I review hundreds of resumes every year and one of the consistent problems I see is that many people are just unsure how to send it to me. Some attach it as a Word file (fine) or a PDF file (fine), but others attach it as a Pages file (not fine), or send me a link to it (not fine).
It's a tough question and there's no easy answer.
The reason Pages files aren't great is because people who use Windows (ie. 75-90% of all computer users out there) can't open it. Well, apparently they can but it's difficult and time consuming, which means most people won't do it.
The reason sending a link isn't a good idea is because many people don't like randomly opening links. There's too much risk.
So then it comes down to Word docs or PDF files (or perhaps plain text files).
Here are my thoughts:
1. If you're replying to a job posting, read the post to see if it states which format to send your resume in. If it does, send it in that format. (If you don't, you're basically telling the recruiter that you can't follow instructions.)
2. If you're emailing it to a recruiter, send a PDF.
3. If you need to upload it to a website, check to see what format they ask for. If they don't say, try to upload it as a PDF. If that doesn't work, then use a Word file.
There are several reasons why PDFs are preferred over Word docs, but the main reason is they simply look better (which makes YOU look better - and first impressions mean a lot).
The exact same Word doc may look different on my screen than your screen because we may be using different versions of Word to view it, we may be using different systems altogether to view it, we may have different fonts installed on our computers, etc. Same with recruiters. You may have a perfectly formatted Word resume on your computer, but when the recruiter opens it, it could be a mess, it could extend to 3 or 4 pages, the font could be different, etc. You just don't know.
PDFs view the same for me, you, and everyone else. If I open a PDF on my screen and you open the same one on your screen, we're both seeing it as it was intended to be seen. There will be no formatting discrepancies, which means your perfectly formatted resume will still be perfect when the recruiter sees it.
Another reason PDFs are preferred? They're apparently virus-free, unlike Word docs. Many people are reluctant to open attached files on their computers, but if they see a PDF, they should feel safe to open it.
What about applicant tracking systems?
Historically Word docs were preferred because they could be parsed more effectively by applicant tracking systems (ATS). In other words, there would be fewer errors when the system electronically "reads" the resume. That's why it was always recommended that you submit your resume as a Word doc.
Nowadays, apparently, ATS systems are smarter and much more able to read a PDF file. Why do I say "apparently?" Well, as you know, for every piece of advice you find on the internet, you can easily find an opposite recommendation. So in my research I came across a number of respected career websites that said you should feel safe with having your PDF resume go through an ATS system. There shouldn't be any problems with the process. But I also found a few that said although it's become a lot better in recent years, they still recommend using Word docs if you know for sure that it's going through an ATS system.
Didn't I say before it's a tough question?
Here's my bottom line:
If you put a lot of care and attention into your resume, you'll want to send it as a PDF. That is the only way to preserve your formatting perfectly. That should be your go-to format, whenever possible.
If there's some reason you can't or shouldn't send it as a PDF, then send it as a Word doc. (But always, always follow any instructions you've been given.)
Think of the Word file as the tool you use to create and edit your resume, and the PDF as the vehicle in which you deliver your resume. That way you'll always be putting your best foot forward.