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HTG Explains: The Best and Worst Ways to Send a Resume

With so many people looking for jobs, the slightest edge in your resume presentation has potential to make or break your chances. But not all filetypes or methods are created equal—read on to see the potential pitfalls your resume faces.

In this article, we’ll explore what can go wrong in a resume submission, what can be done to counteract it, and also go into why a prospective employer might ignore your resume based on your method of sending a resume. Finally, we’ll cover the best filetypes and methods that can help get you that new job you’ve been looking for.

What Sets Your Resume Apart?

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While it is easy to send out a half dozen resumes  in a week and feel fairly satisfied with a the work that’s been done, the truth is you probably shouldn’t be shocked when you don’t get a callback. A single advertised position on the internet, (even a site like Craigslist) may get as many as 100 to 300 resumes sent in per day. With that many people all competing for the same single position, the slightest problem with your resume could make you an automatic “no.”

Maybe your filetype doesn’t open. It could be you didn’t use a common font, and causing  fonts to default, making your resume look weird. Perhaps you didn’t read the ad as closely as you thought and didn’t follow the directions, or spelled the company name wrong. When you have to sort through hundreds of resumes to find a single person, any small thing could cast you into the bowels of file thirteen.

On the other hand, the majority of resumes submitted fall into this category. Many job seekers simply send resumes blindly, hoping that the position is so poorly advertised that the employer might “give them a chance.” What can you do to stand apart from the dross and land that new job? If you can set yourself apart in positive ways, as opposed to negative ones, you’ll give yourself the best chance to get the job.

What Are Employers Looking For?

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When a company posts an ad for a position, they’re probably doing it with a specific kind of person in mind. From the outside, this might seem completely random, but from the employer’s point of view, it makes perfect sense.

Your aim is to be as close to this person as you can. Is it entry level? Is it an experienced position? Does it require a degree? Does it require skills you have? Is your work experience relevant? If you are under or even over qualified, you’re probably not going to get that callback.

Writing for the Busy Businessperson

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In this age of recession, many employees and the management that hire are stretched further than ever. With that said, looking through 300 resumes is no thrilling task for a busy professional with dozens of other deadlines looming. It can generally be assumed that if they weren’t already incredibly busy, they wouldn’t be advertising for more help.

With that in mind, here’s a list of things to keep in mind when writing your resume.

  • Be specific. List your education and the skills and duties of your previous jobs.
  • Be brief. If the employer is looking over 300 resumes a day, she’ll likely ignore it if it is too long.
  • Terms like “self-motivated” or “hard worker” or “responsible” don’t convince employers of anything.
  • Phrases like “Responsible for managing 25 employees” literally shows that you are “responsible.”

Beyond that, there are basic formatting etiquettes that will keep you from looking foolish when your reviewer opens your file to find your formatting ruined by defaulting fonts and bizarre filetype issues. Here’s a list of the filetypes that can give you trouble when sending resumes.

The Worst Filetypes for Sending a Resume

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Microsoft DOCX

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DOCX is an XML based version of the Microsoft Word document format we’ve all used for years and years. Only more current versions of Microsoft word (or OpenOffice, etc.) can open DOCX. This means that some businesses that don’t upgrade their office software regularly will not be able to open your resume. Some employers are prepared, while many others aren’t.

DOCX, like many word formats doesn’t embed fonts into your file, so any formatting you’ve done requiring specific fonts will be lost. Use generic fonts, like Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia, Tahoma, etc.

Openoffice.org ODT

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While Openoffice wants to provide an open standard filetype, the fact is that until ODT is supported by Microsoft Word out of the box, many businesses will not be able to open an ODT file. The general rule of thumb is that if it takes extra effort to open your resume, you’re already in the garbage. So unless you’re applying for a job at Sun Microsystems or Oracle, you’re probably better off not using ODT. So much for open standards!

Edit: HTG author Matthew Guay has pointed out that Office 2010 finally does support ODT out of the box. However, this doesn’t change the fact that ODT is not yet universal enough to be safely used.

JPG and Other Images

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While JPG and image based resumes might seem like good solutions to defaulting fonts or hard-to open file formats like ODT or DOCX, it can be slightly jarring to get a resume as an image file. JPGs created with basic software might be low resolution, and high-resolution print-friendly images might appear huge and unusable for a potentially computer illiterate resume reviewer.

JPG images are also not ideal if you plan to ever re-use or update your information.

Potentially Risky Ways to Send a Resume

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Basic Text Files

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While there is nothing wrong with sending a text file, it is a somewhat odd and spartan choice. Many employers will be expecting a certain level care, attention and formatting to be taken to their own documents. A TXT file may make more of a statement about you than you care to be making with your filetype choice.

URLs or HTML Mail

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Many big companies block a lot of websites, so while sending a nicely formatted webpage with your online business card might seem like a good idea, there is always the chance that it might be more trouble than it is worth to view your information. This includes HTML formatted mail, with images, stationary, etc, all of which may not work with anyone else’s email clients.

