Resumes at a Glance – File Types and Their Uses

A Word 2003 (.doc) or 2007/2010 (.docx) format?
Maybe a classic text (.txt) file?
Possibly a Portable Document File (.pdf)?
Or a Rich Text Format (.rtf) file?
Considering an Open format (.odt) file?

In many of my prior postings, I’ve discussed the form and format of the text of the resume, but not the resume file format itself. And while most people generally do use a classic Word 2003 “.doc” formatted file or the more recent “.docx” format, I have found myself on the receiving end of a wide variety of file types.

Most recently, I was sent a resume that was in “.odt” format, which is the format used by Oracle’s OpenOffice and other “Open” document tools. After spending about 20 minutes trying to download the conversion tool to my overloaded and overworked home computer, I gave up on the resume and just moved on to the next one. Luckily I’m just a resume reviewer and not a hiring manager or recruiter, as that would have cost this person a possible interview and/or job. To keep this from happening to you, let’s talk a bit about file formats.

Format #1 – Use Microsoft Word 2003 formatted “.doc” files

I recognize that the 2003 version is a bit old and not everyone is a fan of Microsoft products, but it’s the de facto standard file format for resumes. And while you might prefer to author and maintain your resume in other tools (OpenOffice, etc.), you must realize that most managers, recruiters, and others that want to read/review your resume are probably most proficient with Word 2003. Keeping your “master” resume in Word 2003 format also provides you with the most flexibility for providing resumes to people in any other formats that might be needed. So, I strongly encourage you to stick with Word 2003 file format for your resume…at least for now.

Format #2 – Convert your Word document into Text

There’s not as much need for a “.txt” formatted resume as there used to be. In the early years of online job searches, you used to paste your text resume directly into e-mail messages to apply for online jobs. Today the primary use is to paste portions of your resume into the online resume or job sites, such as Monster, supplying them with your career details properly deposited into their specific online templates. Sure, these sites can usually accept a “.doc” file, but the importing mechanics are still not without problems, so pasting the text in by hand is preferable. Don’t worry about maintaining the Text formatted file…just create one whenever the need arises by saving your most current “.doc” as a Plain Text file.

Format #3 – Convert your Word document into PDF

If you have a moderately complex looking resume or you have the need to include graphics or items that might not print well on every model of printer, then the PDF file format is a good choice. The problem with a PDF file is that when you send it to a recruiter or company they can’t always import it easily into their resume tracking system. The PDF format also limits the ability of the recruiter to easily select text from your resume when proposing you to a potential hiring manager. I know there’s the advantage of “locking” the document from further edits, but in this market you need to balance that feature versus the job opportunities you might miss.

Format #4 – The needs for Rich Text Files are few

The Rich Text Format (“.rtf”) is an old Microsoft format that became quite popular on Apple computers and other systems. Because it was based on a markup language (similar to “TeX”), the “.rtf” is actually a human-readable file.  This gives it the advantage of being very resistant to viruses. I have personally stored my resume in “.rtf” format for years and then converted it to a “.doc” as needed. Many sites prefer to only accept “.doc” files, so you might get some resistance when distributing the file in “.rtf”, but you can try.

Format #5 – The need for an Open format file is nil (today)

Much like “.rtf” files, the open file formats might be convenient for you to maintain your resume in, but if you are going to share it with others, you’ll need to convert it to one of the previously mentioned formats before sending it. It’s rather difficult for a person that doesn’t have an Open format reader/converter to access these files, so converting to “.doc” is essential. Also, note that with “.odt” files there are minor differences in a few attributes such as margins, fonts, rulers and other features, so you need to convert the document to a “.doc” to see if the file looks right and prints right for the rest of the world.

Format #6 – That leaves the Word 2007/2010 (“.docx”) format.

The guidance here is similar to the Open format above except that there is a larger audience that can possibly open and read the “.docx” files. The converter is easily available from Microsoft’s website so the “.docx” format is becoming more accepted with recruiters and corporations. Note that many of the government agencies are still using Office 2003, so if you are applying for a State or Federal job, then drop back to Word 2003 format before sending them a resume. For the next few years I suggest all Office 2007 (or Office 2010 or later) users still save and distribute resumes in the 2003 “.doc” format.

