everything you’re wondering about how to submit your resume

I hear lots of questions about the mechanics of submitting a resume to an employer: What file format should a resume be in? Should the cover letter be attached to the email, or sent in the body of the email itself? Does it matter what the file is named?

These are all minor issues, but ones that job-seekers nonetheless can find themselves agonizing over. So let’s get these questions answered once and for all and eliminate any anxiety over this portion of a job search.

And before we launch in, here’s a hopefully obvious caveat:  If an employer’s instructions contradict any of the below, you should follow those instructions instead.

What format should my resume be in – PDF or Word?

Either is fine. However, if your resume is a PDF, you can be sure your formatting will be preserved exactly as you want it. If it’s in Word, the document may display differently on the recipient’s computer than it does on yours. And avoid plain text resumes altogether since they don’t look as polished as formatted ones.

Should I attach two different formats so the employer can choose which one they prefer?

No. Pick one or the other. Otherwise your recipients have to spend time opening both, looking to see if there’s something different between the two documents that they’re supposed to be noticing.

Well, then what if I include a note telling them that I’m attaching it in both formats?

No. Make a decision. Be decisive.

Do I put the cover letter in the body of the email or send it as an attachment?

Either one is fine. While different hiring managers have different preferences, no one is going to penalize you for doing it in their less-preferred way. However, putting the text in the body of the email itself does make it easier to scan quickly.

If I attach the cover letter, what do I write in the email itself? Do I just write a few lines that the documents are attached or do I need some sort of secondary cover letter in the email itself?

You don’t need a second cover letter in the email itself. If you attach your cover letter, in the body of the email you’d just write something like, “I’d like to apply for the ___ position. Attached please find my cover letter and resume.”

Does it matter what I name my resume file?

This isn’t something to stress over, but ideally you’d name the file something like JoeSmithResume.pdf or AnnaJones.doc.  What you don’t want to do is name it something like Resume-Edited-by-Dad.doc, or 2008Resume.pdf when it’s now 2011.

What about web-based submissions?

If you’re submitting your resume via a website form rather than emailing it, you’ll often need to copy and paste different sections of the document into different parts of the employer’s web form. Keeping a plain-text, unformatted copy of your resume on hand for these opportunities will make this process a lot easier.

{ 16 comments… read them below }

  1. Wilton Businessman*

    Re: #1. Unless the ad specifically says “Send as a word doc”, definitely don’t send it as a PDF even if that’s your preferred format.

    1. Esra*

      Do you mean do send it as a pdf unless specifically requested otherwise?

      As a graphic designer, I love pdfs for the greater control and consistency over the look of the document. No worrying if someone is using office 2003, or has a limited font selection etc.

    2. KayDay*

      I think he meant if the directions say to send it as a word document, do not send it as a PDF, even if you prefer PDF (follow the directions)…but correct me if I am wrong.

  2. Anonymous*

    Re: cover letters

    I would suggest putting the cover letter in the body of the e-mail AND as an attachment. I tend to do this because the processes for reviewing resumes and cover letters varies greatly by organization. Some, such as mine, dump all the cover letters and resumes in a directory for the hiring manager to review. Anything in the e-mail body is guarenteed to be lost. Having it attached to a more or less blank e-mail means that if the person IS scanning the e-mails they are less likely to take notice of yours. Having it in both locations gives you the best of both worlds.


    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Personally, it annoys me when people do that. I read their cover letter in their email, then notice there’s an attached cover letter too, so I have to open that and scan it to see if it’s the same or different. That’s a waste of my time. It’s minor, but it’s still annoying.

      An organization that cares about reading cover letters isn’t going to just dump all the attachments in a file without also including cover letters from the email body.

    2. Sensible Shoes*

      Where I work, all of this is a moot point now. They don’t accept resumes anymore. This has all gone online.

      I threw away the 32lb, ivory colored resume paper with matching envelopes long ago.

  3. Christine*

    THANK YOU for writing this Alison – given the rise in email and online communication in just the last 5-10 years has made applying for jobs really confusing for me.

  4. Anonymous*

    I have run into the issue of where I send it as a Word doc and the employer can’t open it because it’s in a different version. I sent it using MS 2007, while the employer is still stuck in MS 2003. Now there’s MS 2010…

    1. Heather B*

      You can save documents as .doc instead of .docx in Word 2007 so that older versions of Word can open them. (You can even set Word 2007 to default to saving as .doc, if you want.)

      In the “Save As” window, look below the field for the file name. There should be a dropdown for “Save As Type.” Choose “Word 97-2003 Document” and you’re set.

  5. Anonymous*

    I have to agree with attaching the cover letter and putting it in the body of the email.

    I used to do some administrative work and my boss had me print out all the CVs and cover letters and staple them together as they came in. When I would print the email as the cover letter she would dump that file in the garbage since it did not look as nicely formatted as the attached ones.

    BUT when it came my turn to do some hiring in a much smaller office I found that I preferred the email body cover letters as I was short on time and liked not having to wait to download the cover letter – of course, I assumed they were the same and never downloaded the attached doc though!

    I still always second guess this one though!

  6. Anonymous*

    Definitely send resumes in PDF format. We have our admins print the submitted resumes to be reviewed by the hiring managers. I can recall an incident when one resume (sent in a Word doc) when printed the admin must have accidentally touched one of the keys on the keyboard messing up the alignment of the resume. When I looked it over I was sure it couldn’t have intentionally be sent this way so I pulled the original and of course the resume she/he attached was aligned perfectly. It was unfortunate because this person worked on a visually appealing resume but along the way got messed up and in the sea of resumes it was overlooked for something that was not the fault of this applicant’s.

    1. Politicalamity9*

      totally agree. Documents best to be in a fixed viewing format. PDF solves that problem, no matter in what platform, Windows or Linux.
      Sometimes, its not being messed up. Could be compatibility issues such as words 2003 vs 2010, MS office documents open up in Open Office applications surely messed it up.
      by the way, what annoys me is that not knowing whether the email sent received by the prospective employer.

  7. Joe*

    The last time I was job-hunting, all the headhunters who contacted me insisted on getting my resume in Word format, rather than PDF. Since I don’t do Word (my home is a Microsoft-free zone), I had to go out of my way to create a Word version of it. I later found out that the reason for this was that many headhunters make changes to your resume before sending it out, and they couldn’t do that with PDFs. For a lot of them, that’s just removing my contact information, because they want to control access to me, but at least one or two changed significant information on the resume, as I found out during an interview. So if I’m ever job-hunting again, I’ll stick with PDF format, and those headhunters that don’t like it can go **** themselves.

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