Word document, PDF, plain text, oh my! Whichever should you choose?

You've spent hours writing and re-writing your CV and you're finally ready to apply for that dream job. But before you click 'send', there's one more thing to consider – which file format should you use?

As a starting point, it's important to follow the instructions in the job listing, as some recruiters and hiring managers will specify which file type to use. However, when the listing fails to mention a recommended file format, which one do you choose?

Read on to find out the four most common CV file formats and the pros and cons of each.

Word document (.doc or .docx)

Submitting your CV as a Word .doc or .docx file is one of the most popular choices for many candidates and hiring companies. It's the default file type for CVs as basically everyone can open and read a Word document, which means the likelihood of the recipient receiving and being able to access your CV is high.


  • A word document is the standard and most popular format for most CVs.

  • Most applicant tracking systems can read Word documents.


  • Often, company names and industry jargon might not be recognised by your word processor's dictionary. This means those squiggly lines will appear under words that the dictionary thinks are wrong, even though they may be correct. This can be distracting for a recruiter when they read your CV and can look unprofessional.

  • There are some minor formatting differences between Word documents on a Mac versus a PC. This can potentially disrupt the formatting on your CV if a recruiter or hiring manager opens your Word document on a different operating system.


Along with Word files, PDFs are the No. 1 file format for 99 per cent of recruiters. A PDF is a great choice for a number of reasons. Most notably, they eliminate the risk of sending a virus-infected file, and they preserve your formatting so that the recipient will receive your CV exactly as you saved it. However, PDFs are also not without their faults, the main offender being the lack of compatibility with some applicant tracking systems.


  • PDFs are compatible with both Mac and PC operating systems.

  • Sending a PDF eliminates the risk of viruses.

  • Saving your CV as a PDF ensures that the formatting stays as is, and no changes can be made to the document.


  • Some applicant tracking systems cannot read PDF documents. If you send a PDF that the ATS can't read, your CV may never reach the recruiter.

Plain text

A plain-text file is not as commonly used for CVs as Word documents or PDFs. One of the main reasons for this is that plain-text files are devoid of any formatting elements or text effects such as bold text, italics, indents and spacing. Presenting your CV without structure or formatting can make it uncomfortable for the recipient to read. Despite this, there are still a few benefits of choosing plain text for your CV.


  • You can place a plain text CV within the body of an email, rather than sending it as an attachment.

  • All applicant tracking systems are able to read and parse plain-text files.


  • Submitting your CV in plain text means all formatting will disappear. This can make your CV hard to read.

  • Plain text strips out text formatting such as bold text and italics, so some of the points that you wanted to emphasise on your CV may get lost.


If you think you need to be a tech guru to save your CV as an HTML file, think again. In recent years, it has become more and more common for job seekers to use HTML files. These can be sent as email attachments that open directly in the recipient's browser, as well as posted to a website or online portfolio.


  • The hiring manager or recruiter can view your CV in their email browser, rather than needing to download it.

  • When sending a CV as an email attachment, the HTML format retains the format and layout.


  • Some browsers do not support HTML documents.

  • Your CV may be marked as spam in the recipient's email browser, as spam is often sent in HTML.

Special mention: hard copy

Believe it or not, hard-copy CVs are not entirely extinct. Often, companies will expect you to bring a hard copy of your CV to the job interview. Occasionally, companies will actually accept them as an alternative to a digital application. It's best to check the job description or the careers page on the company website to see if the company accepts hard-copy applications.

If you're unsure which file type to use, we recommend a Word .doc or .docx file. Not all applicant tracking systems can read a PDF file, so submitting your CV as a PDF is a gamble ‒ it might never reach the recruiter or hiring manager. So, avoid the risk and save your CV as a Word document, unless otherwise specified.

Bonus tip: Your CV file name matters. Rather than saving your CV as 'My CV.doc', opt for your full name and the job title if possible. For example, 'John Smith - Marketing Manager.doc'. That way when the hiring manager looks in their inbox, they can identify your CV easily.

Click on the following link for more CV advice.

You've got the right file type, but how's your CV itself? Submit for a free CV critique to find out where you stand.

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