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Written by Karl KahlerKarl Kahler

Resume vs. curriculum vitae (CV): What’s the difference?

21 min read
Resume vs. curriculum vitae (CV): What’s the difference?
What's the difference between a curriculum vitae (CV) and a resume? It depends in part on what part of the world you’re in. Here we break down all the differences.

Pore over everything in my C.V. 
But you’ll still know nothing ’bout me

Sting, “Nothing ’Bout Me”

When Sting released this song in 1993, some of his American fans may have wondered, “What’s a C.V.?” It remains a surprisingly common question. Specifically, what is the difference between a curriculum vitae (CV) and a resume? 

How are these terms used differently in different countries? And if I’m an American applying for a job in the UK and the employer wants to see my CV, what exactly am I expected to send? 

It can actually be a bit confusing. There are two levels of confusion here: 1) What do the words mean? and 2) What do the words mean where? To make matters worse, the conflicting explanations you can find on this topic sometimes only add to the confusion.

So let’s look at the meaning of each of these terms.

What is a resume?

From the French word for “summary,” a resume (also spelled résumé ) is a short document with a job applicant’s contact info, profile,  work history, education and skills.  In most cases, a resume should be one page only, although two-page resumes are sometimes considered acceptable. 

Expert tip

Can a resume be two pages?

A resume would generally be brief, at around one page, but it can be up to two. If yours takes up two pages, don't worry, this is perfectly acceptable.

A resume is a primary job search document and should almost always be accompanied by a cover letter. At the very least, the general recruiting consensus is: Unless your target employer specifically notes that it doesn't want a cover letter, including one increases your chances of getting hired. 

Job seekers often ask: “What are the five or six things that should be included in a resume?” Resumes typically include the following:

  • Header: Name, address, phone number and email
  • Profile (also known as the Summary): Identifies a job objective and summarizes a candidate’s suitability for the job
  • Employment history: Relevant work experience in the field, with lists of accomplishments
  • Education: Brief list of educational credentials
  • Skills: The candidate’s job-related skills.

Some resumes include references, publications, certifications or other relevant information. Yet the widespread preference for one-page resumes often requires omitting a considerable amount of information.

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In the United States and Canada, the document we’ve just described is almost always called a resume. Yet in most of the English-speaking world outside the Americas, the same document is called a curriculum vitae, or CV.

What is a curriculum vitae (CV)?

CV is simply the abbreviation of “curriculum vitae,” a Latin term that means “the course of your life.” As described above, “resume” is the French word for “summary.” 

And here comes the simple part …

Resume and CV usually mean the exact same thing

In most cases, the words ”resume” and “CV” are synonymous — simply different terms for the exact same thing. CV means resume and resume means CV.

As stated above, “Resume” is the term commonly used in the U.S. and Canada, while “curriculum vitae” or “CV” is the term used in most of the rest of the world. If you are applying for a job in most organizations or industries — anywhere in the world — there is no distinction between a resume and CV.  Either way, there is nothing different about document's appearance, content and length. For most job applications they are one and the same: a brief (often one-page) summary of a candidate’s employment history , education and skills .  

But not always ... when does "curriculum vitae" (CV) mean something else?

A narrower definition of “curriculum vitae” (CV) describes a document that is used primarily in academia. 

This is the CV you’d need if you were a college professor looking for a job, or if you were seeking a fellowship, grant, postdoctoral position or research job at an institution of higher learning. These CVs are sometimes required for people seeking admission to graduate school, and in some cases for research positions in scientific fields such as medicine.

This “academic CV” is a much longer document that lists virtually all of an individual’s educational credentials, publications and awards. That’s why  it’s sometimes referred to as a “long-form” CV, where “course of life,” takes on a much more  meaning. 

An academic curriculum vitae (CV) provides a much more exhaustive list of an individual’s achievements than a resume.

For example, a history professor might include academic details about her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctoral work, including the topic of her dissertation, as well as a mention of any time served as a teaching assistant or lecturer. She would also include a list of articles she’s published in academic journals, plus memberships in relevant organizations and any awards or special recognitions.

Here’s a list of some of the components an academic CV may contain:

  • Contact information
  • Objective, profile or summary
  • Detailed educational background
  • Employment history
  • Research and teaching experience
  • Published works
  • Honors and awards
  • Grants
  • Fellowships
  • Memberships in academic or professional associations
  • Conferences attended
  • Languages spoken and other skills
  • References

This is a lot more information that you could fit into a one-page resume, and this level of detail is the primary distinction between a resume and an academic CV. 

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If you’re unfamiliar with what an academic CV looks like, there are two good examples included with this primer prepared by the University of Illinois Graduate College. 

