Word vs. PDF – which is better for job applications?

There is much conjecture on which document version to use in job applications – the highly popular Microsoft Word or the format protector PDF. To increase the likelihood of career documentation making it through to the ‘human review’ stage (around 98% of recruiters use ATS), it is important to consider what will be the optimal version.

ATS considerations

A Word version has previously been the most common go-to for submitting career documentation, primarily due to the potential impacts of ATS (e.g. lower readability of PDF versions). Yet this appears to be less of an issue today, as ATS capabilities continue to advance. Either way, it is essential to ensure that all documentation is ATS optimised.

“There’s simply more that can go wrong when an ATS scans a PDF, though there’s not as much of a gap between the two file types as there once was.” (Jon Shields, Jobscan)

Submission considerations

The document submission channel also often influences which version is used. A PDF is likely to be more appropriate when directly emailing a recruiter or other key contact. It maintains the structure and formatting of the original document. However, a Word version is probably best when submitting career documentation via an online portal (i.e. due to ATS).

“When applying to a job online, the best format to send your resume in is usually a Word doc. This format is most easily read by the majority of ATS. While it is more and more common for companies to invest in more sophisticated ATS software that will parse your resume, you can be confident that virtually all ATS scans can read a .doc file.” (ZipJob.com)

Recruiter considerations

Many recruiters will specify their version preference in terms of how you send them your career documentation – or you could contact them to confirm. It is important to strictly align with all ‘how to apply’ instructions, including how your resume, etc. need to be submitted.

Also keep in mind that third-party recruiters may request a Word version so they can redact your contact details prior to sharing your career documentation with potential employers.

Other version considerations

Word or PDF are the two options for most job applications, unless otherwise specified by a recruiter (e.g. creative version for a creative role). If you use other versions such as InDesign or Photoshop, you may be limiting your chances of recruiter engagement. For example, they may not have that software and/or their ATS may not adequately scan that document type.

Use both document versions

As there is no definitive recommendation in terms of whether Word of PDF is better for job applications, it’s going to be advantageous to maintain up-to-date career documentation in both versions. When making updates via Word to your existing career documentation, also recreate PDF versions – have both document types ready for prospective job opportunities. And always align with recruiter preferences.


Walton’s Words has extensive experience in helping job seekers compile professionally written, career-selling documentation. We can help construct resumes, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, selection criteria, and any other documentation that will help you win your dream role. So drop us a line or give us a call if you’d like some assistance with your next career step.

Jeanette Walton received a Writing Expertise Acknowledgement via resumé work published in 7th edition of Resumes for Dummies

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