Will my job application be rejected by resume bots if I submitted a PDF file?

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In this episode of Game Industry Career Guide Podcast, I answer a question from Travis, who asks “I am a recent computer science graduate. I applied for a tester job at Ubisoft and, following your advice, I submitted everything as a PDF file. But I recently listened to another podcast that said big companies, like Ubisoft, don’t actually read resumes, computers do, and that we should use a plain resume with specific fonts and save it as a Microsoft word or a TXT file so the computer can parse the information. Is this true? Is my application going to be overlooked because I submitted PDF files?”

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why big game companies use machine learning software to filter resumes
  • Whether certain file formats and fonts might cause problems for your application
  • A clever trick you can use to find out what’s allowed by any company’s resume-reading software

If you have a question you'd like to get answered on the podcast, leave a comment below or ask me anything here.

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Hello and welcome to the Game Industry Career Guide Podcast. This is episode number 46. I’m Jason W. Bay from gameindustrycareerguide.com, and this is the podcast where I answer your questions about getting a job and growing your career making video games.

Does the resume file format matter?

This week’s question is from Travis, who sent me an email to ask this, “I am a recent computer science graduate. I applied for a tester job at Ubisoft and, following your advice, I submitted everything as a PDF file. But I recently listened to another podcast that said big companies like Ubisoft don’t actually read resumes, computers do, and that we should use a plain resume with specific fonts and save it as a Microsoft Word or a TXT file so the computer can parse the information. Is this true? Is my application going to be overlooked because I submitted a PDF file?”

Travis, I love this question not only because the answer could potentially be important to getting the results you want from your job search, and not only because there’s a lot of conflicting advice on the subject, but also because it sparks some interesting questions about this new resume filtering technology, questions that we can find an answer to all by yourselves by doing some clever testing.

Resumes for the robots

First of all, is it true that some of the bigger companies use automated software to read resumes? Yes, absolutely. The reason is because big companies might get job applications from hundreds or even thousands of applicants every week. That’s way too many for their hiring managers to read each one. Plus, a big percentage of those applicants won’t be anywhere near qualified for the job, and it would be nice to filter them out before they even make it to the overworked hiring managers.

That’s why many of the biggest companies, the big game companies included, use resume filtering software. The software automatically reads each of the incoming resumes and uses machine learning algorithms to try and figure out whether the applicant has the skills and experience that’s needed to do the job or not.

Rise of the humans

But that doesn’t mean that the process is completely automated. If you really don’t have anywhere near the required skills or experience, then, yeah, the software might reject your application automatically. But if you’re close, then the software will send your resume forward to be read by humans, for example, by the recruiter or the hiring manager that’s handling the job the you’re applying for.

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If the humans also think you might be a good fit for the job, then they’ll contact you to schedule an interview. But if the other podcast that Travis listened to is correct and the resume software can’t read PDF files or they can’t read certain fonts, then what happens?

“Candidate experience”

Well, even if that was the case, I still doubt that the software would automatically reject your resume. Rejecting an application without even looking at it would be pretty rude and it would make for what recruiters call a bad candidate experience. So my guess is that the software would just forward then read resume to a recruiter so they can review it and sort it manually. It could take a little longer, but you’d still get your resume reviewed by a human.

But this is 2016. The PDF file format was invented in the 1990s, over two decades ago, and since then it has become a widespread standard file format that can be opened and read by just about any device, from computers to e-readers to cell phones. And since PDF is a very common format for resumes, any resume reader software that didn’t read PDF files probably wouldn’t stay in business for long. So it’s very unlikely.

Let’s do some (computer) science

But Travis’ question also mentions not being able to read certain fonts. Does that make sense? When I read that, it didn’t make sense to me because I know that the text inside of a PDF file is stored as actual text, not as an image, for example. So it should be trivial for modern resume reading software to read that text, no matter which font is actually used. Even though I was pretty confident that was true from a computer science standpoint, I’ll admit it did spark my curiosity.

Can it handle an HTML resume?

So I did a little experiment just to make sure. You could even try this yourself. Here’s what I did. I went to Ubisoft’s job website and searched just for some random job. Then, when I found the job, I started going through the online application process just as if I were actually applying for that job. Ubisoft’s job website is pretty cool. By default, it offers to slurp up your job history from LinkedIn, but it also gives you the option to upload a file from your computer that contains your resume. So, to test out whether it would reject a file format that it didn’t understand, first I tried to give it my resume as an HTML file. As you might expect, it gave me an error. It said, “Disallowed file format.”

What about a PDF resume?

But when I tried again, and this time I gave it my resume as a PDF file, sure enough, it uploaded just fine and it read the text inside perfectly.

How do I know that? Well, because it pre-filled the job application form with the information that it read directly from my PDF resume. And that’s just what I was looking for. It was proof that their system accepts and reads resume as PDF files.

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Surely it rejects a Comic Sans resume?

But what about different fonts? The font my resume was using is Calibri, which is a pretty standard font and it’s pretty easy to read for humans anyway. So I wondered what would happen if I try to give the resume reading software something that’s harder for humans to read? Like maybe one of those slanted, frilly handwritten fonts?

To find out, I opened my resume in Microsoft Word, which is what I used to make it, and I changed the font to something different. Now I saved it and uploaded it again to the Ubisoft job site to see whether it could read the new furly font, and guess what? It read that hard to read font just fine. I tried three different hard to read fonts. I tried Lucida Handwriting, I guess it’s called, Mistral, and Minecraftory to see if the software could read it, and it nailed it every time. I even tried Comic Sans to see if my resume would be rejected on principle, but it even accepted Comic Sans.

PDF: The old standby, still standing by

So there you have it. That’s proof that modern resume reading software does indeed support the industry standard PDF file format and that the font really doesn’t matter. However, keep in mind that the font does matter once your resume makes its way to a human reader, so please don’t use Comic Sans in your resume. You’re better than that!

Thanks to Travis for that question and thank you for hanging out with me today to experiment with resume reading software by spamming it with ugly versions of my resume. I don’t think I ended up actually applying to any of those jobs, but if you’re an Ubisoft recruiter and you just opened a bunch of resumes with ridiculous fonts, sorry, but it was for science.

If you enjoyed the podcast, then please help me spread the word by sharing it with friends on social media. And if you’re looking for a job as a video game tester like Travis is, be sure to grab a copy of my book “Land a Job as a Video Game Tester.” You can get it in print from Amazon.com or get it as an e-book from iTunes, barnesandnoble.com, gumroad.com, or anywhere else e-books are sold.

For more information and inspiration on getting a job and growing your career making video games, visit me at gameindustrycareerguide.com. I’m Jason W. Bay and I will see you again next week right here on the Game Industry Career Guide Podcast.

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