Bottom Line – Stick with the Word 2003 “.doc” format for now, as it is still the de facto standard document format for resumes…everyone can read it! If you want to maintain your resume in “.rtf”, “.odt”, or “.docx” format you can, but always convert it to a “.doc” before distributing it. No need to maintain a “.txt” format any more (just save your Word file as a Text File when necessary) and avoid distributing a resume in a format (such as PDF) where the recruiter can’t easily access and extract your information.

. . . .

See the Index of all my Job Hunter articles on my Backlog tab.

. . . .

If you are unemployed, please take a few seconds and let me know your job hunt situation:


53 Responses to Resumes at a Glance – File Types and Their Uses

  1. Good stuff; I wondered if using Word 2003 was outdated and if I should upgrade. But I will stick to it while searching for new positions. Thanks!

    • mrl8nite says:

      Thanks for the reply. Yes, I also ponder how long the 2003 (.doc) format will survive as the defacto standard. I suspect that once all the government agencies get updated (they’re usually the last to fully adopt), then we’ll move onto a new format.

  2. CrystalSpins says:

    I almost always opt for the PDF myself.


    • mrl8nite says:

      I also like PDF and I use it for many other purposes other than resumes. As for resumes, it has a few issues to be aware of — it doesn’t play well with application tracking systems, newer formats of PDF are not compatible with older readers, some people format their resumes as a PDF image (urgh), and access to a good PDF creation software (e.g. Acrobat) is as simple or as universal as Word.

      Still, I think a PDF resume is a good 2nd choice format for resumes. But with the economy and the job search as tough as it is today, I want people to pick the format that recruiters and hiring managers prefer…and at this time it’s still “.doc” format.

  3. AmbassadorMoore47 says:

    Short, informative, to the point. Great suggestions on what file formats are ‘acceptable’ and which should be avoided. Thanks

  4. When mass distributing resumes (e.g. job hunting sites like Workopolis, etc.), I think .doc are the best way to go. This allows the tracking system to do its job and pick out the keywords. However, when applying for specific jobs, I find that most employers are quite happy with the .pdf format. This ensures that formatting will appear the way the sender intends it to. The thing I don’t like about .doc is the awful “spellcheck” red lines that show up under items in my resume that are spelled quite correctly but aren’t in the program’s dictionary. Since I always custom tailor my resumes based on the jobs I apply for, I can use whatever format is requested – and I personally think that’s the best way to go.

    • mrl8nite says:

      Thanks for the post. I also like PDF, especially when the resume is going to be printed…I never have to worry about fonts, page breaks, etc.

      As for the red spelling underline, I turn that off for my Resumes. Under Word Options, in the Spelling/Grammar section, you can turn off the red underlining on a per-document setting. I have to remember to manually spell-check my resume, but it gets rid of the red line on all the techy words that MSWord Spell Checker doesn’t know. –cj

  5. Lindsay says:

    .doc seems the best way to go. i’ve found if I don’t send it in that format, I get asked to resend it that way anyway.


    • mrl8nite says:

      Thanks for the thought. Exactly my point! Most recruiters and managers want it in a format that they find the most useful to them. In today’s job search, it’s all about appeasing the people that receive the resumes.

  6. This is such a great thing for recent post grads to consider. At my current job I need to look at resumes, and from this side of things I much prefer either the classic 03 word doc or a pdf.

    • mrl8nite says:

      Thanks for the confirmation. And yes, PDFs are a good alternate choice. Yet when it comes to using an applicant tracking system, the PDFs don’t fare as well…but they do print out on paper more consistently.

  7. amybeth1 says:

    Very helpful information when you need a resume to stand out among so many others

    • mrl8nite says:

      Exactly. Thus the purpose of the post. The job search can get derailed or slowed when the job seeker is more interested in “doing it their way” and not thinking about what the companies or recruiters want. Thanks.

