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Written by Debbie BrideDebbie Bride

What does CV stand for?

14 min read
What does CV stand for?
Artwork by:Veronika Kiriyenko
What does CV stand for? There is a short-form and long-form type of CV, or curriculum vitae. These are two distinctively different documents with the same name. We hope your confusion dissipates with our explanation of all this, starting with the easy part.

Curriculum vitae — easier to say than it looks, but still a mouthful when “ CV” rolls off the tongue so snappily.

A deceptively simple and unequivocal answer to the question “What does ‘CV’ stand for?” lies in the definition of those two words. We’ll get to that shortly, and it won't seem like enough to warrant an entire blog on the subject. 

On the other hand, what curriculum vitae means  — referring to the job application document itself — is a relatively complicated question. There’s no easy way to say this other than to preface the answer with “it all depends.” 

Not only is there more than one type of CV, but also more than one term for the most common and familiar type of CV. Stay with us as we address these questions, in order from most to least straightforward:

  • What’s the definition of curriculum vitae?
  • CV or resume — when and where are they one and the same?
  • What else does CV mean?
  • What kind of CV do you need?

CV stands for curriculum vitae

The Latin noun “curriculum vitae” translates to “the course of your life.” 

For the majority of job applicants, it refers to a brief, point-form document summarising their qualifications from three key standpoints: work experience, education, and skills. With career experts stressing the need to stand out in the crowd of contenders for each position being sought, “see me” might be fitting as catchy rhyming slang for “CV.”

How to pronounce “curriculum vitae” depends on which dictionary you consult for which part of the world. This short video demonstrates the difference between British and American English. But you’ll likely never have to fret about this because the full term is rarely used. Refer to a CV in job search circles and everyone will know what you’re talking about.

Well, that might not be everybody if we’re talking about job seekers across the pond. This brings us to the first twist on what curriculum vitae means — or what a CV actually is.

CV or resume — what’s the difference?

“What’s in a name?” In a much less romantic context, William Shakespeare might have been wondering why he and Hans Christian Andersen would create a CV if they were looking for a new writing gig, but Ernest Hemingway and Margaret Atwood would prepare a resume. 

In fact, the same job application document would suit the purpose of all four authors equally well. What they would call it is the only difference.

As stated above, curriculum vitae/CV usually refers to a short, reader-friendly overview of the qualifications that hiring managers look for in prospective employees. “Resume” always refers to exactly the same thing.

Resume meaning

With its unmistakable French connection, “resume” is sometimes spelt with one or two accents — resumé or résumé — but none is necessary. As for pronunciation, resume sounds like the French word it comes from: résumer aptly means“to summarise.” 

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CV and resume common traits

Other than being called something different, everything about resumes and most CVs is the same: the look, content, structure and purpose. They are universally used for job searches in virtually all organisations and industries. 

By design, CVs and resumes are equally succinct — ideally one page and preferably not exceeding two. They are meant to be submitted with a cover letter, which serves as a “written handshake” to connect more directly and personally with the employer.

Here or there

Demystifying the most prevalent difference between a CV and a resume, in name only, comes down to geography. It’s less about resume or CV meaning than about where those terms mean the same thing. As far as the brief career summary we’re discussing is concerned, calling it a CV or resume depends on where the job search takes place — the context for our author analogy above.

For employers and job seekers in the United States and Canada, “resume” is the familiar term. In the UK, Europe and many other countries where hiring organisations communicate in English, the same professional synopsis is called a CV.

Expert tip

Call it what you will — CV or resume — this crucial job application document offers limited space to persuade recruiters you’re the best hire. 

Thorough scrutiny of the posted job description and additional research about the employer will equip you to customise your job application for each specific situation. If you do this correctly, no two versions of your CV will ever be exactly the same.

What virtually all CVs/resumes do have in common is the basic structure for organising all the information you deem relevant. Brevity demands that you be selective in targeting each of these CV sections accordingly: header, summary (sometimes called profile or personal statement), employment history, skills, and education.

Keep in mind that we’re looking through a very broad global lens here. You’ll find exceptions to this regional generalisation throughout the world. Our intent is simply to bust the myth that CVs and resumes are entirely different animals.

Having cleared up that misunderstanding about CVs and resumes, we can put the latter aside and come back to the trickier question of curriculum vitae meaning. As stated at the onset, “it all depends” is where we encounter another twist in definition and terminology.

When does CV mean something else?

We’ve indicated a few times that for most job seekers, CV is synonymous with the compact, customised job application document that North Americans call a resume. But there are instances when they are not one and the same, and curriculum vitae/CV means something else altogether.

