CV or not CV? That is the question

An important question indeed. But if you're wondering “what is the difference between a CV and a resume,” well the answer is both simpler than you might guess and more complicated than you might imagine.

On the one hand, it's easily explained by the fact that Shakespeare would write a CV if he needed a new job, but Hemingway would write a resume.

On the other, more complicated, hand, the term CV or Curriculum Vitae sometimes has a completely different, broader meaning. This is why Albert Einstein's curriculum vitae would be much longer than the CV of his contemporaries in other professions.

So, the question becomes, what type of CV are we talking about? 

Let's demystify the differences between a CV and a resume by looking not only at what these terms mean but what they mean in different circumstances.

So, what is the difference?

Curriculum Vitae (CV) meaning

“Curriculum vitae” is Latin for “the course of your life.” Most often, it refers to a brief, point-form document summarizing a job applicant's qualifications from three standpoints: work experience, education, and skills.

Resume meaning

Resume has a decidedly French connection, which is why it is sometimes spelled with one or two accents: resumé or résumé. And it's pronounced the same way as the French word it comes from: résumer, meaning “to summarize.” 

The noun “resume” also describes the short document that summarizes a job candidate's employment history, education, and skills - just like a cv.

That's right - CV and resume usually mean the same thing.

What resumes and CVs have in common

For most job seekers, there is no difference between a CV and a resume. They are the same type of job search document, universally used for the same purpose - applying for a job in virtually all organizations and industries. Except for the document's name, they look identical and contain the same information, structured the same way. 

CVs and resumes are equally brief - often a single page and never more than two pages. And both should be submitted with a cover letter that seeks to form a direct personal connection with the employer, geared to their specific hiring needs. The focus is on how job candidates can meet those needs and why they want to work for this organization.

Differences between a CV and resume

When discussing the document described above - the short career summary, calling it a CV or resume comes down to geography. 

Resume is by far the most familiar term for job seekers and employers in the United States and Canada. But in the UK, and most other countries where hiring organizations communicate in English, the same professional synopsis is called a CV.

Note, though, that this regional distinction should be regarded through a broad lens. Exceptions may be found in many global locales where either “CV” or “resume” would be acceptable. The point of our generalization here is to uncomplicate the prevailing misconception about CVs and resumes being completely different animals.

What else can CV mean?

Now we come to the twist on “curriculum vitae” (CV), and how it is sometimes defined. Within academic and scientific fields, it can refer to a much longer, more detailed version of the “ordinary” resume. 

This exception to the rule applies in the United States and Canada, as well as other English-speaking regions. But it's exclusive to a relatively small segment of professionals, which might help explain the common CV vs. resume confusion that confronts so many job seekers. 

In academia, this expanded CV document is used for both job applicants and those seeking research grants and fellowships. In higher learning institutes, long-form CVs are par-for-the-course for professorship candidates, graduate school applicants, and research specialists. In the latter instance, the private sector typically expects the same. 

When used in scholarly circles, the term “CV” or “curriculum vitae” is just assumed to reference this type of expanded career description. Alternative terms such as “long-form CV” or “academic CV” are useful to distinguish it from the “normal” CV equivalent of a resume.

We'll use that same distinction here, as we take a closer look at the characteristics of the ordinary CV vs. the academic CV.

How to write a resume or “normal” CV

Before writing a single word of your resume or normal CV, you need a laser-focused understanding of what the employer wants from the candidate who gets hired. Your normal CV must convey that you have what it takes. Study the posted job description carefully and do additional research online to learn as much as you can about the hiring organization.

This analysis will equip you to customize your job application for each specific hiring situation. If you do this correctly, no two versions of your CV will ever be completely identical.

What virtually all normal CVs have in common, regardless of occupation, is the basic framework for organizing all the information you deem relevant to include. “Relevant” is the operative word, because you will likely have to be selective about the information that you choose to add to your CV. Brevity demands it.

Here's a structure that outlines the distinct sections that a resume, or normal CV, should include.

  • Contact information: Identifying information* includes your name, email, and phone number. You can also add your city, state, and zip code - as well as a professional website, social media, or portfolio, if they're relevant.

  • Resume headline: This one-line headline should include the job title you're seeking, as well as descriptive terms that can help to distinguish you from other candidates. For example, instead of writing just the job title, IT Manager, you might want to write “Results-Driven IT Manager with 10 Years of Network Administrator Experience.”

  • Summary(sometimes called a Profile or Personal Statement): A synopsis of your most persuasive qualifications geared to the employer's needs, emphasizing what makes you an excellent fit.
  • Skills. A combination of both hard skills (job-specific abilities) and soft skills (innate traits and interpersonal strengths) should be included in this section. Make sure that your list includes the specific skill terms you find in the job posting.
  • Employment history: This should include your job title, the company name, and dates of employment. Add bullet point highlights of your most relevant work experience, framed as accomplishments with beneficial outcomes, ideally in quantifiable terms. In the most used chronological format, these are listed under each job in reverse order, beginning with your most recent job followed by previous jobs going back ten or fifteen years.