  8. Great article! Any recommendations on an easy way to convert Word files into PDF?

    • mrl8nite says:

      There are any number of products on the market to create PDFs, but you should start by looking at Adobe Acrobat.

      Still, the important point that you shouldn’t miss is, very few recruiters or companies require your resume to be in a PDF. To increase the odds for getting further through the job search jungle with less rejections, the current format that is the most requested and the most compatible with the people that want to read your resume is the Word 2003 format.

  9. PDF should be the default, unless the prospective employer explicitly requests something else. For some reasons why we should never send (specifically) MS-Office formats without the receivers explicit consent, see

    As an aside, it is important to differ between application and format (although Microsoft has done its best to obliterate this definition): Even if someone has to send a Word-2003 document this need not be done in MS-Word: OpenOffice can handle that just as well (with reservations for some features that do not belong in a resume in the first place, like complex macros).

    • mrl8nite says:

      Thanks for the remarks. I understand your point, and I mentioned some of this a bit in the posting. However, I want to make sure the readers understand that when it’s about a resume, it’s not their choice, it’s what most of the recruiters and job sites and corporations want to receive. We need to make sure that our preferences for “document storing and sharing” don’t get confused with what needs to be done to have the highest chance of getting an interview. While I don’t disagree with your point about Open docs and I respect your preference of PDF (also a proprietary format), it’s about job search success and not diminishing the opportunity to get to the next step in the job search.

  10. Rebecca says:

    As a college student, I have my resume in the .doc and pdf format. However, most of the time I submit it as a pdf so it is compatible with most computer. It also will not be edited after submission. Thank you for this useful information.

    • mrl8nite says:

      Thanks for the note. Yes, I mentioned the (supposed) feature to prevent it from being edited. And while it is an interesting feature of PDFs, it proves to be more of a detractor than a benefit in the job hunt. Don’t get caught in the trap…in today’s job market you want to be as compatible and accessible as possible, so focus on what the recruiters want, not necessarily what you think is nice.

  11. Good article. Just Tweeting this now from @ResFix.

    My team and I like .pdfs too, but Applicant Tracking Systems are a reality, so we give our clients a PDF, .doc, and .text file of their resume to be sure they have what they need. We also make sure the Properties area of the document is complete and personalized for every user. I hate when I scroll over a resume .doc and see the Author as someone (or thing) other than the candidate. It’s also a wonderful area to reiterate search keywords and other important document information.

    Thanks again,

    • mrl8nite says:

      Thanks for the feedback. Yes, the more formats you have available the better, thus allowing you the choice depending on the circumstance and preferences of the receiver.

      A challenge for the job seeker is to keep the versions of all their resume documents in-synch as changes are made to reflect new information, new courses, new associations, etc. Today a resume is never truly finished (possibly customizing it for each unique job posting), so the focus of the seeker is also to make sure that the other “down stream” resumes (.pdf, .txt, .html, etc.) are as up-to-date as their master .doc version.

  12. Great advice, when knowing that even a little obstacle to opening your resume can mean you’re passed over for even an interview.

  13. liberty81 says:

    This is great! Working on my own resume as we speak. Thanks for the useful information. Well done!

  14. This is a great article, it was extremely informative.

    I have a obsession with helping my friends build their resumes stylistically while improving the actual contents of the resume. I’m glad you brought up the issue of file compatibility, as it should be addressed more often.

    However, I have heard that the most compatible resume format is an html format, provided that it is formatted as simple as possible. But I have tried that method and it was not as aesthetically pleasing as using Microsoft Word.

    • mrl8nite says:

      I commend you on your efforts to help your friends in need.

      Yes, the html (or “web friendly”) resumes have become a real important part of the job search. And for situations where you can get people to open and view your resume via a browser, it’s important to have a good web-formatted resume. The limitation to HTML is that it can’t be easily distributed in a document format, the markup language gets in the way of applicant tracking systems and printing the html variant in a consistent (pretty) manner is a challenge. So yes, having a resume in html is fine, just make sure it’s in addition to a nicely formatted .doc version.

