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A recruiter contacted me on LinkedIn and indicated that he was impressed by my skillset. He asked for my resume, BUT he asked for it in a non-PDF format. I find that a strange request, because I've contacted many recruiters and NONE of them forbade use of the PDF format.

I've read questions on here about recruiters requesting Word documents, and a couple answerers suggested innocuous reasons for requesting Word documents. However, I figured I'd ask specifically about this request, because the recruiter asked for a resume from any non-PDF format, not just Word.

I like the PDF format because I can trust my resume will look the same on the recruiter's computer as it does on mine. I can't be sure what software the recruiter would be viewing my resume on, though I suppose I can safely assume the recruiter has Microsoft Word, so I can't be 100% sure the recruiter's software wouldn't mess up my resume.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    Oct 4 at 12:33
119

Recruiters typically forward your resume with their letterhead instead of your contact information. This is standard practice so that the client doesn't attempt to go around the agency and contact you directly

Perfectly normal

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – DarkCygnus
    Oct 4 at 19:55
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Context: I am a hiring manager in the software industry.

Competent recruiters can easily add their header page with a summary of the candidate to a candidate's CV. For example, this can be done on "Preview" on a Mac by default, without requiring any special software.

Less reputable recruiters have a reputation for adjusting candidate's CVs, both somewhat innocently (think: improving spelling, grammar, etc, standardizing formatting), but also - as you mention in your question - they are known to adjust formatting, and sometimes even embellish CVs with experience that a candidate may not have.

In my opinion, this is a red flag. I would refuse to work with a recruiter that requested my CV in non-PDF form. They either do not know how to add a header page - in which case they are incompetent - or they want to adjust your CV without telling you, in which case you should run for the hills.

The other answer mentions that recruiters might be trying to ensure that companies contact + hire candidates directly without paying the agency fees. This can happen, but is easily solved by having a contract with the agency. It's in neither party's best interest (company or agency) to violate these contracts.

So again, if this is standard practice for the recruiter you're in contact with, they are most likely submitting unsolicited resumes to companies (bad, you will not get hired this way), or they are worried that the companies they work with will be duplicitous and hire you behind their back (also bad, you don't want to work with these companies).

In summary: this is a red flag. I recommend only sharing your resume in a format you're comfortable with, and finding other recruiters if they insist on doing otherwise.

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    PDFs can also be "adjusted" if you have Acrobat Pro. You can change character text blocks of the original document, or redact certain areas (which both blanks the bitmap and also scourges text blocks so they can't be recovered by looking at the raw data). Adobe has signing features to disable this for certain PDFs, but that only works if you turn that feature on. Oct 2 at 19:03
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    @Harper-ReinstateMonica That's not the point -- if they want to, they can adjust anything you send them. They have no legitimate reason to touch it at all, their job is to forward it to the perspective employer, and for that purpose, PDF is just fine.
    – Dan Mašek
    Oct 3 at 0:16
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    To be more clear, unless you both digitally sign the PDF and the receiver also makes some assertion check that it was not only signed, but you who signed it, any normal PDF can be trivially recreated with any content they like
    – ti7
    Oct 4 at 21:57
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    @DanMašek no, the recruiters job is to earn them and the recruiting company money - they do that by finding prospective candidates and getting them hired by other companies. Never ever assume anything else, and yes they do have a legitimate reason to "touch it" - one which the accepted answer correctly puts forward (companies can save thousands of dollars a hire by going around the recruiting agency or consultant).
    – Moo
    Oct 4 at 22:03
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    @Moo I suppose, but then again, those kinds of companies are not the ones I'd like to be connected with in the first place. (And beside hiding contact information, any embellishments might get past the first screening, but any competent interviewer will tear that to shreds in no time)
    – Dan Mašek
    Oct 4 at 22:13
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I had a very similar experience, and I would suggest that it could be a red flag.

I usually write my CV in LaTeX, which compiles the document into a PDF. I sent this to a recruiter, who then requested it in MS Word format. I initially thought that this might just be some compatibility issue.

However I went to the interview with a copy of my CV, and the interviewers had the CV forwarded by the recruitment agency. I noticed that there were quite a few changes. It turned out the recruiter was trying to be "helpful" and tune my CV to the job. Both myself and the interviewers were less than impressed.

In my case there wasn't anything negative or exaggerated added, but none the less it was changed. It didn't affect me in the interview and I actually got the job.

I wouldn't suggest refusing and you send a CV in the format they ask, but ask them not to edit it without consulting you first. And always have a copy with you in the interview!

