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CV versus resume? Demystify the differences once and for all

March 22, 2022 - 13 min read

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What is a CV?

What is a resume?

What are the differences between a resume and a CV?

When to use a CV vs resume

CV versus resume — writing tips

When applying for a job, you’ve likely seen employers ask for a resume. US companies almost always use this term to describe the document they want to receive from job applicants.

But you may have heard the term CV thrown around, too — especially if you’re applying for jobs internationally. This can get confusing. You aren't alone. Many people don’t understand the difference between the two.

The last thing you want is to feel uncertain before you've even had your first interview. Submitting what is asked for and needed is often the first screen of candidates.

CV versus resume: What are they, and how are they different from each other? Which one should you write for your next job application? 

Let’s explore both options and cover some tips on how to write them.

What is a CV? 

The term CV is an abbreviation for curriculum vitae. It’s an exhaustive summary of your work experience. In addition, a CV also breaks down your academic background. 

A CV usually includes all of your professional experience and academic achievements, no matter what position you’re applying for. That’s why they’re typically longer than a resume would be. CVs are usually meant for people with an academic career, like professors or researchers. Other higher-level, non-academic positions, especially outside of business functions, may ask for a CV. 

Some academic CVs can be three or more pages long. But if you’re just starting, your CV is likely shorter. On average, CVs are typically two to three pages long.

The purpose of a CV is to show your research and academic interests and accomplishments in a way that supports your qualifications and candidacy for the position you seek.

You are demonstrating status and credibility as well as the ability to do the work required. You may be trying to highlight leadership and peer recognition in a discipline or experience in a methodology. You may want to highlight the environment in which you were working.

What to include on a CV

When you’re writing your curriculum vitae, make sure to include the following information:

  • Your contact information
  • All education and qualifications with the names of institutions and the date attended, in reverse chronological order
  • A reverse-chronological list of work experience
  • Relevant skills
  • Academic awards or honors
  • Research experience
  • Teaching experience
  • Titles of theses and dissertations
  • Academic publications
  • Presentations and lectures
  • Exhibitions
  • Grants and scholarships
  • Fellowships
  • Assistantships
  • Graduate fieldwork
  • Training and certifications

CV example

Let’s take a look at this sample CV.

 

Notice how this CV includes an exhaustive list of all academic achievements. It’s much longer than one page. It also includes important skills that this person has developed over the years. 

The work and education sections are in reverse chronological order. In a CV, this is a must.

What is a resume? 

A resume is a marketing document to sell yourself to potential employers. It comes from the word résumé in French, which means summary.

Think of it as similar to your LinkedIn profile. It is a targeted, polished summary of you as a professional. It summarizes your education, professional history, skills, credentials, and anything else relevant that you’ve accomplished. 

Unlike a CV, resumes aren’t exhaustive. They’re designed to showcase the best of your career aspirations and what a candidate has to offer to a prospective employer. 

What to include on a resume

Here’s what you should include in every resume you write:

Each of these points should be covered with the specific job you are seeking in mind. Describe work experiences and skills briefly in a way that highlights what is most relevant to the role you are pursuing.

You can't afford to be generic with your resume. Think about how you frame your points. 

Numbers and metrics to demonstrate your accomplishments are always good on a resume. Not all types of work lend themselves to numbers. If not, make sure that your resume reflects a career trajectory and tells a story. The story might be one of increasing responsibility, self-motivated learning, or adaptation.

Think about what story you want the reviewer to see when they look at your resume. 

Resume example

Let’s explore what an example resume could look like.

As you can see, this resume is only one page long. It includes a one-line introduction structured as a professional objective.

A resume's formatting is important. It should be clean, simple, and easy to scan quickly, regardless of the content.

This resume only includes relevant history. The person behind this resume is applying for a management job, so they won’t include experience as a lifeguard from 20 years ago. On the other hand, they list their experience working in virtual teams because they know the position is virtual.

