How To Create a Resume PDF and When To Use It

Updated July 21, 2022

Once you have crafted an impressive resume, the next decision you will likely make is which format you should send it in. This question is more complicated than it may initially seem. While the resume PDF is increasingly becoming the standard, there are still situations when other formats might be better.

In this article, we will go over the guidelines concerning resume PDFs, including how to make one, when to send your resume in PDF format and how to decide which resume format to use when there are no clear instructions in the application.

What is a resume PDF?

A resume PDF is simply a copy of your resume saved as a PDF. It is one of the most common file formats to choose for sending resumes. In some cases, an employer will state specifically that they require a resume PDF in the application instructions, so it will help to already have a copy of your resume saved as a PDF so that you can send the correct format with your application.

Even when the employer does not specifically request that you send your resume as a PDF, there are some significant advantages to making this your default file format. These advantages include:

No flagged words or phrases

In Word documents and even Google docs, the spell check will automatically underline grammar or spelling errors. However, when you're relying on industry-specific language or spelling conventions, these may not be mistakes at all. Even when they are correct, seeing those red lines throughout your resume can be a distraction. A PDF helps eliminate this distraction by removing the lines completely.

No unpredictable format changes

Even though different operating systems can open a Word document, the formatting does not always translate perfectly. What looks like a clean and well-structured resume on your computer might look different on a hiring manager's computer. A PDF helps you avoid this by saving the page as an image rather than a text file. This means the formatting is locked in place, no matter where an employer is viewing the resume.

PDFs cannot be altered

An employer quickly going through your resume might inadvertently alter it in the process and never realize that they've done so. In some cases, this accidental change could end up omitting certain qualifications or messing up the formatting. A PDF can help you ensure you preserve the work you put into polishing your resume.

PDFs are typically virus free

If sending your resume as an attachment in an email, it is usually safer to attach it as a PDF. This is because this file format is less prone to viruses, which makes it less likely to get flagged as suspicious by the employer's email provider.

Related: How to Email a Resume

How to choose a resume file format

There are plenty of benefits to sending your resume as a PDF. With that said, there are situations in which you might want to opt for a different format. Here's how to decide which format to choose for your resume:

  1. Read the job posting closely. The employer may have included directions about what type of file format to use.

  2. Identify the application process in place for applying to this position. The type of file you'll need to choose may depend on the way your application is structured.

  3. Consider contacting the employer to make sure. If there are no specific instructions and the job description does not state that applicants should avoid contacting the employer, call to ask what the preferred format is.

  4. Use your best judgment. If you are unable to contact the employer, use the information in this article to make the best choice about which format to use.

When to use a resume PDF file

Here are some situations in which you could benefit from using a PDF file format:

The employer requests a PDF

Some job descriptions will provide clear instructions for what to submit with your job application. Read these instructions closely and triple-check that your application has met every single requirement requested.

You're sending your resume as an email attachment

Emails with attachments from unknown senders can be flagged as spam or potentially threatening emails. However, PDFs are much less likely to contain a virus, so if you're sending your application via email, attaching a PDF is an easy way to ensure your email makes it into the employer's inbox.

You're sending it as an attachment to an online application rather than uploading it to the system

If you're applying through an online application system, it can be beneficial to upload your resume as a document so that the system can scan it easily. However, if there's a section for attaching additional documents, include a PDF version of your resume here. This way, it will be readily available when your application passes the automated screening and reaches the employer.

While the PDF is fast becoming the preferred format, there are some situations in which it might be preferable to submit your resume in a different format. Continue reading to learn more about the different formats you can choose from and when you would use them:

Microsoft Word document file

Submitting a Word document is preferable in situations when the employer specifically requests a document or when you're uploading your resume to an applicant tracking system, which scans your resume for keywords that the employer may be looking for.

Employer preference

Employers might request your resume as a Word document because it is easy to open on any device or because they simply prefer it. In this case, make sure that you send it as a .doc rather than a .docx file, as the latter might not be able to open in older programs or on older systems.

