CV stands for curriculum vitae, which is Latin for “course of life.” It refers to a short document in which job candidates describe their work experience, education and other qualifications – in other words, a resume.
Resume (also spelled résumé), comes from the French resumer (to sum up), which in turn comes from the Latin resumere (to take up again). This blog will explain the differences and similarities between the two documents and when to use each. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- The definitions of resumes and CVs
- The specific uses of an academic CV
- The correct sections to include on a resume or CV
- Rules for international CV writing
CV vs. resume — what is the difference?
In most cases, the words CV and resume mean the exact same thing: that crucial job-application document prepared to convince an employer to hire you. Resume is simply the preferred term in the United States and Canada, while CV (curriculum vitae) is more commonly used in the rest of the English-speaking world.
But there’s one major exception to this rule, when “CV” has a different meaning, and that's why the resume-synonymous description above refers to “ordinary” or “normal” CVs. Keep reading.
What is an academic CV?
“Academic CV” is a term used more universally, including in the U.S. and Canada. This is a longer document, typically used in academia, medicine and certain scientific fields. It presents a fairly exhaustive list of one’s academic achievements, publications, awards, honors, grants, fellowships and other notable accomplishments.
There is no length limit for an academic CV, while there is widespread agreement that a normal CV/resume should usually not exceed one page. For more information on this topic, consult our article on “ Resume vs. curriculum vitae (CV): What’s the difference? ”
What to include in a CV or resume
Both ordinary CVs and resumes include five basic elements:
- Header with contact info. This should include your name, occupation, address, phone number and email. Sometimes a LinkedIn profile is included, and possibly a photo of the candidate as well.
- Summary/profile/personal statement/job objective. This section has a few different names, but in all cases it’s a 2- to 4-sentence statement under the header that sums up the candidate’s top qualifications for the job being sought. This may touch on job experience, education, skills or all of the above.
- Employment history. In this section, highlights of your work experience are listed, usually as bullet points, below employer headings, dated In the reverse chronological order. When your professional background is extensive, it’s important to be selective and specific in describing your most relevant accomplishments, ideally with quantifiable outcomes. Employment dating back more than 10 or 15 years can be omitted.
- Education. The candidate’s academic experience, starting with the highest degree earned, plus any certification or special training received in the field.
- Skills. Every CV or resume should include a list of the candidate’s job-related skills, including hard skills (technical abilities) and soft skills (interpersonal skills).
What is the best format for a CV or resume?
The most commonly used chronological resume / CV format is better for job candidates with more traditional career paths, who have moved from one full-time job to the next. Your work experience highlights are listed in reverse chronological order — last job first, first job last.
In the functional resume format, past experience is grouped under different job skills. This may be suitable for job seekers who are new to the workforce or changing careers. Or it is sometimes preferable for freelancers or contractors who want to highlight projects they have completed for various clients.
What to include in an academic CV
An academic CV goes into far more detail on a person’s academic achievements. This kind of long-form CV would be used by someone seeking a job in academia, or perhaps applying for a grant, fellowship, postdoctoral position or a research post.
In addition to the basics listed above, here are some of the additional elements that may be included in an academic CV:
- Research and teaching experience
- Topics of academic theses/dissertations
- Published works
- Honors and awards
- Memberships in academic or professional associations
- Conferences attended
Can I use a resume instead of a CV?
As stated already, a resume and a normal CV are usually one and the same kind of document for the same purpose. Whether it’s called a resume or a CV likely depends on the country where you’re applying for a job. Either way, a one-page (or possibly two-page) summary of your professional experience, education and skills is all you need for the vast majority of jobs, regardless of occupation.
Most job applicants never need to worry about creating a long-form academic CV. In fact, a CV/resume longer than two pages would be a detriment in most fields.
How do I know when to use which type of CV?
Academic CVs are reserved for academia and certain medical or scientific fields. Typically this will be when applicants are seeking a grant, fellowship or research job.
If you are not in one of these categories, all you need is a short and simple resume/CV.
If your situation falls into a gray area where either a short-form or long-form CV might be appropriate, consider asking intended recipients which style is required or preferred.
How do I write a CV or resume?
Writing a good CV or resume requires, first, knowing your field and what employers are looking for in job candidates.
You should start by studying job listings closely to understand what employers are seeking. Your CV/resume should not be carved in stone, but should be tailored for each job application.
Always think in terms of the employer’s needs, not your own, and try to deliver a resume/CV that describes the very person the hiring manager is looking for.
Optimize for ATS
Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are software programs that employers use to determine whether job candidates meet specified job qualifications. For each job opening, employers first input the experience, education and skills they are looking for in a new employee. Then the ATS program compares incoming resumes to the keywords that describe the ideal candidate. If your resume/CV is lacking these keywords, it’s likely to be rejected without any human review. This is why it’s essential to study job listings closely and make your resume match as much as possible.
International differences in CVs and resumes
There are a few other differences in standards for preparing CVs and resumes in various countries. In the U.S., resumes should not contain personal information like age, gender, race or marital status. This is because nondiscrimination laws prevent employers from taking factors like these into account in their hiring decisions. However, it’s much more common to include this kind of personal info in resumes and CVs submitted in other countries.
Should you include a photo of yourself with your resume or CV? In the U.S., this is sometimes frowned on for the same reasons, because it reveals information about your age, race and gender. But outside the U.S., it’s far more common to include a photo with a resume.
- “Resume” is the preferred term in the U.S. and Canada, while most other English-speaking countries use the word “CV” to describe a 1- to 2-page job application document.
- An “academic CV” is a longer, more detailed document used primarily in academia.
- Pay attention to the key sections in a resume or CV to maximize your chances of passing the ATS test and impressing the employer.
- There are key differences in resumes and CVs internationally, including whether or not to use a photo and mention personal details.