Early in your career, you may have to be more creative in pulling relevant experiences from entry-level jobs. Just don't overdo it. No need to make up convoluted titles for these jobs — just be thoughtful about what lessons and transferable skills you did gain.

Learning how to deal with customers, be dependable, make decisions, and work with others on a team are all useful skills for any future job.

What are the differences between a resume and a CV? 

So what’s the CV and resume difference? In Europe, CV and resume are synonyms. Both words mean resume. This is where the confusion sets in.

So if you’re applying for a job anywhere in Europe or Canada, make sure you provide a resume, not a CV. You should do this even if the job application asks for a CV.

However, if you’re applying to work in the US, there are important differences between a resume and a CV:

Curriculum Vitae

Resume

Credential-based

Competency-based

Longer and more comprehensive (up to three pages)

Short and brief, usually no longer than one page

Used for academic purposes, like applying for a staff position at a university or a research program

Used to apply for a regular job

All academic achievements, certifications, graduate school experience, and qualifications should be included

Only relevant achievements, certifications, qualifications, and past job experiences should be included

Universal, not custom

Should be customized for each job you apply for

When to use a CV versus a resume

So when should you send a resume to a potential employer? And when is it time to write a curriculum vitae instead?

If you’re applying for a job in the US, pay attention to what the employer asks for. When they ask for a resume, send over your resume.

On the other hand, be careful when applying for a job internationally. When an employer asks for a CV, send a resume instead. 

A CV is used only in very specific instances, including:

  • Applying for a job in academia (teaching assistant, professor, research position at a university, educator)
  • Applying for a research program
  • Applying for a PhD

In the US, you’re likely to get asked for a CV when applying for these positions. But if you’re applying elsewhere, you’ll have to use your judgment. Provide a resume for a regular job, and provide a CV for any of the above.

man-helping-woman-with-cv-vs-resume

CV versus resume writing tips 

Now you know the difference between a CV and a resume. So how can you write them to increase your chances of getting the job you want? 

Let’s explore how you can successfully write both a CV and a resume so that you’re ready for any situation.

7 tips for writing a stellar CV 

  1. Choose the right format based on the type of position you’re applying for. 
  2. Use bullet points instead of full sentences to make your content clear, structured, and concise. Because CVs are exhaustive, it’s important to make the content as concise as you can.
  3. Add some white space to make your CV easier to read. 
  4. Proofread your CV. When you’re done, get someone else to proofread it for you. Typos don’t fly well in resumes, but it’s even more important for a CV.
  5. Be honest. Resist the temptation to embellish your accomplishments. 
  6. Don’t include salary history. This information isn’t relevant in a CV.
  7. List your references separately from your CV upon request from your employer. Your CV should focus on your achievements instead.

7 tips for writing an effective resume 

  1. Choose the right format based on your circumstances. You can write your resume as functional, chronological, combination, or targeted. Unlike a CV, you don’t have to stick to reverse chronological order.
  2. Customize your resume and cover letter for the job you’re applying for. Resumes aren’t as exhaustive as a CV. Omit work experience and achievements that aren’t relevant to the prospective position.
  3. Use easy-to-read fonts. Your resume should look professional and be as easy as possible for an employer to read.
  4. Describe your accomplishments in numbers when possible. For example, you may have increased sales by 30%. Or you may have five years of experience leading a team. Numbers are easily digestible and effective for communicating helpful information.
  5. Make it easy for hiring managers to get in touch with you. Add your email address and phone number, but make sure they’re easy to read and obvious to find.
  6. Optimize for crawling software and people analytics. Most recruiters use software to scan through resumes before a real person reads them.
  7. Keep it concise (one page if possible).

woman-writing-cv-vs-resume

CV versus resume: Choose the right one for where you're going

Now you know the differences between a CV vs resume and which one you should write depending on what type of position you’re applying for. 

Whether you’re writing a CV or a resume, one thing is certain: remain concise and make sure your document is easy to read and digest. 

Are you looking for ways to spruce up your CV or resume? Consider developing your soft skills and leadership skills by working with BetterUp.

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Published March 22, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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