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    Totally agree with using Latex and sending a PDF. MS Word is notorious for botching the layout, and a Word document may or may not look the same on a different computer with different versions of Word, different printer drivers, and what not.
    – Robert
    Oct 2 at 21:14
  • Latex is overkill (especially if you're going to have to learn it first) - It's trivial to generate a PDF from Word, Libre Office, and other modern word processing or publishing software.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 3 at 20:09
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    @StuartF I disagree. In many academic, and STEM based industries, LaTeX is effectively an industry standard. One can also produce far more visually pleasing and unique documents in LaTeX. This can help make your CV standout and be memorable. If one already knows LaTeX, then making a CV is trivial. If one is learning it solely to make a CV, then that is up to the individual whether the effort is worth it. LaTeX really isn't that difficult.
    – Q.P.
    Oct 3 at 20:35
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    @FelixB. If you've only ever used LaTeX for basic document production, such as a thesis or paper, then I can see why someone would struggle. But investing a little extra time in learning more about LaTeX can really improve the look and layout of your document. And it matters, the way information is presented does have an impact on how it is communicated and absorbed. Besides there are thousands of tutorials, forums, SE, and so on. I'm not going to respond further to comments about making CV's in LaTeX, if it is too difficult or time consuming for you. Don't do it.
    – Q.P.
    Oct 4 at 9:31
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    @StuartF: My Resume is stored in Latex.
    – Joshua
    Oct 4 at 15:03
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Not a red flag.

The recruiter might need to convert your resume to some other format to add the agency's letterhead, or to submit it into an employer's system (in doc, text, etc.)

I always supply two versions: A MS Word doc (not .docx, but .doc) and a PDF. The PDF acts as a printable, read-only copy/watermark of what I submit, and the Word document is for the agency to format as per the agency's requirements.

This is normal.

Now, on this, you are very much in danger of shooting yourself in the foot, professionally, if you have a habit of misreading requests:

BUT he asked for it in a non-PDF format. I find that a strange request, because I've contacted many recruiters and NONE of them forbade use of the PDF format.

The recruiter isn't forbidding you. He's requesting you. Also, remember this. A recruiter isn't there to serve fries unconditionally.

You aren't the agent's customer. The prospective employer is the agent's customer.

You are entering into a business relationship with a recruiter to put you forward. You command which skill sets to present to a position. The agent commands the process that he/she will use to present you.

I like the PDF format because I can trust my resume will look the same on the recruiter's computer as it does on mine.

That is fine, but you can't expect that the agent is going to simply present your resume the way it looks to the employer without having a branding representing the agency.

When you work with a recruiter, you are not applying for a job with the client. You are applying for a recruiter to use his employer's brand and trademarks to negotiate a position with the client on your behalf (and the agency's behalf.)

I can't be sure what software the recruiter would be viewing my resume on, though I suppose I can safely assume the recruiter has Microsoft Word, so I can't be 100% sure the recruiter's software wouldn't mess up my resume.

That's the recruiter's job to ensure what the resume will look like. Sometimes, employers do not accept anything but text, and an agent has to take your resume and convert it to some textual representation.

Lesson here: go easy on the formatting. Keep it simple.

Your job is to present your skills factually and to be prepared for the interview.

Let the recruiter handle the presentation, and his obligation is not to create a presentation of your personal approval, but one that represents the company.

Otherwise, you might as well just not use a recruiter and apply directly.

And what would you do in that case if an employer requests a Word doc or text format?

My suggestion to anyone is to keep their resumes simple so that they can generate Word documents that are simple enough to be viewed in disparate systems without loss of legibility, and to always provide two versions (MS Word and PDF.)

That's what I do. All the best.

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BRIEF: in my experience it is quite common for recruiters and HR departments to prefer certain formats like Microsoft Word to PDF and *TeX. ODF and HTML intermediate.

One big reason is automated extraction of data from your résumé into a standardized database to facilitate searching and comparison between candidates.

I.e. it is not just the recruiter adding their own headings.


DETAIL:

Many recruiters and employer HR departments automatically extract information from your résumé and place it in a database, to facilitate searches and comparison between candidates.

I.e. they may ignore your résumé formatting, at least in the initial stages. We may hope that they will also present your nicely formatted résumé, but that is often not the case.

These tools work well for formats such as Microsoft Word.

These tools sometimes work well and sometimes do not work well for PDF, since content in your PDF can range from easy to extract text to bitmap images of the text that must be OCRed. The latter is particularly common for people who think that it is neat to embed university or corporate logos in their job and educational history. (Recommendation: if you are going to embed such logos, you should also embed the ordinary text name of the organization, in case the OCR fails.)

Since PDF files often have explicit layout, problems can arise extracting things like paragraphs that span page boundaries. Using multiple columns or side bars can be even more problematic. Even table layout, with things like “education“ and “job history” or “organization/date/job title” in a left-hand column, with description of the job or degree in the right hand column, can mess things up when extracting PDF. There are many different ways of preparing table layout in PDF.

  • HTML and XHTML is easier to parse and extract text from, especially since XHTML is more content-based. But even here more explicit layout control can make things more difficult. Simple HTML tables are easier to parse than table-like layout created by hand using nested DIVs and SPANs, where it is not always obvious which parts correspond.

    A human editing the HTML can ensure that it is simple. But document production and conversion tools such as Microsoft Word “save as HTML” or LaTeX HTML or your favorite wiki to HTML may not produce HTML that is easy to parse.

  • ODF - similar issues. More and more support, given various European preferences, but still less common than Word and in my experience HTML.

