CV or not CV? That is the question.
An important question indeed. But if you're actually wondering, “What is the difference between a CV and a resume”, well the answer there is both simpler than you might guess and more complicated than you might imagine.
On the one hand, it's easily explained by the fact that Shakespeare would write a CV if he needed a new job, but Hemingway would write a resume.
On the other, more complicated hand, however, the term CV or Curriculum Vitae sometimes has a completely different, broader meaning. This is why Albert Einstein's curriculum vitae would be much longer than the CV of his contemporaries in other professions.
So then the question becomes, what type of CV are we talking about?
Let's demystify the differences between a CV and a resume by looking not only at what these terms mean but what they mean where.
So what is the difference?
Curriculum Vitae (CV) meaning
“Curriculum vitae” is Latin for “the course of your life.” Most often, it refers to a brief, point-form document summarizing a job applicant's qualifications from three standpoints: work experience, education, and skills.
Resume has a decidedly French connection, which is why it is sometimes spelled with one or two accents: resumé or résumé. And it's pronounced the same way as the French word it comes from: résumer, meaning “to summarize.”
The noun “resume” also describes the short document that summarizes a job candidate's employment history, education, and skills — just like a cv.
That's right — CV and resume usually mean exactly the same thing.
What resumes and CVs have in common
For the majority of job seekers, there is no difference between a CV and a resume. They are the same type of job search document, universally used for the same purpose — applying for a job in virtually all organizations and industries. Except for the document's name, they look identical and contain the same information, structured the same way.
CVs and resumes are equally brief — preferably a single page and never more than two pages. And both should be submitted with a cover letter, aiming to form a direct personal connection with the employer geared to its specific hiring needs. The focus is on how job candidates can meet those needs and why they want to work for this organization.
Where there's a difference
When discussing the document described above — the short career summary, calling it a CV or resume comes down to geography.
Resume is by far the most familiar term for job seekers and employers in the United States and Canada. But in the UK and most other countries where hiring organizations communicate in English, the same professional synopsis is called a CV.
* Please note that this regional distinction should be regarded through a very broad lens. Exceptions may be found in many global locales where either “CV” or “resume” would be acceptable. The point of our generalization here is to uncomplicate the prevailing misconception about CVs and resumes being completely different animals.
What else does CV mean sometimes?
Now we come to the twist on “curriculum vitae” (CV), and how it is sometimes defined. Primarily within academic and scientific fields, it can refer to a much longer, more detailed version of the “ordinary” CV (aka resume).
This exception to the rule applies in the United States and Canada, as well as other English-speaking regions. But it's exclusive to a relatively small segment of professionals, which might help explain the common “CV vs. resume” confusion among the average job seeker.
In academia, this expanded CV document is used for both job applicants and those seeking research grants and fellowships. In higher learning institutes, long-form CVs are par-for-the-course for professorship candidates, graduate school applicants, and research specialists. In the latter instance, the private sector typically expects the same.
When used in scholarly circles, the term “CV” or “curriculum vitae” is taken for granted to mean this type of expanded career description. Alternative terms such as “long-form CV” or “academic CV” are useful to distinguish it from the “normal” CV equivalent of a resume.
We'll use that same distinction here, as we take a closer look at the characteristics of the ordinary CV vs. the academic CV.
How to write a resume or “normal” CV
Before writing a single word of your “resume” CV, you need a laser-focused understanding of what the employer wants from the candidate who gets hired. Your “resume” CV must convey that you have what it takes. Study the posted job description carefully, and do additional research online about the hiring organization. This analysis will equip you to customize your job application for each specific hiring situation. If you do this correctly, no two versions of your CV will ever be exactly the same.
What virtually all “resume” CVs have in common, regardless of occupation, is the basic framework for organizing all the information you deem relevant to include. “Relevant” is the operative word because you will likely have to be selective in leaving out other information. Brevity demands it.
Here is the structure of sections that a resume or “resume” CV should include.
Header: Identifying information* includes your name, occupation or job title, email, and phone number. Your street address and links to a professional website, social media, or portfolio may be provided if relevant.
Summary (sometimes called a profile or personal statement): A synopsis of your most persuasive qualifications geared to the employer's needs, emphasizing what makes you an excellent fit.
Employment history: Point-form highlights of your most relevant work experience framed as accomplishments with beneficial outcomes, ideally in quantifiable terms. In the most commonly used chronological format, these are listed under dated employer headings in reverse order from most recent to earliest job. Using the alternative functional format, your work experience is organized according to specialized or transferable skills.
Education: Your postsecondary education is listed in reverse chronological order, starting with the highest degrees or diplomas and working back to lower levels. Any relevant certifications, special training, or professional development activities are listed also.
