Tech Talk: Why You Need Your Resume in MS Word (and how to convert it from PDF)

Patron: I need to update my resume. It’s in PDF format. How do I make changes?
Staff: I’m sorry but you can’t.

A conversation like this happens quite often in the Career Center. Many of our clients don’t realize that the choice of format in which they save their resume can affect their ability to make changes to the resume. Many computers – including the library’s computers – do not have the software necessary to edit PDF files. So, why do so many people use PDFs? And if your resume is PDF only, what can you do about it?

advantages and disadvantages of pdfs

One of the great advantages of having a PDF version of your resume is that it cannot be altered by another person or a computer program. Therefore, it can be a good idea to submit your resume as a PDF in an email or an online application, so that it will arrive with all of your formatting intact.

However, this feature of PDFs is a double-edged sword. No one else can make changes to your document – but neither can you. If you want to add a new position, or change your email address, or fix a typo, you will be out of luck with a PDF.

Therefore, we strongly urge you to save your resume (and cover letter, references, etc.) in an editable format such as Microsoft Word. You may also save each document as a PDF for online submission if you’d like, but you need a Microsoft Word copy so you can make changes.

My resume is pdf only. how do i fix that?

If it is not a scan, try this:

  • Convert it using Word. Word 2013 and 2016 are able to open a PDF and convert it to Word format. This is the most effective and hassle-free option. However, it will not work with a scan. It only works with documents that were created in MS Word but saved as PDFs.
  • Use Google Drive to convert it. Obviously, this one only works if you have a Google account. Upload the PDF to your Drive and open the file as a Google Doc. Then, in the menu bar, go to File -> Download as -> Microsoft Word (docx).  Again, this technique does not work with scans.
  • Use PDFtoWordThis website converts PDFs to Word documents and produced good results when we tested it. However, it will not work with a scan.

If it is a scan, try this:

  • Run it through Optical Character Recognition (OCR). OCR recognizes letters and words in your scanned file and turns them into text. Some websites can run an uploaded file through OCR and then convert it into a text file in MS Word. We had good results doing this through OnlineOCR, DocsZone, and PDFtoWordConverter. However, please be advised that quality is not guaranteed – sometimes, formatting is lost during the conversion process, particularly if your resume is highly formatted.
  • If all else fails, re-type it from scratch in MS Word. It takes time, but it will be worth it.

See Wikihow for more detailed instructions on converting PDFs to Word.

I don’t have microsoft office; what do i do?

You are welcome to use the library for this purpose; all of our branches have MS Word on our computers. Alternately, you can use a free application such as Libre Office, which is very similar to MS Office and compatible with Macs and Linux.

If you would like in-person help with writing or formatting your resume, come to the Career Center at the Goodwood Library where trained staff can assist you.

Written by Rick Wright