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Document Freedom Day, my CV and who owns it

Yesterday, on Document Freedom Day, I posted the following on LinkedIn:

Today is Document Freedom Day, when we celebrate being able to store our data in formats that will be available to us no matter what happens to the companies that create them.

Today is the day when it is appropriate to ask: is there a good reason to require me to give you my CV in Microsoft Word format? "It's because we need it for our systems" doesn't count as a good reason.

I maintain my CV in a plain text format, and I can export it trivially easily into either PDF or ODF, both of which are truly open standards, and can be implemented by anyone without having to ask permission (a.k.a. "buying a license").

I don't have access to Microsoft Office, in part because Microsoft will not make a version available for the computer that I use and in part because I am not prepared to accept the terms and conditions that come with it. Therefore, in order to provide a document in Microsoft Word format, I need to use a tool that can only do its best. Given the amount of work I put into my CV, it's annoying not to be able to verify that it looks the way I want it to before I send it on.

Oh! and as it happens, I've never been asked by a hiring manager to supply a CV in MS Word. It would appear that none of their systems require it.

And a buddy of mine, Conor, posted the following comment:

Interesting that you view your CV as something your prospective employers should adhere to, rather than you, the person looking for the position, should facilitate. Right argument, wrong fight. Screening for prospective candidates is arduous at the best of time. Something as simple as taking an Adobe update through a corporate firewall is a reason for exclusion. So yes personal documents should be created and stored in a future proof manner, but your CV a point in time and should be received in the manner requested., ideals set aside.

Here's my reply to this, which is too long for LinkedIn:

First off, my CV is a product of my own efforts, and it should succeed or fail on that basis. Otherwise, it would be very easy for me to blame external factors for my CV not working (such as – for example – that the employer doesn't appreciate greatness when it's shown to him or her).

The point of my CV is to allow an employer to glance quickly at it and say "that's the kind of person we need". The data-interchange format doesn't help with this: If my CV is in ODF, or PDF, or HTML, or PNG, or plain text, or on paper, it would still be able to do its job: to express the potential value that I can bring.

By using an open standard (like any of those above!), the person receiving the document will not be bound to a specific tool to read the information. If you have a problem, for example, with Adobe's Acrobat reader, that's fine: get something else: http://pdfreaders.org/. As an open standard, PDF can be implemented by any tool, including Microsoft Office1.

PDF is a specification committed preserving how a document should look, and so is ideal for communicating CVs, and far superior at that job than the Microsoft Word format, which allows local settings and version differences to have a say in how a document looks (just like Libre Office and OpenOffice.org – this isn't a criticism of a single tool or its vendor!).

As I say, a hiring manager has never asked for my CV in any specific format. I send it to hiring managers in PDF on the grounds that my preferred look-and-feel for the document is preserved.

I don't believe that the Microsoft Word format is preferred on its own merits for CV-interchange. Recruitment companies want it in Microsoft Word format because they will do two things to your CV:

  • It will be uploaded into their "system" to be retained for analysis and searching purposes. Need someone with SQL Server experience? No problem, let's just bung "SQL Server" into our database and hey-presto!, look at all these likely candidates!

    Therefore, of course, the document needs to be in a format that the "system" can read, and sure, y'know, everyone has Microsoft Word, so let's support only that format2.

  • Recruiters – though they won't tell you this – will change your CV before sending it out to the hiring manager. More often than not, the changes are cosmetic, but they will always put their own branding on the document.

If the "systems" that the recruiters use for these purposes supported open standards, then they would take my CV in any format I care to give it. No quibbles.

The recruitment game is tilted against the candidate. It has been like this forever, I expect. That doesn't mean it's right or acceptable. And it sure doesn't mean that I should be required to spend money I don't have, or accept software contracts I don't agree to, in order to be able to send my CV in a format that's controlled by a single organisation.

There are many principles involved. But look at it practically: if I go to the effort to produce a CV that I believe will spur an interview, then the targeted recipient should be permitted to view the document as I intended, rather than as the middle-man and the reading tool decides. I suggest asking a graphic artist if it's OK for a third party to change a piece of work before the client sees it.

This is the right argument, and also the right fight. I would be disgusted if I had to disregard a candidate just because of the file format of his or her CV!

I've never seen the following in a restaurant window:

Delivery drivers wanted. Apply within. Must own a Nissan.

Footnotes:

1
I'm wrong. Microsoft Office can't really open PDF files. LibreOffice, can, though, using LibreOffice Draw. Score yet one more for Free Software!
2
This, by the way, is the sort of lazy, unprofessional, analysis that has shocked me the most throughout my career; shocking both because it happens and because it happens so much.