The Difference Between A CV And Resume (And When To Use Each)
You're perusing job postings and see one that looks like a good match for you. You scroll to the bottom to check out the qualifications and application instructions and see this:
Please submit your CV for consideration.
Um…huh? What exactly is a CV? Is it just a fancy term for a resume? Or do you actually need to pull together an entirely different document to apply for this job?
Understanding the CV vs. resume matchup can admittedly be a little confusing, but we're breaking down all of the need-to-know details for you right there.
CV vs. resume: What's the difference?
Both a CV and a resume serve the same purpose: They outline your education, accomplishments, and career experiences so that a hiring manager can review that information and decide whether or not to move you forward in the hiring process.
Both types of documents will also use section headers and bullet points to present information in an organized and digestible way. For those reasons, some people do treat "CV" and "resume" as synonyms (which only adds to the confusion).
In reality, there are a few notable differences between a CV and a resume. The biggest ones come down to length and depth. While a resume is supposed to be concise and easily skimmable, a CV is thorough and exhaustive.
That's the gist, but let's take a closer look at each of these career documents.
What is a CV?
CV is an acronym for curriculum vitae, which is a Latin term that roughly translates to "course of one's life." And that's an accurate way to think of a CV—it's a lengthy and comprehensive list of any and all experiences and achievements that relate to your career and education.
That means writing a CV isn't the same experience as writing a resume. You aren't trying to cut things out to keep your information to a single page or two. In fact, many CVs span several pages in order to provide the intensive information they're known for.
Your CV will have all of the basic information that's also included on a resume, including your contact information, education, and work experience. However, those nuts and bolts are supplemented with a variety of other sections such as:
- Committees, societies, and other organizations
- Grants and funding
- Honors, awards, and other professional recognition
- Presentations and conferences
- Published work or projects
- Teaching experience
- Volunteer work
You don't have to include all of those—only the ones that are applicable to you—and you might incorporate some others. But, the important thing to remember is that a CV isn't supposed to be short and punchy the way a resume is. It needs to be in-depth and often extensive.
What is a resume?
In all likelihood, you're more familiar with a resume. This is a one-page (or, in some cases, two-page) document that highlights the qualifications and experiences that present you as a solid fit for an open job. To accomplish that, there are two commonly-used resume formats:
- Chronological Format: This is the more "traditional" resume format, where your past work experiences are listed in reverse chronological order (meaning, your most recent ones are at the top).
- Functional Format: Rather than using a timeline for your work history, a functional resume format categorizes your information based on your skills. For example, you might have a section dedicated to your interpersonal skills which would list all achievements, experiences, and responsibilities that relate to that skill. It's especially popular among people who are making career changes and don't have a lot of related work history to showcase.
Format aside, the focus with a resume is on relevance. You aren't trying to give hiring managers the lowdown on anything and everything you've ever done—you're shining a spotlight on your most applicable and pertinent skills.
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Resumes need to be concise and easily scannable, which means they won't include the breadth of information that a CV has. Instead, you'll focus on the basics like:
- Contact information
- Work experience
You might add a few supplemental areas when necessary, such as professional organizations or volunteer work. But, in most cases, a resume is like your highlight reel—it calls attention to your most impressive and relevant competencies.
CV vs. resume: A quick (and helpful) rundown
Still feeling a little confused about CVs and resumes? Here's a helpful breakdown of the biggest differences:
Curriculum Vitae (CV)
- 2-3 pages long (or more)
- Exhaustive list of educational and career experiences
- Commonly used for jobs in academia, medicine, science, or other professions that emphasize research and formal education
- 1 or 2 pages long (at most)
- Concise list of most relevant educational and career experiences
- Commonly used for a wide variety of jobs in both the public and private sectors
When should you use a CV instead of a resume?
The above briefly touched on what industries tend to prefer CVs. But, let's talk a little more about when you'll want to opt for a CV instead of a resume:
- In certain industries and professions: Some industries—especially academia and others that place a lot of focus on research and continuing education—require a CV to apply for a job, as they want a more thorough grasp on a candidate's previous experiences and accomplishments.
- In certain geographic areas: Some countries request a CV in their job postings. Resumes are usually the default in the United States (with the exception of some of the above industries), Australia, and Canada. Other locations like Asia, the European Union, New Zealand, and the UK typically ask for CVs to apply for open roles.
However, to add to the confusion, you might see some job postings that request a CV when what they really want is a resume. There's some persistent confusion about the difference between these documents (yep, even in HR) and some people still do assume the two are synonymous.
In situations when you aren't sure if the employer actually wants a resume or a CV, you have a couple of different options to do your due diligence and determine your next step. You could:
- Reach out to the recruiter or hiring manager to ask for clarity on the application process
- Search for an existing employee (or several) on LinkedIn to ask a few questions about the application process and what they submitted
If you can't get any firm answers about what type of document you should submit, turn in your concise and highly-tailored resume and use your message or cover letter to explain that you're more than happy to turn in a more detailed CV if requested.
Polish your document (and land the job)
Should you use a CV? Or a resume? Well…it depends.
There are some industries or locations where a CV is the expectation, while others would scoff at that sort of exhaustive document that spans several pages.
Regardless of which route you end up going, the purpose of both documents is to give the hiring manager the information they need to determine whether or not you deserve to take the next step.
So, whether you need to list every last detail or put things on the chopping block in the interest of staying concise, remember your end goal: to present yourself as the best and most qualified fit for an open position.
Stay focused on that and you're far more likely to move forward in the hiring process—and maybe even land the job.
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