  15. sayitinasong says:

    Yes, I agree with all your points. I’m an ex-recruitment consultant and have read thousands of resumes. Here are my tips: CLARITY, CLARITY, CLARITY. CLEARLY state in chronological order- starting from the most recent job- the place you worked, the dates and then in CLEAR BULLET POINT- your duties and responsibilities. If the job you are looking for requires specific experience- put those FIRST under every job you’ve had. That enables the recruiters to quickly glance through your CV and get an over view and in many cases that is the difference on getting put to the “NEVER” or “I WILL LOOK AT THIS MORE IN DETAIL” files…. recruiters have to go through so many CVs under a lot of time pressure… and grammar is absolutely vital in your CV. No spelling mistakes etc. This may all sound elemental and patronising, but you might be surprised what sort of CVs people are submitting out there…

  16. Scott says:

    yes, I use a mixture of pdf and word 2003 doc files depending on where I am applying to. The pdf is nice because of looks and professionalism but sometimes I do need the compatibility of a doc. I used to keep a text file but don’t do so anymore. If I need to copy/paste I just take it out of my word file.

    • mrl8nite says:

      Thanks for the insight. Yes, I too have abandoned my .txt format and merely cut/edit/clean-up directly from my formatted document. This reduces the number of files I have to maintain.

  17. ideaboxxx000 says:

    Im currently using microsoft word 2011 for Mac, but it allows you to save in all file formats like its predeceases

  18. Bennitt says:

    Ah damn, mine’s in .docx. Thanks for the advice. I’m going to change it immediately.

    • mrl8nite says:

      Remember that you can keep it “locally” in any format you choose… Office 2007, Open, RTF, etc. But the form that you share it in (to ensure that any recruiter can easily access it) is the .doc format. Good luck.

  19. Salman says:

    While all the points goes Word 2003 / 2007 format, in relation to Open document format goes, the best way to make a complete bio / profile on Linked in and then forward the link to HR Personnel. That way, there is less chance of missed details being looked if an old resume is fetched from the DB.

    I do think, that online profiles are quite a bit open document format as all the recruiters / HR personnel to see them is a Browser with internet connection.

    • mrl8nite says:

      Thanks, and I agree that getting on LinkedIn is a major plus to the job search. It complements paper or other resume formats nicely. A properly developed profile ( is key to this process. As mentioned, I use this to give some current insight to what might be a rather old resume that someone dug up on me from a prior job search.

  20. billibopz says:

    Some great points here. We receive a lot of resumes through email in formats I’ve never even heard of and have no chance of opening them without downloading new software.
    They could have been the world’s greatest employee with just the right experience that you were looking for, but you’ll never even know.

    • mrl8nite says:

      Thanks for seeing the point of the post! There are so many good candidates, but because they don’t think about the recipient of the resume as carefully as they should, they miss out on the opportunity to even get considered.

  21. Gouthaman Karunakaran says:

    Amazing article. I personally prefer sharing my files with PDF, since it works with almost any computer. Moreover, compatiblitiy should not be an issue since we’ve got Google Docs. O_O

    • mrl8nite says:

      Thanks for your post. When I send my resume to a recruiter as a .doc, I have yet to have them ask for any other format. There have been occasions when I sent a PDF that the recruiter asked for a .doc format.

      While I like the PDF format (prints nice, views consistently), there are many corporate types (managers, recruiters) that are limited to the software provided on their machines by their firms (like on my government issued laptop). So people that send me a PDF built with the most current version of Acrobat need to be aware that it can’t be read on my laptop. (Same goes for accessing Google Docs.)

      So keep focused on what the common denominator is for resumes….everyone can open a 2003 .doc file.

  22. Very helpful post for jobseekers! Having spoken to our recruiter, our findings were very similar to yours.

  23. mrl8nite says:

    Thanks for all the feedback! I have received many, many responses to this post (as well as a few of my prior posts).

    I haven’t approved all of the feedback, as just another “thanks for the article” posting, while appreciated, would deter from the good discussions taking place here. Also, I’m trying to keep the discussions focused on helping job seekers, and as such, I have limited extended discussions where we might confuse the job seeker, not allowed commercial advertising, and kept us away from side discussions that would distract from the key point (yes, I think PDFs are a good second choice; yes, I like Open products; yes, Word files have limitations; yes, I like html resumes; yes, update your LinkedIn Profiles; yes…).

