Why your PDF resume might be killing you

by Rich DeMatteo on August 18, 2011 · 99 comments

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My allergies are absolutely killing me.  The battle of my body versus my environment has now reached an annoying three weeks.  What’s worse is that this is the first year I’ve ever experienced an allergic catastrophe like I’m dealing with now.  Seriously, it just came out of no where.  But enough about me, time to talk about what might be killing you!


For several years, I’ve been thinking of writing about the horror that a PDF resume can bring to job seekers.  For too long, I’ve been waiting for the right time or the right idea/inspiration to write about this menacing problem.  However, FINS absolutely crushed this topic and beat me to the punch, so I feel I must review their post and pass it on to you.

I was recently quoted in FINS in a Cover Letter story, and while there, I noticed their very strong PDF v. Word post.  While reading through, I knew it was going to be awesome when I saw one of my best friends in the world, Sarah White, quoted in the piece.  She’s brilliant and shows off her HR technology brain in the article.  You can read the full post by clicking here, and I invite you to check out my review of the post below.

Important Point #1

If you weren’t aware already, most companies these days use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to receive, organize, review, and search the resume that you (and everyone) send in for the job.  Ever apply to a job and receive an almost instant email back?  Yep, that’s the ATS saying “howdy” to your face.  As Sarah White mentions in the article, about 61% of North American companies have an ATS now, and job seekers will find that more and more companies will start using them.

Important Point #2

There are roughly 55 different ATS vendors on the market.  Of those 55, only a few are able to translate the information from your PDF resume into their system.  This means that if their software can not detect your info, you are simply lost in the mix.  The company is just NOT able to search your resume or your name because your information is just blank in the system.

Time For An Awesome Sarah White Quote:

I think you’re always safer using a Word document than a PDF, as well as sticking to .doc instead of .docx extensions.  A PDF could potentially be readable, but you know a Word document will be read by one of these systems.

Important Point #3

Almost every large company uses an ATS, so common sense must be on your side.  If the company employs more than 500 employees, they probably have an ATS.  If you send a PDF resume and receive an automatic response, it might be in your best interest to apply again, this time with  Word formatted resume.

Final Thoughts

I know that the PDF resumes can look fun and make you seem techy and innovative, so use them when the company is also techy and innovative.  Perfect example would be for a startup.  Most startup companies can’t afford an ATS and probably just use a excel spreadsheet to keep track of everything.  Feel free to send them your wacky and wild or pretty and fun PDF resume.  Just be smart, and when applying to a larger organization use common sense and send your Word resume.

Need help with your resume?  Click here to check out my resume and cover letter writing service…

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