Everything You Need to Know About Submitting a Resume

Don't overthink it. Follow these tips.

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Job seekers are constantly asking questions about the mechanics of submitting a resume to an employer: What file format should a resume be in? Should the cover letter be attached to the email, or sent in the body of the email itself? Does it matter what the file is named?

These are all minor issues, but ones that job seekers nonetheless can find themselves agonizing over. So let’s get these questions answered once and for all and eliminate any anxiety over this portion of a job search.

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But before we do, here’s a hopefully obvious caveat: If an employer’s instructions contradict any of the below, you should follow those instructions instead. Curious job seekers, here are some answers to your questions:

What format should my resume be in—PDF or Microsoft Word?

Either is fine. However, if your resume is a PDF, you can be sure your formatting will be preserved exactly as you want it. If it’s in Word, the document may display differently on the recipient’s computer than it does on yours. Avoid plain text resumes altogether since they don’t look as polished as formatted ones.

Should I attach two different formats so the employer can choose which one they prefer?

No. Pick one or the other. Otherwise, your recipients have to spend time opening both, looking to see if there’s something different between the two documents that they’re supposed to be noticing.

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Well, then what if I include a note telling them that I’m attaching it in both formats?

No. Make a decision. Be decisive.

Do I put the cover letter in the body of the email or send it as an attachment?

Either one is fine. While different hiring managers have different preferences, no one is going to penalize you for doing it in their less-preferred way. However, putting the text in the body of the email itself does make it easier to scan quickly.

If I attach the cover letter, what do I write in the email itself? Do I just write a few lines that the documents are attached or do I need some sort of secondary cover letter in the email itself?

You don’t need a second cover letter in the email itself. If you attach your cover letter, in the body of the email you’d just write something like, “I’d like to apply for the ___ position. Attached please find my cover letter and resume.”

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Does it matter what I name my resume file?

This isn’t something to stress over, but ideally you’d name the file something like JoeSmithResume.pdf or AnnaJones.doc. What you don’t want to do is name it something like Resume-Edited-by-Dad.doc, or 2008Resume.pdf when it’s now 2011.

What about web-based submissions?

If you’re submitting your resume via a website form rather than emailing it, you’ll often need to copy and paste different sections of the document into different parts of the employer’s web form. Keeping a plain-text, unformatted copy of your resume on hand for these opportunities will make this process a lot easier.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.