Expert tip

Do all jobs require a CV or resume?

In general, yes, you would be expected to send a CV or resume when you apply for a job. However, in some cases, the employer will only ask that you fill out an application form. They might also ask for both.

CV vs. resume: what do I call it?

Whether your own application document bears the title “CV’ instead of “Resume,” or vice versa, generally depends on geographic location. Where do you live? Where are you applying to work? As we've stated, “resume” is the term commonly used in the U.S. and Canada, while “curriculum vitae” or “CV” is the term used in most of the rest of the world.  

But there can be exceptions, so your best clue is: What has the prospective employer asked you to submit — a CV or a resume? If in doubt, you can always ask for more specific instructions.

The same goes for any uncertainty you might have about whether to submit an "ordinary CV" — the same thing as a resume in regions outside Canada and the U.S. — or the long-form curriculum vitae used in academic settings worldwide. As described previously, this document emphasizes scholarly achievements, publications, fellowships, grants, research experience and the like. Again, if this is not clear in the application instructions, inquire to find out.

Academic CV vs. resume: what are the differences?

These are the main differences between a resume / "ordinary" CV and an academic CV:

  RESUME / "ORDINARY" CV ACADEMIC (LONG-FORM) CV
Length Resumes should usually be one page. They are by definition brief — one or two pages max, but many hiring managers would find three pages annoying and skip them altogether. Academic CVs tend to be two or three pages, and where scholarly credentials are extensive, they can run 10 pages or more. There is no length limit.
Level of detail Writing a good resume is an exercise in brevity, in which one must be selective about what to include and what to omit. CVs are expected to be a fairly complete record, so the level of detail is much greater.
Work vs. study Resumes tend to emphasize work experience in order to highlight a candidate’s competence for a desired job. CVs also include relevant work history, but they focus much more on a candidate’s academic background.
Customization A resume is a dynamic document that should be tailored to each prospective employer. Applicants should always study job descriptions closely and optimize their resumes for the job qualifications being sought. Academic CVs are not typically customized for each submission, although they do become longer as the candidate gains additional experience or education.
Personal information

This is an important point when talking about regional differences. 

  • Resumes and CVs in the United States should not contain personal information like age, gender race or marital status. Employers cannot require this kind of information because of regulations against job discrimination.
  • But in certain other countries, this kind of personal information is expected.

CV vs. resume: Which is better?

This frequently asked question — “Which is better, CV or resume?” — arises primarily because job seekers don’t understand these are usually just different words for the same thing. That means there is no better or worse option. Either way, the document looks the same and serves the same purpose. What you call it is consistent with where you live or seek to work ... whether CV or resume is the familiar term.

But if you are wondering the question is whether it’s better to submit a short, “normal” resume/CV vs. a long-form academic CV, that’s a different question altogether. It depends entirely on your field. If your background and target job is in academia, or certain scientific or medical specialties, the recipient may be expecting a lengthy academic CV. 

Simple answer: For the vast majority of jobs, a short, ordinary resume/CV is all you need.

Expert tip

Do freshers need a CV?

A resume/"normal" CV would be more appropriate for a fresher as it is short and concise. Generally speaking, a fresher won't have much in the way of experience, so this makes more sense to use. However, pay attention to what the employer is asking for.

What is the difference between a CV and a resume in the U.S. and Canada?

As you may know, the British equivalent of “subway” is “underground,” Americans call a queue a line, and if you ask for a biscuit in England, they give you a cookie. 

There are said to be 160 dialects of the English language, each with its own distinctive way of saying things. Americans and Canadians in particular have developed unique accents, vocabularies and spelling styles over the centuries because of the oceans that isolate the Americas from the rest of the world. 

We can thank this same geographic divide for any confusion over the difference between a “resume” and a “CV.” “Resume” is simply an American/Canadian version of what the rest of the world calls a “CV.” With the exception of specialized academic CVs, what’s called a resume in the U.S. and Canada is the same thing that’s called a CV almost everywhere else. 

So if you’re a job seeker in the U.S. looking for a new job in the UK and you’re asked you to submit a CV, how do you know whether the recruiter wants to see an ordinary resume or a long-form academic CV? The answer almost always lies in the field of work. If the job is not in academia (or a related field, like medical hiring), then an ordinary resume is usually all that’s desired. 

Some jobs may lie on the fringes of academia — for example, a research scientist position with a private chemical firm — and it may be unclear which type of CV is preferred. If in doubt, contact the company and ask.

What is the difference between a CV and a resume in the UK and elsewhere?