Gimicky Resumes

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While you may feel like it is a good way to stand out, be careful when you reduce your experience and knowledge to a simple gimmick. It may make you stand out—but it could also make you look unprofessional or foolish. Keep in mind where you’re applying to before planning any sort of strange gimmick to present your resume.

The Safest Filetypes and Methods for Sending a Resume

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Adobe PDF

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PDF is now a standard filetype, and Acrobat reader is free software that comes on every new computer from most major computer companies that cater to business. While some limited number of machines may not have Acrobat, many modern browsers have the capability of opening PDFs without issue.

Fonts are also embedded into PDF, so any formatting you’ve done to make your resume look nice should carry through to your prospective employer.

Open Office can export to PDF, as can Adobe Illustrator. And CutePDF writer can create a virtual printer that will create PDFs of any document you choose to “print” to it.

Edit: There’s been some good discussion about PDF as an option for resumes, and more than one commenter has made a very valid comment that non-text based PDFs can’t be read by automated systems. You may be safer off using DOC, RTF, or TXT files if you’re planning on applying to staffing firms or corporations with large HR departments to manage.

Microsoft Word DOC

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While DOCX can be dangerous, you can safely assume nearly any business would need to open a DOC file at some point. As long as your resume is largely text-based and formatted in common fonts, you can expect what you see on your screen to be seen when your resume is reviewed.

Open Office and Microsoft word can save any text file as a DOC File.

Rich Text Format, or RTF

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Rich text is a basic file format that includes some basic formatting information, as well as text only info a TXT file has. Windows, Macintosh, and Linux PCs should have no trouble opening an RTF file, although as noted before, take care to use common fonts in order to avoid font defaulting.

Plain Text Email

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Plain text email is one of the only ways to ensure that what you type ends up in the hands of the prospective employer without any sort of issues with formatting. Keep in mind, what you say is far more important than being able to use boldfaces or graphics, so a well-written cover letter and text-only resume in an email can prove more useful than all the bells and whistles of HTML mail.

Print Format, Dropped off In Person

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In the age of job seekers sending thousands of resumes off blindly, the initiative of going to a business to drop off a printed copy of your resume and introducing yourself can make a huge difference in your chances. Not only do you stand out as an applicant that takes the time and effort to show up in person, you’re also ensuring that your resume looks the way you want it to, and that it gets put in the hands you want it in, the way you want it to look.


In short, no single way is really going to guarantee you a job, or even a callback. But minimizing potential problems and attempting to stand out from the dross can give you the best chances of being that specific person that employer is looking for. Keep wary of font defaults and formatting problems, and keep sending out those resumes.

Image Credits: T-Shirt Resume by SOCIALisBETTER. Portfolio Mailer by scottkellum. I hate Job Applications by isabisa. Businessmen by Voxphoto. Two Businessmen Shaking Hands by MyTudut. Busy Man by JanneM. Danger by chego101. Warning! Sudden Drop! by drinksmachine.  Employee of the Month by The Eggplant. Resume Design by CharlotWest. All images are protected under Creative Commons.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Graphics Geek who hopes to make Photoshop more accessible to How-To Geek readers. When he’s not headbanging to heavy metal or geeking out over manga, he’s often off screen printing T-Shirts.

  • Published 02/14/11

Comments (26)

  1. Santo

    I am sure this article will be an eye opener for many job seekers.

  2. benjamin lee

    looks good
    but havent found a job yet
    happy chinese new year

  3. Scott S

    I like PDFs because of the ability to make sure it is printed how I formatted it. But a DOCX is a risky format? I have a hard time believing that since Office 2007 introduced it and it is now roughly 4 years later. Additionally the Office 2003 add-in to open 2007 documents has been around a long while as well.

    Just try and send your resume to IT recruiters in PDF format. They have always rejected it and asked for Word documents.

  4. Marty

    Good tips, I think I covered them pretty well… Still unemployed though for about a year :(. Things move so slow now in Chicago.

  5. Hyacinths

    Scott, many businesses have put off the expense of upgrading their edition of Office–especially as the new version and its ridiculous Ribbon is so loathed by many longtime users of Office. You also never know when a busy manager might be trying to review documents from home, where they’re less likely still to have the most current version of MS Office. I would Save As a .doc just to be on the safe side.

  6. Aethec

    “until ODT is supported by Microsoft Word out of the box”

    It is. Just sayin’.

  7. Eric Z Goodnight

    @Aethec: I don’t use the newer versions of Word, but all the information I’ve seen online is that it takes plugins.

  8. Michael

    Another reason to use standard fonts and formats is that the HR department is either going to place your document directly into a document management system or scan it in whence it will be OCR’ed so that your resume can be searched for matches. While a text-based PDF will usually work with these systems, there are a few that won’t take it, so Word .doc is still a better choice. However, the real bottom line is that resumes are not a very good way to get most jobs any longer. Networking is the name of the game – if you know the recruiter, the HR rep, or the hiring manager, (and they have a high opinion of you), you have a much better shot at getting the job. In such a situation, the public job posting is a formality so they can say they looked at multiple candidates, but if they want you for the job, the only reason they’ll even look at your resume is to make sure it’s good enough to cover the decision they’ve already made.

