Sunday, May 11, 2014

LaTeX versus Word for Resumes (Part 2)

A year ago, I made the switch to LaTeX for my resumes [source]. The absolute dominance of LaTeX over Word for long structured documents, like my doctoral thesis, motivated the change.

Now that I've used LaTeX resumes and cover letters for about a year, I thought I'd share some insights. In that time, I've discovered a few surprises you should consider before making the switch:

PRO: Comments are your friend.

One of the beauties of LaTeX is that it is a markup language. Ideally, you can work from one master resume per industry, and use comments to quickly customize. Since the document is structured, in terms of sections and experiences, it's also trivial to reorganize, especially with a folding text editor (Plug: I use vim with a souped-up .vimrc).

NEUTRAL: Quickly change layout and static elements

Again, since it's a structured document, changing your resume format is quite easy; however, in the year since I modified the res.cls to suit me, I have not once changed the styling. Likewise, by inputting your header and other (relatively) static information from another source file, you can very easily propagate changes through to your industry-specific documents. I have modified the header precisely once, to include this blog's URL.

NEUTRAL: Time vs. Effort

Once you have a working template, you will never have to worry about spacing and alignment again. Unfortunately, the start-up time for LaTeX is far longer than for Word. On the whole, I'd say it's a wash.

CON: Recruiters WILL request a MS Word version of your documents.

This absolutely baffled me. I send you a beautifully presented, structured PDF, and you ask for Word -- arbiter of broken formatting and non-portable character sets.

CON: Companies WILL send you Word documents to fill-in

More bafflement. Despite the abundance of streamlined recruiting platforms (large companies) and LinkedIn/email (start-ups), a surprising number of large companies will ask you to fill-in your details, for the Nth time I may note, in a company-specific Word document. To add insult to injury, many also contain non-backward compatible macros. Personally, I avoid Windows boxes unless a company insists on a Visual-studio development environment, so this has the additional complication of using Word through Wine (limited macro support) or Open Office (very screwy formatting).

CON: Job engines WILL ruin your formatting.

pdflatex generated PDFs are fully searchable, yet job engines -- takes a moment to glare at Jobvite, Monster and USAJobs -- discard the human-readable PDF and make a happenstance conversion to raw text. A part of me understands why a firm would want to standardize to ASCI: saves disk space, eases parsing, etc. However, it's more or less an admission that a human will never read your materials. PDFs are far more human friendly, yet they are discarded. Actions, not words, judge ye by.

Hack Solution: ASCI Resume

I hate to admit it, but a way around the cons is to keep an ASCI resume. Unfortunately, this obliterates many of LaTeX's advantages. You can either preserve the .tex as a single source of truth and  convert, or maintain two independent documents. Shameful to admit, but this is the route I take on an as-needed basis.

3rd Way: Markdown

I haven't explored this option, but a single source of truth in Markdown using Pandoc could work brilliantly.

PS. My industry specific LaTeX resume examples are posted to [GitHub].


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