In the UK and most English-speaking countries outside the Americas, the word “CV” is usually used to describe what Americans call a “resume.” Some of these countries do occasionally use the word “resume,” but they use it interchangeably with “CV.”

Some researchers have tried to spell out specific regional differences on the meaning of “resume” and “CV” in various English-speaking countries outside the Americas. It’s been suggested, for instance, that the understanding of the two terms is slightly different in New Zealand than in Australia, reportedly because Australia leans more toward South Africa’s definitions.

The University of Western Australia offers this clarification: “In Australia, resume and CV are used interchangeably. … In other countries resumes and CV are different. When applying for work overseas check what is meant by a resume or CV in that country.”

Beware of drawing fixed lines on what the terms mean in any country. There is enough variation in their usage that we shouldn’t expect every country to have its own unique definitions. Nor should we expect every country to be internally consistent on what these definitions are. 

The key takeaway here is that when most people outside the Americas say “CV,” they’re talking about the same thing Americans and Canadians call a “resume.” 

The only exception to this rule, and it applies worldwide, is that longer and more exhaustive CVs are required for academic positions, fellowships and the like with institutions of higher learning. This is true whether you’re in Mumbai, Manchester or Miami. 

The vast majority of all job applicants do not need to worry about compiling a detailed, academic-style CV, and in fact for most job seekers such a lengthy document would be a detriment to their cause. This is true whether you’re in Canberra, Cape Town or Cape Cod.

Bottom line, if you’re ever in doubt about whether a potential employer wants a 1-page resume or a multi-page CV, it can’t hurt to contact the company and inquire. Ultimately the best advice for any job seeker is to deliver exactly what the employer is looking for.

And this is true whether you’re in Durban, Delhi, Dublin or Denver. 

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What does a good CV look like in 2022? 

Whether you need a resume-type CV or a long-form list of all your academic achievements, you want a professionally designed document that looks as good as it sounds. 

Appearances matter. Fonts and font sizes matter, as do margins , visual balance and an appropriate use of white space. 

You should be able to glance at your resume/CV at arm’s length, without reading anything it says, and get a good visual impression just from looking at it. This requires an attractive layout and smart use of typography. 

Some points to consider:

  • Choose a modern font that is easy to read and looks good in bold, italic or all caps. Avoid exotic fonts that call attention to themselves, and avoid mixing different fonts .
     
  • Use a font size of 10 to 12 points, justified left. Resume writers sometimes reduce font size in order to fit more text onto a page, but it’s usually best to just trim the text. Georgia, Verdana and Arial are some examples of fonts with excellent readability.
     
  • Establish a “type hierarchy” and use it consistently. For example, your name may be the first and largest thing on the page, in 24-point type, but the page is also organized by 18-point headings (like “Employment History” and “Education”), and the rest is 12-point text. Adopt a consistent style, including any use of bold or italic text.
     
  • Strive for visual balance on every page. You obviously don’t want a one-page resume where the bottom half of the page is blank. Nor would you want a CV where the top of the page is thoughtfully spaced out and appropriately titled for easy navigation, but the bottom of the page is wall-to-wall black text. Develop an eye-pleasing style and use it consistently. Your resume/CV should look good at a glance.
     
  • Don’t forget about white space, including adequate margin size. Leave room in your design for space that contains no text, giving the eye a break.
     
  • Unless the employer requests otherwise, send your resume/CV as a PDF, which will preserve your formatting so that the document looks the same on any device.
     
  • Your best bet is to use a professionally designed, field-tested resume template like those we offer at resume.io. We’ve done all the formatting for you — fonts, font sizes, margins, white space, an attractively designed header and a visually balanced page. All you have to do is add your own information, and your resume is done.
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Key takeaways

  • For the most part, "curriculum vitae" (CV) and "resume" are synonymous terms referring to the exact same type of job application document — a one-page summary of qualifications including skills, employment background and education. The resume writing guides and examples available at Resume.io, as well as our blog advice, are relevant to both resumes and CVs.
     
  • "Resume" is the most familiar term in Canada and the United States. In the UK and most English-speaking countries outside the Americas, the word “CV” is usually used. But there are exceptions and inconsistencies, or regions where both terms are used interchangeably.
     
  • One important distinction between the "ordinary" CV (aka resume) and long-form "academic" CV applies worldwide. The latter document usually has no length restriction in providing  more exhaustive detail on scholastic achievements as required for academic positions, fellowships and research positions.
     
  • For the majority of job seekers, everywhere in the world, the long-form CV is neither necessary nor desirable. If you are ever in doubt, check with the employer to be sure that a resume / "normal" CV is expected.

 

 

 

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