Uploading to an applicant tracking system

An applicant tracking system, also known as an ATS, is a type of program that scans your resume for certain keywords and data. For various technical reasons, the ATS cannot always scan PDFs accurately and may miss keywords or jumble the data. If, however, the application asks you to manually input your resume information and also attach a resume, you can safely choose whichever format you prefer because the ATS will scan the information you typed. The attached resume is simply there for when a human looks at your application.

Related: 3 Best Resume Formats in 2019 with Examples

Google Doc file

Although less common than PDFs and Word documents, Google Docs offers a convenient file format because it can be viewed online anywhere. You can also share it as a “read-only” link so that employers cannot inadvertently alter the information or formatting. Moreover, if you send the link and later notice that you had a typo or mistake in your resume, you have the opportunity to correct it. Your employer will always see the most recent version of your resume when they click the link.

Online resume

Another option is to create an online resume for yourself. This allows you to get very creative with formatting and create a very attractive resume. Like a Google Doc, it also allows you to update your resume even after you send it, ensuring that your potential employer always sees the most recent version.

Another advantage of the online resume is that employers can find you even if you have not applied for a job with their company. This creates the potential for employers to reach out to you with job opportunities.

This is especially recommended for people applying to positions that require creativity or advanced computer skills. Not only are you displaying your skills and qualifications, but you're also demonstrating your ability to make a website or use a content management system.

How to create a resume PDF

The exact process involved in creating a PDF file will depend on where you are doing it. Below, you will find a short step-by-step explanation for how to create a resume PDF in different programs and on different systems:

In Microsoft Word

If you have written your resume in Microsoft Word, follow these steps to create a PDF:

  1. Click on “File” in the upper left-hand corner.

  2. Click on “Save As” in the menu that appears.

  3. When the box appears, click on the drop-down menu beside “file format.”

  4. Choose PDF from the menu.

  5. Click “Save.”

The resume PDF you just created will be saved in the same folder that the Word document version of your resume is saved in.

Related: 6 Universal Rules for Resume Writing

In Google Docs

If you have written your resume in a Google Doc, follow these steps to create a PDF:

  1. Click on “File” in the upper left-hand corner.

  2. Click on “Download” in the menu that appears

  3. When the menu pops up, select “PDF document”

A PDF version of your resume will appear in the Downloads folder on your computer or wherever you have set your downloaded files to be stored by default.

On a Mac

If you are using a MAC computer, follow these steps to create a PDF:

  1. Open your resume file in whichever format it is currently saved in.

  2. Select “File” from the menu bar.

  3. Select “Print” from the menu that appears.

  4. In the box that appears, select the drop-down menu in the bottom left corner.

  5. Choose “PDF” from the drop-down menu.

The PDF version will be saved in the same folder your current resume file is saved in.

Tips to make sure you always send your resume in the right format

Here are a few quick tips to make sure you are always choosing the best resume format to send for each application:

Double-check the application instructions

Always read through the job description and instructions carefully. Often, the preferred resume file format will be mentioned near the bottom of the description but can appear anywhere, so read through it carefully a couple of times to make sure you haven't missed anything.

Keep a few formats available

For convenience, you should just have a folder with your resume saved in a variety of formats. This way, you can readily select whichever format you need without spending time converting it into the right format.

Use your judgment

If no specific file format is mentioned, use the information in this article to determine which format is the best choice. For example, if you are applying through an online application, your safest option might be to use a Word Doc. However, if you are sending your resume in an email, a PDF is usually a better choice.

Create an ATS-friendly Word Doc

Expertly designed formatting looks great to a recruiter, but it can make it difficult for the automated system to decipher. Create a simplified version of your resume, free of complicated formatting, to use for online applications. However, keep a version with your advanced formatting so that you can send it when you know it's going directly to a human.

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