Legal job hunters – the best file formats for CVs

file types for cvs

I’m a big fan of How to Geek with their varied, quirky and nicely-presented tech articles;  it never fails to keep me entertained.

One of their quirkier articles - which will no doubt resonate well with legal job hunters – was dedicated (in part) to the best file formats for sending CVs.

Lawyers are rather well known for being conservative creatures and the PR / recruitment side of law firms are no exception. I think the best advice is simple: just play it safe. That goes for fonts, styles and file types for CVs.

Anyhow, here’s the low down on some of the options.

The Good


Fonts are … embedded into PDF, so any formatting you’ve done to make your resume look nice should carry through to your prospective employer.

Always a good choice and it’s dead easy these days to save files as a .pdf – either with a free downloadable virtual printer driver, a plugin for MS office or via Google Docs.

How to Geek added that:

…non-text based PDFs can’t be read by automated systems, [so] you may be safer off using DOC, RTF, or TXT files if you’re planning on applying to staffing firms or corporations with large HR departments to manage.

Or you could just save it as a text .pdf which should be the default? Eye rolling smile


[Y]ou can safely assume nearly any business would need to open a DOC file at some point. As long as your resume is largely text-based and formatted in common fonts, you can expect what you see on your screen to be seen when your resume is reviewed.

I remember from my job-hunting days that .doc always seemed a no-brainer and it was often stipulated by the employer themselves that CVs should be submitted in that format.  It’s not an open standard, strictly speaking, but it’s certainly a de facto one.


Rich text is a basic file format that includes some basic formatting information, as well as text only info a TXT file has. Windows, Mac, and Linux [users] should have no trouble opening an RTF file, although as noted before, take care to use common fonts in order to avoid font defaulting.

I don’t use .rtf much myself, but I guess you can’t go that far wrong with it. 

The Not So Good


DOCX is an XML based version of the Microsoft Word document format we’ve all used for years and years. Only more current versions of Microsoft word (or OpenOffice, etc.) can open DOCX.

That’s a fair point, even though the 3 most recent versions of Office can open these files (albeit one needs a free and readily available plug-in) it’s probably still safer to save your CV as a .doc instead.


The general rule of thumb is that if it takes extra effort to open your resume, you’re already in the garbage. So unless you’re applying for a job at Sun Microsystems or Oracle, you’re probably better off not using ODT. So much for open standards!

I’m all for open standards but I don’t care for Open Office (and the colleague who recently wanted me to download Open Office and use it to edit a file because Office 2007 mildly affects the formatting of .odt files is going to have a very long wait).

And the Downright Stupid


While JPG and image based resumes might seem like good solutions to defaulting fonts or hard-to open file formats like ODT or DOCX, it can be slightly jarring to get a resume as an image file.

Slightly jarring is putting it mildly. A .jpg? For a CV? Really? Are you freaking kidding me?

If you’re sending your CV as a jpg (or any graphic format) I don’t think you deserve to be employed!


While there is nothing wrong with sending a text file, it is a somewhat odd and spartan choice. Many employers will be expecting a certain level care, attention and formatting to be taken to their own documents.

Odd and spartan is a polite way of saying it.  Just don’t.

Plain text email

Plain text email is one of the only ways to ensure that what you type ends up in the hands of the prospective employer without any sort of issues with formatting. Keep in mind, what you say is far more important than being able to use boldfaces or graphics, so a well-written cover letter and text-only resume in an email can prove more useful than all the bells.

True, but some email clients can do very funny things to formatting – particularly when it comes to printing the email/CV. Best avoided.

URL / HTML mail

Many big companies block a lot of websites, so while sending a nicely formatted webpage with your online business card might seem like a good idea, there is always the chance that it might be more trouble than it is worth to view your information. This includes HTML formatted mail, with images, stationary, etc, all of which may not work with anyone else’s email clients.

Definitely best avoided, if only to save yourself from your own smugness.  Recruiters tend not to like cleverdicks.

So, thanks, How to Geek, for that partial saunter into the bleeding obvious. Put simply, PDF, and .doc would be the best choices and the rest should be frankly avoided. Then again, a lot of recruitment processes involve candidates filling in lengthy and bespoke online application forms where traditional CVs are firmly shunned – regardless of what format they’re in.  

What’s the wackiest format you’ve ever used to send a CV for a legal job? 

Please don’t tell me you’ve tried that jpg trick? You’d be better off mailing it in scribbled on the back of an envelope!

Be right back


  1. My friend applied to an advertising firm on the back of a postcard once. I suppose he hoped it would make him stand out as a 'creative thinker'; they never replied. He also refuses to use anything but Open Office...

  2. anyone sending it in jpg needs to hang their head in shame!

    mine is a pdf, and i actually quite like the way it looks (even if i do say so myself)

  3. My CV is prepared in Word and the converted to .pdf for sendin in an E-mail.

  4. Bar None - it's always a tough one judging how creative to be when it comes to CVs and presentation. For anything in the legal sphere I think the advice is simple and you should keep it conventional - safe, solid and middle of the road.

    Outside of legal employment, I have heard stories of a bit of creativity working wonders. For instance, the sibling of a colleague landed a job, partly attributable to the fact she designed a funky border for her CV incorporating the logo of her prospective employer.

    Ana - well said. And I like your bullishness! :-)

    Alistair - good choice. :-)

  5. A third comment from Ally?! In a week?!!

    Anyway, I think .doc is the best option, hands down.

  6. I've always opted for .pdf myself, I think it looks better on screen as there are fewer distractions; no blinking cursors or red squiggly lines informing you that your British spelling is incorrect.

    Agree about keeping it conventional though.

  7. It's easy to set word to save as .doc by default, even easier to just save as .pdf so why wouldn't you? :D Honestly I agree with keeping it conventional. You're not applying for a design job for heaven's sake.

  8. On paper? In an envelope with a stamp on it?

    Normally with a covering letter. Hand written. With a fountain pen (How long ago was *that* post eh?)


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