Formatting a resume correctly is important for getting noticed in that all-important first interview: the resume review. Using a bad template, selecting the wrong word processing program or PDF format can make the difference between continuing consideration or File 13.
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While cross-platform incompatibilities are less of a problem today, there are still issues that could impact a candidate’s formatting or restrict access to the document.
Here are some important things to consider to help you avoid involuntary elimination from a job search.
- Selecting the right word processing program. Microsoft Word is still the dominant word processing program. When I first entered the search industry, we regularly received unrecognizable word processing documents that we could not open. The reason? They were produced with WordPerfect, a program popular with a few corporations and a lot of law firms. We would either send it back and ask for a Word or PDF format. Today, Word remains the leading format even though Apple users swear by Pages, a nice program that is easy to use and which has a superior graphics interface. However, almost no search firms or corporations use Pages so although our firm uses it regularly, I cannot recommend it for constructing a resume unless you plan to convert it to PDF.
- Beware of out-of-date word processing programs. Yes, MS Word has been updated, many times. Using a much older version or the latest upgrade to MS Word can produce formatting glitches – primarily in paragraphing and spacing. This can occur with companies with legacy word processing programs. As odd as it may seem, some companies, especially healthcare organizations, tend to lag behind in installing upgraded versions of software programs like MS Word. That said, surveys show most employers still prefer resumes to be submitted in MS Word.
- Be conservative in formatting. Unless you plan to convert the document to PDF, you should remember that font selection is important. Trying to differentiate your resume with some new or obscure font, regardless of how good it looks on your computer, could backfire if the receiving computer system does not have that particular font in their system. It will substitute, so it is safer to use the standard font options.
- Value of PDF – Portable Document Format. This is an invaluable tool in today’s world. It guarantees that the recipient will be able to view your document, including the formatting, just as you created it. Apple users know that it is easy to convert files to PDF on the computer by selecting “File” from the menu and the “Export to” option in the drop down. We advise against converting a document to PDF using a scanner because it converts the document into a graphics format. Despite its many benefits, resumes in PDF formatting can clash with applicant tracking systems. Some ATS programs lack a standardized method to structure PDF documents. If the system cannot process the resume, it can be automatically omitted. Contingency placement agencies prefer Word documents since they typically strip out a candidate’s contact information before submitting it to the client. Converting a PDF document to MS Word requires a special program and it takes additional time. In the fast-paced world of contingency recruiting, this is an unwelcome task.
- Keep your PC virus protection program up to date. MS Word docs are still more vulnerable to viruses than PDF. Sending an infected document to a recruiter is a major mistake. Current malware attacks use innocent documents with links they ask you to open – such as an important document concerning your financial or computer security. As soon as you click the link, the malware attacks your computer and begins using your email addresses to perpetuate the virus with your friends, colleagues and any recruiters whose contact information may be in your email directory. You want to avoid that faux pas at all costs. While Apple products tend to be more secure from routine viruses, they are not immune to this particular type of malware attack so caution is advised. It might be a good idea to protect your data with cloud managed services, or such like to make sure that if something is to go wrong, you have it backed up somewhere safe.
Candidates submitting resumes internationally should inquire about the preferred format.
While these five points are important, the most important is the content. Be sure that your resume addresses the needs of the prospective employer’s position and contains quantifiable accomplishments to showcase your strengths.