Resume Debate: Word v. PDF By Kelly Eggers

When it comes to resumes, there’s one question that has everybody disagreeing: PDF or Word?
About 61% of North American companies surveyed have some sort of applicant tracking software in place, and small-to-midsized businesses are rapidly adopting them, according to Sarah White, the principal analyst for talent acquisition at Oakland, Calif.-based HR research firm Bersin and Associates. “More and more job seekers are going to start finding these systems in workplaces,” said White.

There are about 55 different ATS vendors on the market, according to Bersin, which works with some of the largest ATS software providers, like Taleo, SilkRoad, Oracle, iCIMS, Lumesse (formerly StepStone) and Kenexa. White says that the industry’s biggest players are the providers used by approximately 55% of the companies that have adopted ATS software, according to Bersin’s 2011 Talent Acquisition Systems report.

While a few of these systems are beginning to add PDF-translating capability, and some have even moved to accept LinkedIn profile formatting, the standard among them is still Microsoft Word, White said. “I think you’re always safer using a Word document than a PDF, as well as sticking to .doc instead of .docx extensions,” she says. “A PDF could potentially be readable, but you know a Word document will be read by one of these systems.”

If you’re applying to a job with a large company, chances are, your resume will be uploaded to one of these systems, according to Greg Faherty, a certified professional resume writer based in New York. “If you want a storage or search system to read your document correctly,” said Faherty. “Always use Microsoft Word (.doc) or Rich Text Format (.rtf) files. Never use PDF files. These cannot be read by more than 90% of parsing systems used by HR offices and recruiters.”

However, PDFs also require extra effort on the recruiter’s end, said Faherty. “Receiving a PDF is often an annoyance to a recruiter or HR representative or hiring manager because it means they have to open a separate software program just to read that one resume.”