Resume PDF or Word: The Best File Format in 2024

Thinking man looking at dual monitor set up.

You have your resume written, formatted, and tailored just the way you want it. You’re nearly ready to send it out to impress recruiters and hiring managers! But now, it's time to click save… what file format are you supposed to use?

There are almost as many answers as there are options for files! You want to get your resume noticed - but for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. Don’t panic because we’ve got you covered!

In this post, we’ll share the latest advice from ZipJob's professional resume writers. By the end, you’ll have all the details you need to make an informed decision about your resume file format. Before we get started, though, there is one unbreakable rule to bear in mind: 

Use the file type specified in the job advert!

Not all companies will specify which file type they want. However, if the job posting includes something along the lines of “please send a resume PDF attachment to," then you should always send your resume as a PDF attachment to that email address.

Read the job advert thoroughly to see if the employer prefers a certain file type. You should always send the format that the employer is asking for. Failing to do that means that, at best, they’ll think that you can’t follow a simple instruction or, at worst, that your resume will be unreadable for them. 

In the rest of this article, we’ll go through which resume format to send if the job posting doesn’t provide specific instructions.

What are the most common file types for resumes?

The most common resume formats are:

  • Adobe PDF

  • Microsoft Word

  • Google Doc

  • TXT (Plain Text)

Of these options, the top two (PDF and Word documents) are by far the most common.

Your best option for a resume: PDF, Word, Google Doc, or TXT?

You’ll find plenty of Word, Google Doc, and PDF resume examples available online, although we recommend consulting with a professional resume writer before you decide to use them. That’s because many of them are more style than substance and aren’t suited to being scanned by an Applicant Tracking System. Such templates may do your application more harm than good!

When you’re considering which file format to use for your resume, bear in mind that each format is best suited to different purposes.

The best format for a job application

When applying for a job online, the best format to send and upload your resume in is usually a Word document. This format is most easily read by the majority of applicant tracking systems (or ATS). While it’s increasingly common for companies to invest in sophisticated ATS software that will parse your resume in any format, you can be confident that virtually all ATS scans can accurately read a .doc file.

Why take the risk of getting overlooked because of your file format? ZipJob’s resume experts recommend submitting your resume as a Word document most of the time. You can’t go wrong with this format!

The best file format for attaching your resume to an email

On the other hand, many job seekers pass out their resumes like business cards while job searching. If you’re sending a direct message to someone and attaching your resume, you could consider sending it as a PDF. This will preserve your formatting to ensure that your resume looks the same on everyone’s screen.

However, take note: sending a resume PDF does NOT mean that it's a good idea to use a creative or graphic resume format. ATSs, hiring managers, and recruiters all prefer traditional, single-column resumes that can be quickly understood. If you aren't sure which resume format to use, this guide walks you through the three most popular resume formats for American and Canadian employers.

Here are some additional tips for choosing the most suitable file format for your resume. 

What to know about sending a PDF resume 

Many job seekers prefer sending a resume PDF as it keeps the formatting the same for whoever views it, and it’s compatible across most operating systems.

There are some benefits to sending your resume as a PDF file: 

  • You know that the layout that the reader sees will be exactly as you created it

  • The reader won’t be distracted by Word’s wiggly underlines for spelling and grammar errors - not that you’d make any, but sometimes nouns like employer names can get picked up if they aren’t in the dictionary

  • The reader can’t make any changes to your text

But there are also some problems with sending a resume PDF:

  • The employer or recruiter might want to make a note or highlight on your resume; if you're sending your resume to someone for a review, the "suggest edits" feature on Word is quite valuable, and sending a PDF removes that option

  • A PDF can be locked - nice for security, but not so good if the password doesn't arrive with the file

  • Although this issue is now rarer, some ATS may have difficulty accurately reading a PDF file.

Should you send your resume as a PDF?

A PDF is acceptable for many employers… but you're better off sending a Word document if you’re sending it to a company that uses an ATS - that’s over 99% of Fortune 500 companies! Unless you’re sending your resume to a VERY small company, the chances are that they’ll use an ATS at some point in the recruitment process. If you're sending your resume to a recruitment agency, a Word document is often preferred because it's easier to make edits.

Expert Tip

33% of people decide whether or not to open an email based on the subject line. We have some handy hints on the subject in this blog.

What to know about sending a Word resume

A Word document is the easiest file type to edit, giving it a huge advantage. It's also possible to keep your Word document neat and organized, giving it a strong advantage over TXT files.

