Many, many commonly used Word formatting techniques are not suitable for résumés. Some of these will get your résumé rejected before anyone even reads it. Others will make your résumé look ridiculous when someone does read it. Many, many résumé services don’t know this, and many, many of their résumés go straight to the trash when they get to the employer.

MS Word is the only word processor that should be used for résumé. That includes [insert name of latest supposed World alternative here.] I don’t like that either, but that’s the way it is.

All Word résumés should be saved and sent in .docx format.



Microsoft Word is the standard word processor in the business world, and the most widely-used word processor for home use. It’s the inescapable standard for résumés. But common technical issues send a surprising number of Word résumés to the trash before anyone at the employer’s end even sees them. The great majority of résumé professionals (who are now nearly all “certified”) produce documents that are not fully compatible with résumé-processing technology, and often disastrously incompatible.

Recruiters and HR departments typically prefer Word résumés. Recruiters often need to re-format the résumés they receive, and are better able to do this with word-processor files. HR departments, especially at larger companies, often use “applicant-tracking systems” (ATSs) to process resumes, and word-processor résumés work better for this than PDFs. Plain-text documents are even easier to process for some purposes, including ATSs, but word-processors produce documents that are much more readable by humans than plain-text documents. When humans read dozens or hundreds of résumés, readability counts. Humans will refuse to read plain-txt résumés.

Word is the inescapable standard for résumés, but that doesn’t mean that some of us wouldn’t like to escape. When I say that Word is the standard for résumés, I say it very reluctantly, and only because there’s no way around it. If you’re accustomed to using software like InDesign to produce documents, then, on usability grounds alone (leaving aside the advanced typographic capabilities), switching to Word is like switching from a touring bicycle to a rusty kid’s tricycle tarted up with tinsel.

Unfortunately, none of the candidates for a substitute have ever worked out, at least not for business purposes, and especially not for résumés. (This includes Google Docs. And PDF.) Perhaps the main reason, as far as résumés are concerned, is that all the ATS systems used for processing résumés were designed to work only with Word or plain-text résumés. The other main reason is that Word, being the standard for business, is what employers use to open résumés for printing and on-screen viewing. The formatting and quality of documents produced with other software degrades when those documents are opened in Word. And Microsoft is very happy with that.

Technical Issues With Word Résumés

Of the résumé formats commonly used, Word produces the best-looking and most readable résumés. But the technologies widely used for automated résumé processing, combined with the fact that a résumé must be distributed widely to people who use different computer systems and different versions of Word, place rather narrow limits on what can be done in the way of making a Word résumé visually appealing.

Employers and recruiters often complain about Word features used in résumés that turn the text into garbage if it is viewed or handled with software other than Word—including the software in the automated “applicant tracking systems” that have become very widely used by employers and employment agencies.

The most common of these problems is Word tables, yet very many résumé professionals (including “certified” ones) use them proudly. Opened outside of Word, the information put in the tables will be scrambled and unreadable. If you see two or more columns of text in a résumé, it was probably done with tables or tabs—or with spaces, in which case the columns will look sloppy. Tabs are better than tables, but they’re still not good for making columns in a résumé. There’s no good way to make columns in a Word or plain-text résumé.

Some people even use tables for the entire résumé, instead of indents, to get more control over layout than Word’s automatic indents allow. That will cause the entire résumé to get scrambled. (There are safe ways to get fine control over indents in Word—but few Word users know them.)

Using “distinctive” fonts is another common problem. For font issues, very important for résumés, see Fonts for résumés. If it isn’t Times or Arial/Helvetica, there will probably be issues.

Tints and colors are another frequent problem, and a favorite with some résumé services. Tinted or colored areas either waste space between text, or if text is superimposed on them, the text may be difficult or impossible to read when actually printed out in black and white. (Employers don’t print résumés in color.)

Even Word’s automatic bulleted lists are a minor problem. Outside of Word, they show up as meaningless characters (like Σ). Virtually everyone uses them, but there are safer ways to do this job, that also look a lot better.

Another occasional issue is the special characters that Word, by default, substitutes other characters for certain text you type. For instance, unless you tell Word not to (by changing the application preferences), when you type   1st   you get the ‘st’ superscripted, and when you type   1/2   you get ½. Sometimes this can be handy, but when the document is opened outside of Word, as résumés often are, these characters show up as garbage code.

.docx, .doc, .docm, .dotx formats—and macro viruses

.docx, .doc., .docm, .dotx, and .dot are the various electronic formats (“file formats”) in which Word documents can be created. The names correspond to the extension in the filename—the part to the right of the dot. (If you can’t see the extension, there should be a setting in your operating system that can be changed to let you.)

.docx: The format your résumé should be in. The usual format for Word documents since Word 2007 (2008 for Mac).

.doc: The usual format for Word documents before Word 2007/2008. These .doc files were notorious carriers of macro viruses. Some employers wouldn’t accept .doc resumes for that reason, and asked for RTFs instead. But now that .docx is the normal format, RTFs are no longer a thing for résumés

Macro viruses, however, are still a problem. They began making a comeback around 2014. Macro viruses affect Macs as well as PCs. They can be carried by Excel documents as well as by Word. If you get a strange document that generates a message saying you must enable macros to open the document, DON’T DO IT. It probably contains a macro virus. Microsoft Office users should keep macros disabled on all software that uses them. If you’re one of the few exceptions, you already know about macros.

.docm: Introduced in 2007/2008, this designates a Word document that has macros enabled. That means that it can carry macro viruses, and will not be welcomed by employers. It also means that macros are available for specialized uses, which normal Word users don’t need: see the historical background below.

.dotx: The extension for Word templates, since 2007/2008.

.dot: The extension for Word templates before 2007/2008.

More about macro viruses and Word—written in 2008 and now for the historically curious only.

Word has gone through many different versions in the years of its ubiquity, and many old versions are still in use by someone somewhere. Documents created with Word 2007 or later are identified by the .docx extension; special types have a .docm or .dotx extension. (See above.) Files created by earlier versions of Word are identified by the .doc extension. Word versions are typically named with the year they were issued (e.g., Word 97, Word 2000, Word 2007). The Mac versions are typically released the year after the corresponding Windows version, and their names reflect this: for instance, Word 2008 is the Mac version of Windows Word 2007.

Word 2007/2008 marked a major change in Word. From Word 97 through Word 2003, all versions of Word used the same basic file format. This means that documents created by one of these versions could generally be opened by any of the others. In Word 2007, the tool set remained much the same (except for macros, discussed below), but the interface was reorganized, and the file format and technical underpinnings are fundamentally different. (Microsoft, with its Ribbon, botched the interface badly, and has backtracked, pouting, in later versions.) Word 2007 and later versions can open documents created by pre-2007 versions. But documents saved in the standard native Word 2007+ format cannot be opened by earlier versions. (Standard Word 2007+ documents have the .docx extension.) It is possible to save a Word 2007+ file as a .doc file if you want.

Perhaps the most important change that came in with Word 2007 was the disabling of macros in Word’s standard tool set. This change had one huge advantage for everyone, and one huge disadvantage for an important but very small group of Word users. A Word document in which the macro capabilities have been disabled cannot carry the macro viruses that made Word infamous as an electronic disease carrier. Macros, however, are an extremely powerful tool, which is of critical importance for some Word users, especially in the business world. Microsoft has therefore included in Word 2007+ the option of enabling macros in a given document. Word 2007+ documents with macros enabled are saved with the .docm extension. These documents, like .doc files, can still carry macro viruses. However, you can still use the power of macros while you are creating a document, and then save the document without macros, in the .docx format. Just be sure you remember that last step.