  • LaTeX - could be easy to parse, since it is largely ASCII text. But I don’t think many such automated tools handle LaTeX directly. See below. Especially if your résumé uses not really that advanced features like conditional text, to allow short and long versions of the résumé, targeting different audiences like post doc or industry. but if you’re doing those things you should almost definitely not be sending the LaTeX source code. (Which is a pity, because if I were hiring you such evidence of creative laziness might be a point in your favor, as long as you were not lying in the different versions.)

More and more the hassle of extracting text from different formats like Microsoft Word and ODF and HTML and PDF has been leading towards companies extracting text for their databases by OCRing the printed bitmap image. This has the same problems with respect to detecting paragraphs that span page boundaries and the association of information in two different columns where the cells have different alignment. But it gets solved once and only once.

In any case, you should think about how easy it will be to extract text from your résumé. E.g. you might send the PDF through an OCR tool, and guess at how easy it would be to delete layout crap if your tool doesn’t do it for you.

Some job websites allow you to upload your idiosyncratically formatted resumes, and give you the opportunity to see what they have extracted. Or at least they did a few years ago, I haven’t tried this in quite some time.


When companies accept more than one format, e.g. Microsoft Word or PDF, they are often using a non-OCR tool for one and an OCR tool for others.


BTW, for those who say that STEM usually accept LaTeX, my experience is that this may be true of startups not very distant from their academic roots. But if the start up survives, eventually they get a real HR department, or more likely outsource it, and they then get these automated tools. often they get the cheaper version of these automated tools and swing all the way from LaTeX tolerant to intolerant.

Something similar happens for less academic start ups that might begin accepting only Microsoft Word and PDF.

Really early stage start ups may not have enough bureaucracy to make any such requirements or databases and will contact you to get a better format if they really want you. But VCs often provide enough "help" to skip that stage unless you are directly contacted by the founders

I would love to hear about “automated résumé extraction tools”, open source or cheap and easy cloud services, that might raise the bar here.

But at least at the moment, as far as I know, it is still reasonably common for non-PDF and even Microsoft Word only resumes to be requested. Less common than a decade ago, but still reasonably common.


BTW: PDF does NOT guarantee that your document will be rendered the same by all recipients. see for example https://www.prepressure.com/pdf/pdf-troubleshooter. The biggest issue is not having fonts embedded in your document (sometimes prevented by licensing issues), with page sizes and margins not far behind.

US versus ISO page sizes, anyone? Hint: often safest to render to the smallest page size; blank space at the end less objectionable than pages blank except for a few lines at the top. Also, while you may not have printer and/or paper to test both US and ISO page sizes, you can probably preview your résumé in other page sizes. be sure to do this from a PDF viewer, not from an actual word processing program. Unfortunately, There may be differences between different “send PDF to printer” tools for the same PDF - some may scale to fit by default, others may just wrap and produce orphans.

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  • I don't see how scraping a Word document or HTML document is any easier than scraping a PDF. In neither case do you have any guarantees how the document is structured or marked up. Extracting arbitrary text from PDF is even easier from PDF than from Word or HTML. "HTML and XHTML is easier to parse and extract text from, especially since XHTML is more content-based". That is blatantly wrong. Since you have no idea how the HTML & XHTML is structured, you cannot extract anything from it in an automated way., unless you hand out very specific templates. But then, this also works for PDF...
    – Polygnome
    Oct 4 at 17:28
  • @Polygnome: if you can point me to a tool that will reliably take PDF, strip page headers and footers, undo hyphenation breaks, ensure paragraphs split across page boundaries are merged, and not merge adjacent paragraphs merged, please tell me about it. all of the PDF to text tools that I am aware of have pretty big problems in these areas. None of these are problems for MS Word or HTML, since those artifacts do not occur unless you are controlling layout by hand by inserting hard line breaks. PDF auto extraction is good enough for search, but not for formatting or training speech
    – Krazy Glew
    Oct 4 at 20:57
  • Anecdote: Negroponte, MIT media Lab founder, in the link disses FAX as holding back structured data. Presenting a fax image that a human can easily distinguish the logical fields of, but a computer at the time could not. at this point I stop holding my breath for ubiquitous standards for structured data - eventually AI/OCR+NLP will reduce the need. but in the meantime, make your résumé easy to parse: web.media.mit.edu/~nicholas/Wired/WIRED2-04.htmlh
    – Krazy Glew
    Oct 4 at 21:18
  • @Polygnome: I would really Really REALLY love a pointer to a good PDF scraping tool. I sometimes write documentation for things I have designed. I diff to see what has changed. diffing input can be misleading when you re-factor boiler plate text into a single place. Diffing HTML not so bad when you eliminate ordinary newlines etc in some filter scripts. but diffing PDF provides lots of false diffs, in all tools I have tried.
    – Krazy Glew
    Oct 17 at 18:33
  • Diffing and just scraping text are two quite different things, though. My scraping needs are filled very well by just copy & pasting the text from Adobe and applying a few regexes.
    – Polygnome
    Oct 25 at 8:40

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