The 7 rules for submitting your résumé to your prospective employer

email_envelopeHow do you get your résumé to prospective employers or recruiters? Should you mail them, fax them, E-mail them, or upload them to a job search board? When distributing your documents online, which file format do you use? There are two versions of Microsoft Word files (.doc and .docx), Adobe Acrobat files (.pdf), and ASCII or plain text (.txt) files. Which file format is best to send?

Not surprisingly, there are a variety of opinions on these topics and even the experts disagree. I’ve formed my own opinions over the past 10+ years of assisting clients with the job search process. Not every recruiter, HR manager, or résumé expert will agree with every one of my suggestions, but I hope you will take them seriously.

  1. If the employer or recruiter states a preference for receiving files in a certain format (mailed, faxed, or e-mailed), always provide the document in that format. Make them happy.
  2. It is NOT necessary to send out paper resumes these days in most job markets for most companies. However, for very important prospects, it is worth considering distributing the résumé in both hard copy and electronic formats. Aren’t you more impressed when someone takes the time to write out a letter instead of sending you an email? Your future employer might be similarly impressed. Our work culture is on the edge of making printed résumés obsolete, but there are still some employers who prefer them and many others who accept them. Print the documents ONLY on plain bright white bond paper. Southworth is one good brand of résumé paper. After all, e-mail delivery and the postal service are not 100% reliable, and you don’t want to risk getting your application lost in a spam folder or gobbled by gremlins. Use a high quality laser printer rather than an inkjet or dot matrix, even if it takes a trip to Kinko’s. If you are sending a photocopy of a laser-printed résumé, then be sure that the copy is neither smudged nor blemished by marks from the copier. Do not staple your résumé and cover letter.

Note: If you are reluctant to send out hard copies of your résumés out of “green” concerns, you do have other options. E-mail your resume first, and if you receive a response e-mail informing you that the résumé has been properly received, then do not mail. However, if you don’t receive confirmation of receipt, consider following up with a phone call to ensure that the document was received. Even then, be warned that you may be missing opportunities if you don’t deliver hard copies to your top prospects. Use 100% recycled paper.

  1. When distributing hard copies, it’s important to try to make the document stand out in the pile. Put the résumé unfolded in a large envelope addressed to the hiring manager (not the Human Resources staff). If the prospect is local, then personally deliver the envelope. Ask for the hiring manager at the front desk and attempt to deliver it personally. If that is not possible, then leave it with the receptionist or H.R. staff. Just the fact that it is unstamped will make the package stand out and call to the hiring manager’s attention your strong interest in the position. If it is not practical to personally deliver the documents, then send the hard copies by Express/Overnight Mail (if it’s within your budget) or First Class Mail.
  2. If you are uncertain of the format that the employer or recruiter desires, always submit your file electronically, whether or not you choose to deliver a hard copy. When sending an employer or recruiter an electronic version of your résumé, and they ONLY accept one file (usually this is because their Web site only allows you to upload one file), then upload a Microsoft Word (.docx) file. The .docx format has its disadvantages (the formatting is impossible to control perfectly because the appearance of the document is dependent on the display and printer settings of the employer’s computer); however, it is the most universally accepted format. Only a few years ago I advised clients to go with the DOC format over DOCX because many employers had not yet upgraded to Word 2007, but by now virtually everyone knows about the DOCX format.

Note for Apple Fans: Never send documents in Apple-only format. Use DOC, DOCX, or PDF.

Note for Open Source Fans: If you are in the software development field and feel it’s  important to your personal brand to avoid the use of proprietary document formats such as Microsoft Word, then by all means substitute a RTF or PDF file for a DOC. No other substitution is recommended. Don’t risk it.

  1. If you are uncertain of the format that the employer or recruiter desires, and they allow you to send them any number of files, then send your résumé in two different formats: Microsoft Word (either .doc or .docx) and Adobe PDF. Some experts advise that you submit several different formats, but I feel that two is enough (any more is overkill and could be perceived as annoying to the recipient). You can create PDF files from Microsoft Word by downloading any number of free utilities (you can go to to find CutePDF or doPDF and install it on your computer) or by visiting Adobe’s Web site and using their PDF creation service. Adobe may allow you to create a limited number of PDF files for free before paying for the service. Not all free utilities are as accurate as Adobe Acrobat, so if you use a freeware PDF converter, be sure to proof the file carefully for formatting glitches. It’s not enough to proof the PDF file on the screen; you need to print it.

Tip: If applying for a job at Microsoft, then submit the file only in .docx (Microsoft Word 2007 and later). Using the older .doc file format could subliminally send the signal that your technical acumen is behind the times. By the same token, if you’re applying to Adobe, then submit the file only in PDF format. Why not show that you are familiar with the prospective employer’s technology? Don’t send files created using open source products. You might offend the reader if they are politically opposed to the open source technology movement.

  1. If your employer or recruiter requires that you submit your résumé in ASCII (.txt) format, do so. You can easily convert your Microsoft Word document to ASCII format. In Word, use the “Save As” command and select “Plain Text (*.txt)” in the “Save as type” box. When prompted by the dialog box for a specific version of ASCII, use only “Windows (Default)”. Note that when Word files are saved as plain text, the formatting is eliminated and some of the symbols used in the résumé will be replaced with garbage characters (often the “?” symbol). It is therefore necessary to open the .txt file in a text editor such as Notepad and perform a global search on any garbage characters that you see to replace them with a known character (the “*” symbol is good to use for this purpose). If you are uncomfortable with any aspect of this process, ask a tech savvy friend or your Professional Résumé Writer for assistance.
  2. Optimize the text file so that it is easy on the eyes. Another side effect of the text conversion is that the spacing in the document becomes difficult to read and any tables or columns used in the document will be messed up. Therefore, it is a good idea to manually reformat the document using printable characters and manual line spaces to break up the text in a manner that is visually appealing. The most powerful documents use a very simply designed header for the file so that your name and contact information is easy to read and stands out visually. Although computers may be reading the plain text data, eventually it gets read by a human reviewer who will tend to be more favorably disposed to résumés that are easy to read. When saving the file in Notepad, be sure that “Word Wrap” is turned ON or the final file could wind up a visual mess (Windows could insert line breaks in unexpected places depending on the size of the Notepad window at the time the file was saved.)

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