A Microsoft Word document is the safest bet for submitting your resume. ZipJob recommends always submitting a Word document because:

  • Surveys consistently show that employers and recruiters prefer a Microsoft Word document over PDF resumes

  • A Microsoft Word document is easily opened on most devices

  • An ATS can easily read a Word document 

The problems associated with sending your resume as a Word document include: 

  • It’s possible that the recipient can make changes to your resume - whether on purpose or by accident

  • It may look messy if there are lots of words highlighted as spelling errors 

Should you send your resume in Microsoft Word?

Yes, sending your resume in Word is the safest bet. It is the format that most employers prefer for resumes, and it can easily be screened by ATS.

What to know about sending a Google Doc resume

Google Docs are becoming more common, so are they the future of resumes? Maybe not yet; consider these pros and cons…

A Google Doc can be a good option, as: 

  • It can be sent as a Read Only file, meaning that it can’t be changed accidentally or deliberately

  • You can make corrections without needing to send over a revised file

  • Your attachment won’t end up in someone’s junk mail, as you’ll be sending a link instead 

However, Google Docs also have some disadvantages: 

  • They aren’t yet a common standard for resumes 

  • Hiring managers may be hesitant to click on an unsolicited link for fear of phishing

  • They won’t be able to read it if you fail to set the access permissions to “anyone with a link”

Should you send your resume as a Google Doc?

Overall, we don’t recommend sending your resume as a Google Doc, as it’s not yet considered a standard resume format. Additionally, there are risks associated with sending a link rather than a file attachment. 

What to know about sending a TXT resume

TXT resumes aren’t anywhere near as popular as the other formats. Let’s look at why. 

On the plus side, they don’t contain any formatting that could introduce errors when the document is scanned by an ATS.

On the other hand, however:

  • They look pretty uninspiring, as TXT files don’t have any formatting options

  • The lack of formatting also makes it harder for a recruiter to scan through and pick out key information

  • It doesn’t look very professional

Should you send your resume as a TXT file?

TXT files aren’t recommended as they don’t make the best first impression on the reader.

How to save your resume as a PDF or Word document

Assuming that you’ve written your resume in Word, all you need to do is click File - Save as and then choose where on your computer you want to save it. Then, just add the file name (more on that below!) and select the file type. You can do this by using the drop-down menu in the “save as type” field and choosing either “Word Document” or “PDF.” 

To convert your Google doc to a PDF or Word resume, just click on File - Download and select either the Microsoft Word or the PDF option. 

Applicant Tracking Systems and your file format

ATS is software that the majority of companies now use to screen your resume. The resumes that the ATS identifies as a good match for the position are recommended to the hiring manager.

Over 76% of resumes submitted aren't considered, and an incorrect file type may be one of the reasons why. Other resumes can be scored poorly by the ATS for lack of keywords, experience mismatch, or complicated formatting. Always send a Word or PDF document to ensure that your resume performs well. 

Final note: what to name your resume file

The name that you give to your file is an important factor to consider when sending out your resume. Your resume should be named as a combination of your name and “resume.”

For example:

  • ScottBrettResume.doc

  • SBrettResume.PDF

  • SBrettSalesManagerResume.PDF

Recruiters or hiring managers will sometimes go back to search the database for your resume. You want to ensure that they find your resume easily when they type in your name. It also looks more professional than naming your resume “My Resume” - they’re likely to receive hundreds of resumes with that file name! Make their job easier and make yourself stand out with a well-considered file name. 

It’s time to send your resume out into the world!

Your file format is just one of the important factors to consider when sending out your resume. Although resume PDFs are becoming more widely accepted, submitting your resume in a Microsoft Word format is still the safest bet. If there’s any doubt at all, send a Word document that’s simple, easy to read, and specifically tailored to your career goals. Now that you’ve saved your file, all that’s left is to send it out and land that job! 

If you’d like an expert opinion on your document before you apply for your dream job, why not send it over for a free resume review by our team of professional resume writers? Armed with some advice on how to improve your document, you’ll soon be fully booked with interviews and well on your way to your next role.  

Recommended reading:

Written by

Jen David, Editor & Content Writer, Jen David, Editor & Content Writer

Jen David has been writing CVs since 2010 and is the founder of CV Shed. She has worked with clients in numerous industries and at all stages of their careers, from students through to senior executives of global businesses. She loves producing polished, focused CVs that appeal to both human recruiters and applicant tracking systems, enabling her clients to take the next step in their careers. Jen has written and edited numerous articles for publication on industry-leading job boards.

Illustration of a marked up resume

Is your resume working?

Find out with a free review from ZipJob.