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Written by Karl KahlerKarl Kahler

What's the difference between a curriculum vitae (CV) and a resume?

9 min read
What's the difference between a curriculum vitae (CV) and a resume?
It is not the first question that you will have at the start of your job search, but knowing the difference between a CV and a resume may prove useful in some circumstances.

One word comes from Latin, another comes from French. They are interchangeable in meaning, but somehow using the wrong word in a certain cultural setting may raise eyebrows. If you are looking for a job, getting the job search jargon wrong is a rookie error.

CV and resume are both words to describe a 1-2 page document that details a job seeker’s career story, their accomplishments, skills and motivations for the future. Come on, you know what they mean.

In the UK and in most of the English-speaking world, we call this document a CV. In North America and in most foreign languages (phonetically translated), the word resume is more common. 

As this blog is for a UK audience, it will not be news that we call such a career document a CV. But, wait a minute, what if you are applying for a job in the U.S. or Canada? Should you call it a resume? Surely, they would understand what a CV is? Are you being rude by insisting on your own cultural norms? 

In our view, it is not that deep. The words are interchangeable. However, if you want to squeeze every drop of potential out of your job search, you will likely want to get even the smallest details right so that there is zero cognitive dissonance about your application. Therefore, we will spend a little time investigating this most subtle of nuances. In this blog, we consider the following:

  • What is a resume and where is the word used?
  • What is a CV and where is the word used?
  • What is the difference between a CV and an academic CV?

When you read articles about this topic, there can be some confusion. Some non-Brits (and ill-informed experts) think that a CV should be strictly one-page long, while a resume can be 2-3 pages. Trust me, in the UK it is perfectly normal for a CV of a mid-career professional to be two pages long.

Cutting a long story short, they mean the same thing. If you do want to delve a little more into the details, please do read on. We haven’t mentioned the academic CV yet.

What is a resume, anyway?

From the French word for “summary,” a resume is a short document with a job applicant’s contact info, profile, work history, education, and skills. A resume can be one or two pages long and should contain the following sections:

  • Header: Name, address, phone number and email.
  • Summary: Summarises a candidate’s suitability, sometimes with a career objective.
  • 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. 

What is a CV?

CV is the abbreviation of “curriculum vitae,” a Latin term that means “the course of your life.” In terms of what it typically contains, you can refer to the paragraph above. However… there is a different type of CV that is more than a 1-2 page career story. 

If you are a university professor or researcher looking for a new role, it is likely that your CV is going to be significantly longer than two pages. Why? Well, in academia it is expected that you will have a list of published research longer than your arm. When it comes to hiring you, this will be digested at length to ascertain your academic stature.

If you are seeking a fellowship, grant, postdoctoral position or research job within further education, an academic CV would also be required. 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 is an exhaustive list of your academic career – the longer and more involved, the better.

For example, a language professor might include details about their 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. There may be articles they have published in academic journals, plus memberships in relevant organisations 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
  • Honours and awards
  • Grants
  • Fellowships
  • Memberships in academic or professional associations
  • Conferences attended
  • Languages spoken and other skills
  • References

Normal CVs and resumes will not always contain details of references, but this is vital for an academic CV. Make sure to include leading names in your field if you want to impress. It is very much about who you know as well as what you know.

CV vs. Academic CV: what are the differences?

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

Length CVs are by definition brief — one or two pages. Many hiring managers would find three pages annoying and skip them. Academic CVs tend to be much longer. Where scholarly credentials are extensive, they can run 10 pages or more. 
Level of detail Writing a good CV is an exercise in brevity, in which one must be selective about what to include. Academic CVs are expected to be a complete record. The level of detail is much greater.
Work vs. study CVs tend to emphasise work experience in order to highlight a candidate’s competence. Academic CVs also include relevant work history, but they focus much more on academia.
Customisation A CV is a dynamic document that should be tailored to each prospective employer. Applicants should always study job descriptions closely. Academic CVs are not typically customised 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 in the United States and CVs in the UK 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. In certain other countries, this may not be the case.

Resume vs CV: what language is curriculum vitae?
Resume vs CV: what language is curriculum vitae?

Key takeaways

With the extra length of the academic CV notwithstanding, the words resume and CV are pretty much interchangeable. 

If you really care about the details, have a look at the language of the job description and correspondence from the potential employer. Depending on the country that they come from, they will use one of the two. Remember it and use it during interviews and any job search correspondence. Sometimes those small margins do matter.

  1. Make sure to call any academic career document a CV. This isn’t a resume.
  2. You can put “curriculum vitae” at the top, but it is usually just CV.
  3. Resume is not normally written with the French accents.
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