Which Resume Formats Can You Use?

The software that HR departments use to process your resume does not jive with all file types. In fact, it even spits some out. Make sure you’re not eliminated before you even begin.

Let’s say your resume is up to date, rewritten and packed with keywords geared to get your application rated highly by automated resume-processing software. The last thing you want to do is drop your resume into a black hole by saving or sending in the wrong file format.

Modern applicant tracking system (ATS) software can handle a slew of file formats — PDF, DOC, TXT, HTML and ODF (OpenDocument Format) — but not all systems handle every format. ATS vendors recommend job seekers play it safe and stick to the most common formats — DOC, PDF or TXT — that nearly all recruiters will be able to read.

Even so, your efforts can be undone by technology quirks such as attachments, embedded images and even the browser you’re using. Sending a file the wrong way can undo the work you put into writing it, said ATS vendors, and sabotage your resume.

Avoid image formats

AIRS SourcePoint is one of the most widely used ATS software programs on the market. It accepts Microsoft Word (.doc), Adobe PDF (.pdf), plain text (.txt) and Microsoft Excel (.xls) files. Burning Glass, the resume-parsing technology that powers most ATS software, supports more than 60 file formats, including DOC, PDF, RTF, HTML, TXT, ODF, and DOCX (the file format that pertains to the newest version of Microsoft Office). But neither ATS will accept an image file — no JPEG, no TIFF and no GIF.

Why? Because there’s no text for the software to read, said Josh Ticktin, vice president of client services, for Burning Glass. ATS software is designed to pull text from a resume and load it into database fields that can be searched by a recruiter or hiring manager.

An image embedded in a resume — be it the applicant’s photograph, company logos or work samples — isn’t ideal, but may not be the end of the world, Ticktin said. Burning Glass, AIRS and most others will read the text and ignore the images. But some large image files can overload the ATS (something vendors and users call “choking the ATS”), and your resume will be rejected.

That doesn’t mean a resume with embedded images is automatically deleted, Ticktin said. “Many ATSes still hold on to the original copy of a resume format that a candidate submitted, and, either way, they should be capturing the text of the document, at a minimum,” he said.

In special instances where art skills are a requirement, HR professionals may take the trouble to retrieve these problem resumes, Ticktin said. “For example, if somebody applies for a creative position, where creativity and aesthetics are important, that might be an example of where (a recruiting professional) would find the resume with text-based searching, and then they’d find the original resume to see how it was graphically set up.”

In any case, the safe bet is to include important career-history information in the text of the resume rather than relying on attached images to tell your story. You can mention work samples in the body of your resume or cover letter and offer them as a follow-up or by directing readers to a Web site.

Update your browser

Many people worry that the system on the receiving end won’t support a resume that was uploaded to a Web site by a Mac or a PC, said a representative of AIRS SourcePoint, who asked not to be identified. But a more common problem is out-of-date versions of Web browsers such as Microsoft Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari. Some of the ATS features that manage the resume-upload page on most Web sites will not work with older browser versions.

Older browser versions can affect the way a resume is displayed in the ATS, and it will be apparent, Ticktin said. “You’ll know it if you can’t read the application site. You’ll know it because you can’t do general browsing anyway.”

Avoid exotic e-mail formatting

ATSes are protected by firewalls to ensure that they aren’t injected by viruses. Those firewalls block viruses, but they will also block your resume, if you send an unusual file format, like a ZIP file (a data-compression and archive format), Ticktin said.
Some prudent job seekers encrypt their resumes when they send them and offer a password to open the file in an e-mail or cover letter. But most resumes are received directly by the ATS, not a human, and the machine won’t know to find and enter the password. In such instances, password-protected files are rejected as unopenable, Ticktin warned.

Don’t make work for recruiting pros

What happens to the resumes you’ve sent in the wrong format? According to the representative for AIRS SourcePoint, the recruiting professional on the other end of your resume submission can always cut and paste to get the document into the tool. But that’s extra work that job applicants should spare the people who make hiring decisions — the last thing they need is a reason to disregard a resume in favor of the ones that don’t require any special care and feeding.