  9. honthraj

    PDF is nice since it is easily accessible but working at a staffing firm, I can tell you that they annoy the hell out of us. They are not parsible for automatic entry into our database. Which means either your either forcing the recruiter to type it in manually, or create an indexing file for directory searching. In other words – creating more work for them which they never appreciate.

    Steer clear of the PDF resume.

  10. kmonsoor

    Nice post :)
    but best choice is definitely TXT file; so most of the big organizations prefer that. As most of them use some some automatic text tools to organige all the resumes, they sometimes mess up with PDF or DOC let alone DOCX.

    But beware of some pitfalls in case of text:
    - DON’T use any TABs in your text
    - format & indent with SPACEs
    - by investing some time & brain, u can write ur CV in text very nicely but keeping simplicity.
    - whether u use mac/linux/windows, choose Windows style line break(or simply windows format) while u save

    best of luck, job hunter :)

    – kmonsoor.com

  11. Rasputin Paskudniak

    Over 20 years ago, this method used to get me instant interviews. But the times, they are a-changin’.

    A couple of modern problems with dropping the resume personally:

    1. In most office buildings (in NYC anyway) just try to get past the security desk to go to an office without an appointment with the person to whom you wish to deliver said resume.
    2. If you can get into the office, the receptionist will likely give you the brush-off treatment and you will not get near the target person. You can leave your resume at the desk but it is just as likely to get trashed the moment you walk out the door.

  12. Heyhey

    Did send an application to a company a week ago, and I did send everything as PDF. A friend of me did to send an application, but the company replied and asked for something else than ODT :)

  13. James Conway, Jr.

    This isn’t relevant to the topic of the article, but is an important (if obvious) hint for any writing that is going to be read by an educated person.
    Be sure that it contains no grammatical mistakes! A large percentage of the comments here contain mistakes that are fairly common, but stick out to anyone who studied (and passed) basic English writing courses. i.e. “your” instead of “you’re”.
    If you aren’t certain that you can write your resume without making obvious mistakes, find someone who is capable of proofreading it for you.
    I realize that this may sound trivial, but I can assure you that a resume containg poor grammer, spelling, sentence construction, etc. will take second place to a correctly constructed one; especially in an office environment.
    Sorry, I can’t help myself. My mother was an English teacher.

  14. Vic Strandskov

    @James Conway, Jr. You’ll notice also in the “Risks” section the spelling of “stationary” means it can’t move. It’s bolted to the floor. The writer probably meant “stationery” which means paper products like letterheads and envelopes. I’ve worked in the printing industry for years and that problem pops up frequently.

  15. Matt K

    James Conway Jnr – I hate to be trivial too but grammar has no “e” in it

  16. Matthew Guay

    @Eric – Office 2010 actually does support .odt format out-of-the-box without installing any extra plugins. WordPad in Windows 7 supports .docx and .odt as well.

  17. calebstein

    “While Openoffice wants to provide an open standard filetype…”

    ODF is an open standard and Microsoft is retarded for waiting so long to integrate half-assed support for it.

  18. Monicoj

    Nice article, it should be mandatory for all job seekers.
    I’ve seen once a resume sent in pages format (.pages). Bad idea, especially when applying for a job at Microsoft :-)
    I used to send my resume in pdf format with one exception.
    Only once I wrote and sent my resume in ai format (Adobe Illustrator) because the company required to be familiar with that kind of software.
    And yes, I got that job.

  19. Eric Z Goodnight

    @Matthew Guay: Ah, thanks for clearing that up. 2010? Wow, about time.

  20. grappler

    What about sending the CV in 2 formats, .doc and .pdf?
    Personally I think it is best to send your CV per post. I seen a number of CV’s and have always thought those in a nice folder look the best.

  21. Joe Attardi

    OK, so is plain text good or bad? You talk about why plain text is potentially risky:

    “While there is nothing wrong with sending a text file, it is a somewhat odd and spartan choice. Many employers will be expecting a certain level care, attention and formatting to be taken to their own documents. A TXT file may make more of a statement about you than you care to be making with your filetype choice.”

    Then in the “good” section:
    “Plain text email is one of the only ways to ensure that what you type ends up in the hands of the prospective employer without any sort of issues with formatting. Keep in mind, what you say is far more important than being able to use boldfaces or graphics, so a well-written cover letter and text-only resume in an email can prove more useful than all the bells and whistles of HTML mail.”

    So is plain text good or bad??

  22. R.A.J

    That’s good…

  23. myztic

    thank you
    this is soo true
    this helped out a lot

  24. Aethec

    @Eric Z Goodnight
    It does, but it’s quite a mess…the ODT version used by OpenOffice.org is not the standardized one, and MS Office supports the standard. (IIRC, OOo’s ODT is ODT 1.2 while MSO’s is ODT 1.1)
    Same goes for OXML ; MS Office uses a non-standard version while OOo supports parts of the standard one.

  25. bob

    microsoft office word .doc is my fav.

  26. lavleen advani

    I Lke your way to present how to send the resume attach but i want to simplest way with pattern

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