Right Resume Format

The Right Resume Format To Get You Noticed


The purpose of a resume is to get you an interview. Using the right resume format will make sure your application isn’t tossed out just for being unreadable by a machine.

These days, companies screen candidates and resumes in two ways. The first is through Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).

All resumes (including those directly emailed to companies) are loaded into the computer, parsed and automatically searched for a match with keywords from job announcements (or keywords entered into the system by the recruiter/hiring manager). Only those resumes that have a good keyword match are selected for further review by the hiring manager. If a resume cannot be read by the Applicant Tracking Systems, it is rejected.

The second method recruiters and hiring managers use to find candidates is “sourcing” candidates by searching online resumes for possible matches using keywords. Again, if a resume cannot be read by search engines, it will not be selected.

Therefore, you should avoid using JPG and PDF files. Many Applicant Tracking Systems can reliably read only text or Word files without tables. Applicant Tracking Systems cannot read JPG files at all. If a resume is in JPG format, it will not even be seen by the hiring manager. In addition, many older Applicant Tracking Systems also cannot read PDF files, and if an applicant submits a PDF that is not readable, it will also be rejected.

You may be the most qualified candidate, but that you will not be chosen for an interview unless the Applicant Tracking System can read your resume.

If you want a fancy online resume, using PDF as a format is far preferable to JPG, since PDF files can be searched for keywords by search engines. As noted above, you want hiring managers and recruiters to find your resume through online searches. If a search engine cannot read the resume, you will not be found.

I strongly recommend using simple Word formats for resumes, with standard fonts, no tables and margins of at least 0.6 inches.

Resumes like that will print on all printers, will not be rearranged even by outdated versions of Word, can be read by Applicant Tracking Systems and can be searched online.

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Robin Schlinger

Robin Schlinger is the founder of Robin’s Resumes which provides excellent services to those who value the best in resumes and career marketing documentation.


  1. How refreshing to find clearly stated solid advice on the kind of issue ordinary (non-techie) people really need to know!

    Most of the objections in these comments are about matters that arise by intuition and/ or experience, but the core of the original article is the simple information that some formats are not readable by often-used first-round sorting mechanisms. Invaluable.

  2. Actually I had sent my resume in word format to two different companies this week and they both had e-mailed me to send a pdf version? So, maybe they do not use an ATS. I’m happy as they were both real people with real email addresses.

  3. I have been reading and collecting blogs & other links regarding the “proper” way to create your resumé to get attention. I’ve also met with several recruiters and I’ve learned only one thing … everyone has their own opinion and all opinions differ. No wonder many of us can’t get interviews. No one’s resumé is the “right format” and it’s not what the employer wants. How are we supposed to submit a resumé if we don’t know how to format it or what style to use when no one really has the answer???

    • You are right – there is no one “right” format. If you hand your resume to 100 people, you will have 101 opinions.

      However, resumes that work have great CONTENT – content is most important that conveys your brand, value, accomplishments, and that you at least MEET or better – EXCEED – the job requirements. If it uses a standard method, it is easier for the reader to find the information. To show you meet the requirements, you need the right keywords and experience shown in the resume.

      All a resume is for – is to get the interview for the job. If you are simply applying for jobs online with a resume – that is not the most effective job search. You need to identify jobs you qualify for based on your experience, show that in your resume, NETWORK to the hiring manager, and apply both to the hiring manager and online if possible. It helps if you figure out what you want, what you have to offer, your brand, and the job you want in advance.

  4. Robin, so far on this site, you are by far my favorite author. You write the most insightful articles but more importantly always have some sort of example for us to go by. I really like this article as well. I was not aware until this week that there was such a thing as an ATS system. I’ve been wondering & wondering why are the jobs I really want not responding to me but the jobs I don’t want are. I’m discouraged & frustrated beyond words but your articles have given me great encouragement. You have given me lots of food for thought that I’m definitely going to put into play. Thanks.

    • I agree with Liz – thanks for the information on getting my resume notice. I know I’m terrific, but nobody else will unless I manage to format it in a way that will get the document past the ATS systems. Thanks so much Robin !

      Dave Moore
      Project Manager

  5. Hi Robin,

    Thanks for posting this article. Until now, I never knew that HTML was preferable over PDF for the above stated reasons that you mentioned. I’m also concerned that my resume needs editing, as I have not been getting noticed by the companies I’ve sent applications to. Do you know anyone/company that provides resume editing service at a fair price?
    Thanks for your help!

    Madison S.

  6. This article is a bit lame . As for i know not all the companies use ATS and submitting a CV in a word format is never advisable given that each and every office have a differnt word version which can modify the layout of your CV .

    • Not all companies use ATS systems – however many, if not a most do. If you use a PDF file, the ATS system cannot read the text all the time from the PDF. People who use ATS systems are not concerned about the format of the resume.

      If you use Word 2003 files, it reads pretty similarly for most folks on Word.

  7. Remember however, that many smaller companies do not have ATS software, so the PDF and JPG versions will work just fine there. The single largest employer segment of the economy right now is the small to medium types of businesses. Only worry about the extreme ATS hits if you’re going after a big fish or are in a small to medium tech search – they will be the ones with the most hoops to jump through.

    • Todd – I understand that small to medium companies are doing hiring. Even they will, in many cases, use ATS systems to screen clients.

      I have even seen small companies use ATS systems (based on my clients and even my own experience). Some of them will contract with companies to help them in their job searches – especially when hundreds, if not thousands, apply for an open position. Also, they may not be able to open JPG versions correctly (PDF may be OK).

      If you are walking in to visit someone, you can hand them the “Pretty” version of your resume – with graphics and graphs – but also give them a version that can be scanned. I will advise clients to do both.

      However, statistics show at least 70% of all job openings go through ATS systems these days, so I would not want to be eliminated for the majority of jobs for the “chance” that a hiring manager would prefer a graph in a resume. Content is much more important than fancy graphics – and fancy graphics alone without content will be ignored.

      Any job you apply for on the internet – assume it will go through an ATS – if you are walking in for the interview or sending by email or mail – send both versions (if you believe the graphics will help you).


      Robin Schlinger

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