Primarily within academic and scientific fields, CV typically refers to a much longer, comprehensive version of the “ordinary” CV described above (aka resume). The length — sometimes dozens of pages — and level of detail are mainly what distinguish this heftier type of CV from its brief, default counterpart. 

Little, if anything, is typically excluded from a so-called academic (or long-form) CV, and the lines between educational and professional credentials and achievements may be blurred. 

Besides details about undergraduate and postgraduate degrees earned — including dissertation topics —  the content might encompass teaching assistant or lecturer positions, grants and fellowships, faculty administrative posts, published works, conference attendance and presentations, professional or academic society memberships, and awards or special honours.

All of this is in addition to what a normal CV/resume includes: employment history, contact information, and possibly a summary or objective. References, languages spoken and other skills might be provided too.

Note: Academic CVs are less likely to target the specific position or employer in the same way a regular CV should. 

Expert tip

Here are a few online sources of advice for writing an academic (long-form) CV:

The expanded academic CV document is used for both job and research grant applicants, as well as those seeking graduate school admission. Outside of academia per se, it also might be required for research specialists seeking a position in the private and nonprofit sector.

Within the highly specialised fields where such an exhaustive career description is required, the term “CV” or “curriculum vitae” is taken for granted to have that meaning. This applies pretty much universally — North America included —  so the type of CV expected from Sir Isaac Newton, Sigmund Freud, or Albert Einstein would never be in doubt.

Partly because of this global understanding of what CV means in scholarly circles, but also because that segment of job applicants is relatively small, the “CV vs. resume” confusion that has inspired blogs like this is understandable.

What kind of CV are you talking about?

Within the general job search population, “academic CV” is a useful alternative term to distinguish it from the “normal” CV equivalent of a resume. We’ll use that same distinction below, where we summarise the key differences.

  ORDINARY CV / RESUME ACADEMIC  CV
Length One page is typically preferred, and two pages the accepted maximum Unrestricted, depending on how extensive the credentials
Level of detail Briefer is better and selectivity is a must, using concise and precise language — including action verbs — for impact As much detail as it takes to be complete 
Emphasis Professional experience and skills relevant to the job application, focused on measurable achievements benefiting the employer Academic credentials take precedence over work history and sometimes overlap 
Customisation Content, style and tone targeted to each specific job and employer Less likely to be custom-tailored
Personal information

A key regional difference applies to both CV types:

  • In the UK and other countries with legal protection against hiring discrimination, exclude personal details like age, gender, race, or marital status.
  • Elsewhere in the world, such personal information might be acceptable or even expected.

CV FAQs

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions related to CV meaning. 

Do all employers require a CV?

A short-form CV/resume is pretty much the default expectation for virtually all applications. Some employers only require or request a completed application form, while others might ask for both.

Do fresher job applicants need a CV?

Students and recent grads alike should submit an ordinary CV / resume, no matter how lean their work experience. Usually, the education section takes precedence, while transferable skills from previous jobs — even volunteer work — should also be highlighted. Just be sure to tailor the content to what the employer needs.

Should I provide a CV or a resume? What do I call it?

As we’ve discussed in this blog, it shouldn’t matter, because a normal ( short-form) CV and resume are virtually interchangeable and appropriate for the majority of job applications. Which term is preferable should be consistent with where you live or seek to work. If you’re not sure, take your cue from the hiring organisation: is it asking for a CV or a resume? 

CV or resume: Which is better?

Now that you understand that “CV” is usually just a different word for “resume”, this oft-asked question is irrelevant. There is no better or worse option.

Do I need an “ordinary” CV or an academic CV?

Unless your career goals are in the relatively narrow realm of academia, science or research, the need for a long-form curriculum vitae is unlikely. It’s safe to say that a normal CV/resume is all you need for the vast majority of jobs. But grey areas do exist — perhaps in less clear-cut teaching roles or private-sector research jobs. If you’re uncertain, or the application instructions seem vague, don’t hesitate to ask. 

Key takeaways

  1. “CV” is the commonly used abbreviation for “curriculum vitae”, meaning “course of life” in Latin.
  2. With few exceptions, for job applications in most fields, CV refers to a short, bullet-point summary of key qualifications: work experience, skills, and education.
  3. In some countries outside the UK, notably Canada and the U.S., “resume” is the more familiar term for the exact same type of CV.
  4. Terminology confusion is sometimes compounded by the fact that curriculum vitae can also refer to a much longer, more detailed document — called an “academic CV” — for job applicants in specialised areas of academia, science and research. This kind of long-form CV is familiar and used around the world.
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