CV: PDF or DOC? Which File Type Works Best

Should you send your CV as a pdf or word document? What are the pros and cons of pdf and doc? Read on to find out the answer.

Maciej Duszyński
Career Expert
CV: PDF or DOC? Which File Type Works Best

Should I submit my CV as Word or PDF?

 

Some call it the paradox of choice. Some, informed decision-making.

 

The truth is:

 

You’re here because what seemed obvious turned out to be a head-scratcher.

 

Keep calm.

 

This guide will show you:

  • Why choosing between a PDF or Word CV is so confusing.
  • What are the pros and cons of a pdf vs Word CV.
  • How to decide what format to send your CV in.

 

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Need help with a specific kind of CV? Explore our other guides:

 

1. PDF or Word CV: Why So Much Fuss?

 

Congratulations.

 

Your perfect CV is ready (not ready yet? Read how to make a CV here). Time to send it out.

 

The problem?

 

Should you send your CV in a Word or PDF format?

 

Well—

 

Both file types are extremely popular, and it’s this very popularity that makes it so difficult to decide upon the best format to send a CV.

 

Not to worry.

 

Before making any decision, answer the following questions:

 

What does the job ad say?

 

As easy as this.

 

Go back to the job listing to see if the employer states whether they’d like to receive a pdf or docx CV from you.

 

If you don’t find any information, move on to the next question:

 

Are you sending your CV to a person as an email attachment or submitting it via ATS?

 

If you're emailing your CV straight to the recruiter's inbox—

 

Send your CV as a PDF.

 

That’s it. If you want to learn more about the advantages of PDF files, go straight to the next section.

 

If you’re submitting your documents via an ATS system—

 

Send your CV as PDF. Or docx.

 

The choice is yours.

 

The ATS will parse your CV in search of CV keywords, so the text will be sucked into the system, and your CV formatting will be lost anyway.

 

A caveat:

 

Some old-school ATSs may have problems reading CVs submitted as PDFs. Especially if the formatting is on the creative side. If you want to be 300% sure any kind of ATS will parse your CV, send it as a doc. Always use a ATS-friendly CV template.

 

Expert Hint: 98% of Fortune 500 companies use ATS. Not sure what ATS is? Go here.

 

Are you sending your application via a proxy recruitment company?

 

Recruitment companies prefer “doc CVs.”

 

Why?

 

A CV in Word is easy to edit.

 

Recruitment companies will want to remove your contact details, rearrange your CV sections, or edit your CV job description to boost your chances.

 

PDF has come into being as a delivery format. As such it’s not the best choice if you’re planning on editing the document.

Expert Hint: Consider sending your CV both as PDF and Word. Send the PDF version to the recruiter, and submit the doc to the ATS.

2. Pros and Cons of CV in PDF or Word

 

Here’s a quick look at the advantages and disadvantages of each file type:

 

Word CV

Pros
  • Popular file type
  • Easily editable
  • Hassle-free creation
  • ATS readable
Cons
  • Formatting may look weird (Open Office, other versions)
  • Easily editable

Let’s consider the pros of a Word CV first.

 

MS Word is the most popular word processor the world over. Why? Because documents created in MS Word are easy to edit.

 

In fact, if you want to start creating a text document (including your CV), 9 out of 10 times you’d think of Microsoft Word first. Even if you end up using another piece of software.

 

And—

 

On top of this, you can be sure your Word CV is 100% readable to any ATS system.

 

The shortcomings?

 

A CV in Word may lose its formatting on other computers, systems, or software.

 

Back in the day when Word was the only reasonable word processor on the horizon, the documents looked pretty much the same on all computers.

 

With the advent of different Windows versions, Word iterations, open-source software, the growing popularity of Macs, and omnipresent mobile devices of all sorts—it’s really hard to tell what your CV in Word will look like on somebody else’s screen.

 

Sometimes it may just be the case of a missing CV font. And that’s not bad.

 

In the worst case scenario, your Word CV may turn into a garbled paragraph of indecipherable characters.

 

And—

 

The fact that Word CVs are easily editable may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

 

It’s not that hard to imagine someone accidentally messing the file up.

 

An inadvertent deletion of a digit in your phone number can change quite a lot.

 

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PDF CV

Pros
  • Universal
  • Works on any system and device
  • Formatting will stay intact
  • ATS readable
Cons
  • Old-school ATS may find it problematic (especially if you go too creative with the formatting)

Now—

 

Let’s consider the PDF file format.

 

Upsides of a PDF CV?

 

PDFs are universally recognised across a variety of devices.

 

Also—

 

They look the same, and their formatting is pretty much set in stone.

 

In fact, the PDF was conceived by Adobe as an open-source file delivery format. PDFs were designed to look the same on all end devices.

 

Plus—

 

The vast majority of CVs in PDF are ATS-readable.

 

What are the downsides of PDF CVs?

 

PDFs are extremely versatile.

 

And too much of a good thing is not such a good thing.

 

For one thing, you may accidentally save your CV as an image PDF document. This may not just result in having a massive file but also rendering it useless for any ATS.

 

Plus—

 

If you go too creative with your formatting (fonts, multiple tables, graphics, and other embellishments), the ATS may not be able to parse your PDF CV right.

Expert hint: Want to be sure your CV in PDF is readable for the ATS? Highlight the text, copy it from the PDF CV, and paste it into a blank text document. Don’t worry about formatting. Just see if all the information is there.

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3. CV in Word or PDF Format: Decision

 

In the vast majority of cases, you should—

 

Send your CV as PDF.

 

Unless the job ad specifically defines what file format is required, or you have mixed feelings whether or not the ATS will scan it right.

 

Most of the time, though, you’ll need Microsoft Word to create and/or edit your CV, but you’ll be exporting the ready-made document to PDF.

 

Thus—

 

You’ll end up with two files: a CV in pdf and Word.

 

Last but not least:

 

Keep these in mind when choosing the best file format for your CV:

  • Optimise your CV for the ATS and the recruiter alike.
  • Microsoft Word is great as an editing tool. This list of downloadable free MS Word templates is certainly going to be useful to you. Alternatively, you can export Word documents from Google Docs (here are some Google docs CV templates for you to use).
  • Almost all CV builders out there allow you to download both Word and PDF
  • Adobe PDF is great for content delivery.

 

What are your thoughts? Did you send your CV in a Word or PDF format? Want to share advice on how to send a CV online and what format is the best? Give us a shout out in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

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Maciej Duszyński
Maciej Duszynski is a career advice writer and a resume expert at ResumeLab. With over 8 years of experience in recruitment, hiring, and training, Maciej shares insider HR knowledge to equip every job seeker with professional advice to nail the job hunt. His insights have been featured by the Chicago Tribune, SparkPeople, Toggl, Referral Rock, and Databox, among others. Maciej has helped job candidates at all stages of their career paths, from interns to directors to C-suite members, to thrive in their job. His mission is to help you find the right opportunity and create a job application that gets you the career you deserve. Maciej holds a Master’s degree in English with a specialization in communication and education management.

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