    For this post, the focus of the article was, based on my research and feedback from many recruiters, that Word 2003 .doc files are still the most accepted, the lowest common denominator, the most beneficial to recruiters/managers, and thus the best choice (for now) for you to share your resume when a file needs to be sent. So, feel free to use other formats, feel free to have opinions, feel free to author your resume in different tools. But remember that in this very tough job market the recipients of resumes also feel free to just skip over any resume they can’t easily open or access.

    Best of Luck with your Job Hunt!

  24. Steven says:

    Very interesting and informative article.
    I am currently in the Job Search mode so I found this very helpful.

    As to the structure of a resume- I’m a bit frustrated as to what is the “standard”; if there is one that fits all, to the format style that a resume should be in to get attention. There seems to be as many answers to this question as there are people answering it.

    I am in the IT field with diverse experience and skills so crafting resumes to fit a particular role is already time consuming, and if I’m sending out resumes that just wont be read because its not the “proper style we want to see”, then its time wasted. We all know there is approximately 30 seconds to get the attention of a prospective hiring manager or HR person…..

    Any comments would be appreciated….

    Steven in Calgary

  25. mrl8nite says:

    It’s been a little over a year since I posted this article, so I figured I’d check to make sure the info was still accurate in this post. Based on a rather informal check with a few corporate HRs, my friend in the gov’t that handles GSA resumes, and feedback from a couple of my recruiter friends…yes, the above advice is still accurate for today’s job seeker.

    One point to note is that .DOCX is becoming more widely accepted as many firms have finally moved off of Office 2003…but the gov’t still has many agencies that are “stuck” on Office 2003. So when applying for gov’t jobs, yeah, the .DOC file format still reigns supreme. Many will accept .RTF and .PDF, but only a very few agencies even know what the .ODT format is and even fewer can accept it.

    PDF format is a strong contender today, but it still ranks 3rd behind the 2 Word formats as being accepted/preferred by recruiters. Since the Application Tracking Systems (ATS) are more interested in reading the content than worrying about the page layout, the real advantage of PDF remains in the security (“uneditability” and resistance to viruses) of these documents. But not all ATS systems can read PDFs, so better keep the .DOC/.DOCX versions handy just in case.

    So, for now, the game is the same. To ensure that a recruiter or a firm can receive and effectively process your resume, stick with the 2003 .DOC format. (It might be with us for some time to come!)

  26. mrl8nite says:

    I just ran across this posting ( by Rich Dematteo on website written just last month. Always nice to find another resource validating the same advice I’ve provided here. Check it out — good reading!

    Another posting over on FINS from May 2011 also points out the best approach remains .DOC files when submitting to prospective firms. (

  27. mrl8nite says:

    I wrote this article back in 2010. It’s now 2013 and I thought I’d review it to make sure it was still up-to-date. Just last week I asked a few of my recruiter friends what their thoughts were on file types. Here’s the answer I got: “Word. Word. Word.” They were OK with 2003 (.DOC) and the newer format (.DOCX), but the government recruiter said she preferred .DOC since her government issued PC was still configured with Office 2003 on Windows XP.

    One of the recruiters talked to me about the challenges he had with getting resumes in other formats. His Applicant Tracking System (ATS) could read PDFs, but he had to pay a premium for that feature. His system “tried” to read .ODT files, but they ended up “mangled” with extraneous text or data dropped in the wrong fields. His system read RTFs OK and could also handle TXT files without an issue, although the TXT files were “not fit to distribute” to hiring managers.

    Bottom line…Word 2003 format is still the best format to share your resume with recruiters, with more current Word formats being the next best. One of my recruiter friends put it best…”2003 format won’t get you eliminated…other formats increase your odds of being overlooked.”

  28. jpierre21 says:

    Thank you for this very informative article. This time i will use .doc format rather than .pdf when I’m applying for a job online.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: