The Best Format for Your Resume (Hint: It's Not .PDF)

So you want your resume to look pretty. Naturally. But is your pretty format preventing your resume from functioning as well as it should?
  • Did you know that many corporate and staffing agency ATS's (Applicant Tracking Systems) strip your resume of formatting when the information is imported into your profile?
  • Or that when you forward your resume to a recruiter, they often have to copy and paste it into a new format that follows their protocol before they forward it on to the hiring manager?

Resumes that are heavily formatted with tables and graphics don't translate very well when they are pasted into a new document. Your best bet is to use the 97-2003 version MS Word (not my favourite either), minimizing tables and graphics. A Rich Text Format version works well too.

Here is a test. Take your resume, select all, copy, and paste it into a blank Word doc. How does it do?

Some ATS systems will translate fancy formatting seamlessly. But many companies, unfortunately, have systems that don't. And your resume is most likely going to be viewed in a browser or system window of some kind, versus on a printed page, or as an attachment (which many companies see as being vulnerable to viruses). Also consider the preview or cached version of your resume, which many recruiters and hiring managers will view to save time or to keep from having to open an application to view your document. Fancy formatting doesn't translate in this instance either.

 The information in the resume is far more important than a flashy style. If the info is presented in a professional, straight forward way, you are ultimately better off and will have a portable resume that can be effective in multiple instances.

 One of main considerations for your resume should be SEO. That's right, search engine optimization. Each company you apply to, be it corporate or staffing agency, will store your resume in a database of some kind. And the way your resume is retrieved, when someone is searching this database for viable candidates, is by keyword search. So make sure your document contains the proper keywords, that are specific to your skill set, throughout your resume. Also make sure that your name and contact info are not embedded in a header (this also doesn't translate well in some systems).

Think of the World Wide Web as one big collection of databases. Job seekers should have their resume stored somewhere on the Internet so that it can be found outside of a company's internal database. Again, keywords are the method by which it will be retrieved. And be specific. Not "Manager", but "Six Sigma Program Manager". Use the words that will set you apart in a keyword specific search. And repeat these keywords where they apply in each job description so that the reader will have some context as to where and when you used these skills.

Many resume writing services encourage fancy formatting to "set you apart". Using colour in a resume is a popular trend. This is all fine. There is nothing wrong with having a pretty version of your resume. But if you are going to pay a resume service to help you, you might consider asking them for an html version that looks just as nice. This can be the one you keep on your web site or blog.

Also ask for a version that is in Rich Text Format or MS Word without so much table formatting. These can be the docs that are easily translated in corporate ATS systems and online job boards. Put a link on there to the "pretty" version online if you like. But also put the functional version online somewhere if you want it to be easily found and read.

A note on .PDF formats. Many systems still don't translate .PDF resumes well or at all. Some systems will but require a costly add-on. And if a recruiter is tasked with converting your resume to a different format to comply with company guidelines or branding, yours may very well go to the back of the line if the busy recruiter is in a time crunch (which is often the case).


  • Best bet is to use the 97-2003 version MS Word
  • Minimize tables and graphics.
  • Keep your formating simple
  • The information in the resume is far more important than a flashy style
  • Consider using keywords to encourage search engine optimization
  • PDFs can be time consuming for a recruiter to format and often dont read well in some applicant tracking systems
  • Keep a word doc softcopy on hand to send when requested

Article from a Professional Recruiting & HR blog site

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