Resumes & Cover Letters

What is the Best Format for a Resume?

Written by Peter Jones

So you have a resume. Great. Trouble is, you’re not sure exactly which format to send it in. Snail mail? Email? Singing telegram? What is the best format for a resume? We’ll concentrate on the electronic versions, which, nowadays, are usually how you get your foot in the door. It’s always important to have a nicely printed and professional paper copy for the interview or other face-to-face interactions, but an electronic copy is usually your first move.

Here are the four types of electronic formats and how to choose between them.

Word Document

This includes .doc, .docx, etc. Basically: anything made with a word processor. This is the standard format in most business contexts. The formatting should stay the same when opened on another machine with the same program. And it’s easy to send, open, print, and forward.b

There are a few things to be careful of: first, some companies might not accept email attachments due to virus prevention. And second, different versions of the software can cause formatting inconsistencies and can sometimes prevent a hiring manager from opening the document.


The best part of sending a PDF is knowing that what you see when you send is exactly what they will see when they open your document. There are no virus risks. PDFs are compatible with both Mac and PC. And no one can alter what you’ve done. It’s an inviolable, perfectly formatted eternal thing.

The only downside is if your company doesn’t have PDF reading software like Acrobat Reader (a free download) or cannot otherwise convert your file.


HTML formatting is really useful if you want to put your resume on a website. Your formatting will stay the same when sent via email—your hiring manager will even be able to view it in their browser without downloading the attachment. The downsides are trickier though. Not all browsers work with HTML documents. You might have to download a separate program to convert your document into this format. And it can sometimes be mistaken for SPAM by recruiters.

Plain Text

Plain text formatting is a bit dull to the eye (no bold, italic, underline, fancy fonts, etc.), but an undersung hero of the job search world. It can be copied and sent in the body of the email itself if a company won’t accept attachments of any kind. It can be included in a searchable database, if need be. And there are a wide variety of ways to add some creative visual effects if you do a bit of research. The only downside is you lose the control and visual appeal of a more richly formatted document.

No matter which format you chose, always send a trial version to yourself or a pal and attempt to open it to see how it will look when opened in a different browser.

About the author

Peter Jones