Sending a CV in PDF Format – a Good Idea?
in Careers Advice, CV Writing, Job Applications

Sending a CV in PDF Format – a Good Idea?

We first wrote an article on this question in 2002 and it amazes me to say that when reading the article through, the information we gave then is still accurate now. We still recommend that you do not send CVs in pdf format to recruitment agencies and job boards. There are a number of reasons for this but first of all we need to explain briefly what format you can send a CV in and why it matters.

CVs are usually prepared as a text document which means they are either prepared via an Apple system computer so are in .pages format or they are prepared on a Windows computer, so Windows Microsoft computer, which means they are prepared as a .docx file. There is another file type as well, which is .odt and this relates to open source word processing software.

.odt and .docx files can be easily manipulated by the recipient and information from them can be extracted, cut, copied and pasted very quickly and easily, which means that if you send your CV to a recruitment agent and the recruitment agent needs to send your CV on to a client they can usually prepare a CV from the document you have sent over extremely quickly.

.pages documents can be a bit more of a headache because the vast majority of office solutions are written specifically for Windows computers and therefore anything sent as a doc.pages document very often has to be converted into a Microsoft Windows document. This is important because anything someone has to do as an extra task to extract data from your CV makes it all the less likely your CV will be considered above someone else for the same role.

So if we were to compare the .docx, .odt and .pages we would usually recommend sending your CV as a .docx file, but .odt would not bother us unnecessarily.

What would bother us specifically is if you send us your CV as a .pdf file.

PDF = problem

.pdf files were invented in the 1990s by Adobe in the US, who seem to have set up the system with the concept that you could send a document to someone else and they would receive it in the format in which you meant to send it. Furthermore, it would be difficult for the person to send it to to amend or adjust the document you have sent them. This sounds like the perfect format to send a CV – no one can adjust your CV, no one can manipulate the text that is there and what you have sent is what the person receives.

This is great and if life was so simple then pdf would be the perfect way to send your CV anywhere to anybody. Unfortunately life is not perfect and Microsoft and Adobe seem to detest each other, with Microsoft going out of its way to make it very hard for Adobe files to be manipulated in any shape or form by Microsoft products.

.pdf files can easily be converted into documents by using open source internet services which do not cost anything to convert the pdf file into a docx file, but each one takes about 45 seconds to do.

Indeed once it has been done, the file as a .docx format will usually contain some very strange anomalies copied over with the conversion and it very often means that if a .pdf file is converted into a .docx file then the .docx file will need careful examination. Tables are a particular problem.

System Problems

Whilst most recruitment agency customer relationship management (CRM) software can now handle pdf files relatively easily, they still struggle with the manipulation of text contained within them. It can create havoc when trying to edit your CV to send off to clients if you have sent it as a pdf file because very often agency software will enter headers and footers into the file and converted pdfs do not necessarily like this to happen.

PDF Process

When you send your CV off to a recruitment consultancy they almost always have to go on to your CV and remove various items on there, check for spelling mistakes and add in anything they think might assist. It is extremely difficult to do this to a pdf file that has not converted well into a docx and as a result the recruitment agent can spend considerable amounts of time messing about with a pdf CV in order to put it into a state where it is suitable to send off. If the recruitment agent has six CVs to send off and five of them are in Word document so easy to deal with and one is a pdf then they may not actually bother sending off the pdf if they think they can get away with sending the five Word documents that are easily manipulable.


Whilst .pdf formatted CVs make huge sense when sending to recruitment agencies and making sure what you wanted to be said to a client is actually said to a client, they unfortunately take time to process and you are much better off sending your CV as a .docx file or .odt file. The same applies to .pages files – a lot of CRM systems are set up to handle Microsoft and open source, not Apple products.

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 20 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at You can contact Jonathan at