at Fortune 500 companies.

What started as a side hustle (before that was even a word!) helping friends of friends with their resumes has now grown into a company that serves hundreds of happy clients a year. But the personal touch? I’ve kept that.

You might have seen me featured as a resume expert in publications like Forbes, Fast Company, and Fortune. And in 2020, I was honored to be named as a LinkedIn Top Voice of the year!

I’m so glad you’re here, and I can’t wait to help you find your next perfect-fit position!

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