Though their names are often used interchangeably, a resume and a CV are two different things. So what’s the difference between them and why does it matter? The differences between a resume and a CV are subtle but important in the context of how they’re being used. Here, we’ll explain a resume versus a CV and describe the situations that call for using each of these career documents.
What is a Resume?
A resume is a document that gives an overview of your work history and career accomplishments. Typically, it also includes your formal education history and may contain a brief list of skills and credentials that are pertinent to your profession.
A resume acts as a highlight reel of sorts; spotlighting your top achievements in an easily skimmable format. Brevity is important with a resume, as professional norms dictate that it should be limited to no more than one or two pages, depending on your years of experience.
Resumes are organized by job position, with each role receiving its own section. The most common format for resumes is in reverse chronological order, with the current or most recent position being listed first along with the employer, location, and dates of tenure. Candidates often use bullet points under the name of the role to highlight their achievements.
Instead of using reverse chronological order, some candidates choose to use what’s known as a functional resume format. In the functional resume format, accomplishments are grouped by skill rather than role (i.e. customer service experience, management experience, etc.). A functional resume may be useful if you’re making a career transition where your work history doesn’t directly correlate with the new role for when you’re applying. It can also be helpful for new job seekers with limited work experience.
Both the format (clear) and the length (short) of a resume are important, as the document usually receives only a very quick glance from the person reviewing it; the average recruiter spends just 7.4 seconds looking at a resume.
Purpose of Resume
A resume’s primary purpose is to convey your level of competency for the role you’re seeking. Thus, it’s important that the items listed on your resume be grounded in tangible achievements—‘increased revenue 15%,’ for example—rather than the abstract listing of job responsibilities. Including personal information like weekend hobbies or religious affiliations is discouraged.
For more on crafting a great resume, check out these 5 resume writing resources every professional needs.
What is a CV?
CV stands for curriculum vitae, which means ‘the course of your life’ in Latin. The Latin translation is not far off; this document is a comprehensive explanation of your history in the professional world. In addition to the roles you’ve held, it includes your academic background, research experience, publications, professional honors, group affiliations, and more.
For an individual at the beginning of their career, a CV might run two or three pages. For professionals with several decades’ experience, the document is often much longer. It grows as your career advances.
A CV begins with a personal profile, which is also called an objective or a personal statement. Consider this the document’s overview. This section is meant to summarize who you are, the qualities that make you the right candidate for the job, and a bit more information about your professional goals.
After the personal profile, CVs are organized into sections with information displayed chronologically. For example, your CV might include sections for the following areas: work history, education, professional certifications, teaching experience, awards, publications, professional memberships, interests, and so on. CVs will differ from person to person, as not all sections are relevant for all industries.
CV Versus Resume: What’s the Difference?
Though these documents are similar, there are some key differences between a resume and a CV. It’s important to understand the nuances of each so you can be sure to use the appropriate document for your situation.
The biggest and most obvious difference in a CV versus resume is the length of the document. A resume is short and concise. Anything longer than two pages is typically frowned upon. A CV runs for several pages or more. There’s generally no limit on how long a CV can be.
A resume is accomplishment-based, serving as a high-level summary of your achievements in your career. It’s an overview rather than a deep dive.
The opposite is true of a CV. It’s more biographical, meant to give the reader a holistic understanding of your professional life. While it includes accomplishments, it also includes less achievement-oriented elements like soft skills and memberships in professional organizations.
Another major area of distinction between the use of resumes versus CVs is location. American and Canadian professions rely heavily on the resume, while the UK, Ireland, and New Zealand lean on the CV for vocational use.
The CV is the document of choice in most of mainland Europe, which even has a standard CV template many employers in the EU require job seekers to use. Other parts of the world use the two documents interchangeably.
Americans applying for positions abroad will often be required to provide a CV rather than a resume.
The United States is unique in that industry plays a big role in whether a CV or resume is the document required in job applications.
Whereas a resume is universal and can be used for practically any job, a CV is specifically called for in academia, research, and scientific positions. Because these fields place a heavy emphasis on credentials, certifications, and being published in journals, books, and elsewhere, it makes sense that the longer CV is the document of choice.
The final difference between a resume and CV is the level of customization. Whereas a CV is static, a resume is dynamic. If you’re a job seeker, you’ll be well-served to tailor your resume to the position you’re applying for; listing accomplishments that directly pertain to the skills required for the job. A CV, on the other hand, only changes as your career advances and your credentials grow.
This is one thing resumes and CVs have in common: no matter where in the world you are or which document you’re using, it should begin with your contact information. The norms on the extent of this information will vary from country to country, but at a minimum you’ll want to include your name, email address, phone number, city and state/country.
Including your full street address was once the norm but has become increasingly less common in favor of the simpler city and state/country in North America and Europe.
When to Use a Resume Versus CV
If you’re applying for a job, the easiest way to know whether to use a resume versus CV is to look at what the job posting calls for and use that. Unfortunately, it’s not always so simple. Many job postings use both phrases interchangeably or use the dreaded “resume/CV;” ignoring the fact that there’s any difference whatsoever between the two documents.
When applying for most jobs in North America, you’ll want to use a resume as it’s described here. When applying for academic jobs and research positions in North America, you’ll use a CV.
If you’re applying for jobs internationally, it’s a good idea to do some research on the country’s professional customs and what is meant locally by the terms ‘resume’ and ‘CV.’ In some countries, for example, the two terms are truly interchangeable and don’t share the same differences as they do in North America.
It’s also important to do your homework to understand professional norms in the country where you’re applying. In America, for example, it would be highly unusual to include a photo on your resume, but in some places, like China and Germany, including a headshot with your CV is the norm or even required. In Japan, it’s not uncommon for CVS to be written by hand.
When in doubt about whether to use a resume or a CV, ask. It’s always better to go the extra mile to get it right than to guess and send the wrong document, which could hurt your chances.
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