Skills. A combination of both hard skills (job-specific abilities) and soft skills (innate traits and interpersonal strengths) should be the closest match possible to the specific role requirements.
* International note: Hiring discrimination laws in some countries, including Canada and the U.S., make it inadvisable to include personal information like age, gender, race, or marital status in a resume. Photos are discouraged for the same reason. But in other countries, the same personal information and photos are commonplace on CVs.
How to write an academic (long-form) CV
Long-form CVs are integral to applications for faculty teaching and administrative positions, graduate school admissions, postdoctoral roles, research posts, as well as grants and fellowships.
Academic CVs take as much space as needed to provide a comprehensive list of someone's educational credentials and scholastic achievements. Besides degrees earned — bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D., including dissertation topic — this might encompass teaching assistant or lecturer positions, grants and fellowships, published works, conference attendance and presentations, professional or academic society memberships and awards or special honors.
All of this is in addition to what an ordinary CV includes: employment history, contact information, and possibly a summary (profile) or objective. References, languages spoken and other skills might be provided too.
Academic CVs are less likely to be tailored to the specific circumstance in the same way an ordinary CV would target a position and employer. Nor is there any restriction on length, perhaps the most obvious difference between an academic CV and a normal CV or resume: some long-form CVs fill dozens of pages.
The University of Illinois Graduate College has created a primer that includes writing tips and two examples of an academic CV.
Ordinary CV vs. Academic CV: What are the differences?
Key differences between an ordinary CV and an academic CV are summarized below:
“RESUME” / ORDINARY CV
ACADEMIC (LONG-FORM) CV
One page is generally preferred; never exceed two pages.
From two or three pages to 10+ pages, depending on how extensive the scholastic credentials are. No length restriction.
Level of detail
The briefer the better, write concisely and precisely. Be selective about what to include and exclude.
As detailed as necessary to be complete.
Professional experience relevant to the job application. Education becomes less important as career advances.
Academic background takes precedence over work history.
A key regional difference:
If anything still seems unclear after reading this overview of resumes/ordinary CVs and academic CVs, here are some answers to commonly asked questions on this topic.
Do all employers require a CV or resume?
Consider a short-form CV/resume to be the default expectation for pretty much any job application. The exception might be an employer who only requires or requests that an application form be completed. Or you could be asked for both.
Do recent graduates need a resume or CV?
Fresher job applicants should definitely be prepared to submit a resume/ordinary CV, no matter how lean their work experience. Usually, a new graduate's education section takes precedence, with emphasis on work-related areas of study and academic achievements.
Transferable skills from previous jobs — even part-time — as well as internships and volunteer activities, also have a vital place on a recent graduate's resume. As with any job application, be sure to tailor it to what the employer is looking for.
Can I use a resume instead of a CV?
It shouldn't matter, as long as you're talking about a resume substitute for the normal, short-form CV. As we've discussed, either of these virtually interchangeable job application documents is appropriate in the majority of instances. Whether you call it a resume or a CV is a different question, answered below.
CV vs. resume: what do I call it?
Either term can be used for your one-page summary of achievements, education, and skills. What you call it usually depends on where you live or where you are applying to work. Again, “resume” is the familiar term in the U.S. in Canada, while “curriculum vitae” or “CV” is common almost everywhere else. That is not to say there are no exceptions, or that either term would necessarily be misunderstood in the “wrong” country and disqualify your application.
It's best to take your cue from the hiring organization: is it asking for a CV or a resume? And if you're not sure, simply ask for more explicit application instructions.
CV vs. resume: Which is better?
Once you understand that “CV” and “resume” are usually just different words for the same thing, as emphasized above, this often-asked question becomes irrelevant. There is no better or worse option. Which term is preferable should be consistent with where you live or seek to work.
As for whether a normal short-form CV or a long-form academic CV is “better,” it comes down to what's required or expected in certain specialized fields of academia. Unless your career goals are in that realm, the need for a long-form curriculum vitae is highly unlikely.
What if I'm not sure which kind of CV to submit?
As described previously, the long-form curriculum vitae, fully listing someone's scholastic achievements, has relatively narrower applications in academic, scientific, and medical institutions around the world. These candidates are seeking teaching or research posts or grants or fellowships. Outside of these circumstances, an ordinary CV or resume is usually all you need.
There can be gray areas that find you uncertain which type of CV to submit — perhaps less clear-cut spheres of teaching or research in the private sector. In these cases, if the application instructions aren't clear, don't be afraid to ask. For, as Shakespeare wrote, “advantage is a better soldier than rashness.”
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