Résumés look like ass in Microsoft Word

by Seanba on December 7, 2009

Writing a résumé sucks. And for many people it’s just the first step in major sucktitude:

  1. The writing and delivery of the résumé.
  2. The waiting game.
  3. The nervous phone screen.
  4. The dreaded sit down interview.

Of course, these steps are very likely magnified by the depression of losing your last job combined with the fear of not finding a new one. Only rarely are we put into that kind of situation at a time this is comfortable for us.

With this much against you it’s very important to at least get The Easy Stuff™ right. These are actions that take no effort to accomplish but could hurt your chances if you get it wrong.

Easy Stuff Item: Export your résumé to PDF format

Several years ago I never thought about what format to use for résumé distribution. I just went along with every example I was exposed to at the time, which was in Microsoft Word DOC format (save one or two barbaric résumés in plain ASCII text). I had probably spent a couple of hours each day on it for a week, taking care to choose my words and fonts carefully and lay out all the sections in their perfectly aligned tables. “Now that’s a good looking résumé!”, I thought.

And then I was called in for a full-day interview for a job I was very enthusiastic about. I first met with the lead programmer that day and as I shook his hand I noticed my résumé on his monitor …

Awww … CRAP!

What a mess it was. The whole thing was a sea of green squiggly lines …

green squiggly lines

… intermixed with a whole slew of red squiggly lines …

red squiggly lines

… plus, all the tables I had employed to align the different parts of my résumé, which I thought were invisible, were now displaying ugly black borders around them. I had put a lot of work into crafting a résumé that was easy on the eyes, but to the person largely deciding my fate that day it was an abdominal disaster.

Now obviously this wasn’t a deal breaker, I had made it to the interview after all, but I was so disappointed and embarrassed with what I was seeing that I ended up doing something really stupid. As my interviewer started pointing out topics of discussion from my résumé I interrupted him:

“Just a second. For the record, that, doesn’t look like, thaton my machine.”

It Works On My MachineAnd as the words came out of my mouth I was now truly horrified. There it was, a variation on the clarion call of the lazy and careless h4x0r, “It works on my machine”. What a way to start off a day of interviewing.

Okay, so the panic-induced, lame apologetics are mine to own. There comes a time when you just need to shut the hell up and move on. Lesson learned. But I still should of started off with a clean résumé, as intended.

Now if you couldn’t care less about such things that’s one thing, but it’s tragic if you actually put in the effort but it’s all for naught because you sent someone a Microsoft Word file. Your automatic spelling and grammar checks are trained differently than theirs. Your display options are different. They simply are not going to see the same thing you see.

At the time I was humiliating myself with DOC résumés, which was eons ago in software years, I don’t think there was a free way to convert DOC to PDF, but now both Word 2007 and OpenOffice.org Writer freely support exporting to PDF.


This is especially important for designers and artists that are at least expected to make their work presentable. Programmers may be able to get away with a bit of slop, by why risk it? Just export to PDF and be assured your résumé will look the way you intended for all viewers. It’s Easy Stuff™.

Oh, and by the way: Can you believe I got the job? 🙂

PS: I would never put MFC on a résumé these days.

PPS: é == ALT+0233.  I’ve now learned that for life.

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