  • Education: Your postsecondary education is listed in reverse chronological order, starting with the highest degree or diploma, and working back to lower levels of educational achievement. Any relevant certifications, special training, or professional development activities can be listed too.

* International note: Hiring discrimination laws in some countries, including Canada and the US, make it inadvisable to include personal information like age, gender, race, or marital status in a resume. Photos are discouraged for the same reason. But in other countries, the same personal information and photos are commonplace.

Related Post: How to Make a Resume: Beginner's Writing Guide with Examples

How to write an academic (long-form) CV

Long-form CVs are integral to applications for faculty teaching and administrative positions, graduate school admissions, postdoctoral roles and research posts, as well as grants and fellowships. 

Academic CVs take as much space as needed to provide a comprehensive list of someone's educational credentials and scholastic achievements. In addition to degrees earned - bachelor's, master's, and PhDs - this list might also include Teaching Assistant or Lecturer positions, grants, fellowships, published works, conference attendance and presentations, professional or academic society memberships, and awards or special honors.

All of this is in addition to what an ordinary CV includes: employment history, contact information, and a summary paragraph. References, language skills, and other relevant abilities might be provided too.

Academic CVs are less likely to be tailored to the specific job you're seeking in the same way an ordinary CV would target a position and employer. Nor is there any restriction on length, which is perhaps the most obvious difference between an academic CV and a normal CV or resume. In fact, some long-form CVs can be ten pages or more.

To write a true curriculum vitae, or CV, include the following sections:

  • Your contact information

  • A professional profile

  • Your work history - this should be as comprehensive as possible and can go back as far as needed to show your career trajectory

  • Education - again, make sure that this is comprehensive to highlight your qualifications

  • Relevant professional skills

Those are considered the foundational sections in any CV and share much in common with a more traditional resume. Once you've completed those sections, you can also include additional optional sections, depending on the job you're seeking and the information you want to highlight. Some examples of these additional CV sections include:

  • Your published works

  • Notable awards and honors

  • Grants, relevant scholarships, or fellowships

  • Teaching experience

  • Foreign language proficiencies

  • License and certifications

  • Notable speaking engagements

  • Memberships in any professional associations

  • Research experience and achievements

  • Volunteer work

  • Personal interests - if they're relevant to the position

  • Your professional references

Again, these optional sections are not required for every position you may seek. You'll need to adjust your CV sections to ensure that they're in alignment with employer expectations within your chosen industry. Lawyers may want to focus more on their case experience, written briefs, and legal research. Medical professionals may want to highlight clinical experience, published research, clinical case trials, and similar points of interest.

Finally, make sure that you format your CV in a way that makes it easier for employers to read and identify the specific information that interests them. In other words, don't just create a long block of text that they need to wade through to find relevant details. Instead, use plenty of bullet points throughout each section to better organize the information.

Ordinary CV vs. Academic CV: What are the differences?

Key differences between an ordinary CV and an academic CV are summarized below:





One page is generally preferred; never exceed two pages.

From two or three pages to 10+ pages, depending on how extensive the scholastic credentials are. No length restriction.

Level of detail

The briefer the better, write concisely and precisely. Be selective about what to include and exclude.

As detailed as necessary to be complete. 


Professional experience relevant to the job application. Education becomes less important as career advances.

Academic background takes precedence over work history. 

Personal information

A key regional difference:

  • Resumes and CVs in the US and Canada should exclude personal details like age, gender, race, or marital status, due to regulations against hiring discrimination.

  • Elsewhere in the world, such personal information is acceptable and often even expected.

Resume vs CV: frequently asked questions

If things are still unclear after reading this overview of resumes, standard CVs, and academic CVs, these answers to frequently asked questions may help to offer even greater clarity. 

1.     Do all employers require a CV or resume?

Consider a short-form CV or resume to be the default expectation for pretty much any job application. The exception might be an employer who only requires an application form to be completed. You could be asked for both!

2.     Do recent graduates need a resume or CV?

Fresher job applicants should be prepared to submit a resume (or ordinary CV), no matter how lean their work experience. Usually, a new graduate's education section takes precedence, with emphasis on work-related areas of study and academic achievements. 

Transferable skills from previous jobs - even part-time - as well as internships and volunteer activities, also have a vital place on a recent graduate's resume. As with any job application, be sure to tailor it to what the employer is looking for.

3.     Can I use a resume instead of a CV?

It shouldn't matter, as long as you're talking about a resume substitute for the normal, short-form CV. As we've discussed, either of these virtually interchangeable job application documents is appropriate in most instances.

4.     CV vs. resume: what do I call it?

Either term can be used for your one-page summary of achievements, education, and skills. What you call it usually depends on where you live or where you are applying to work. Again, “resume” is the familiar term in the US and Canada, while “curriculum vitae” or “CV” is common almost everywhere else. That's not to say there are no exceptions, or that either term would necessarily be misunderstood in the “wrong” country and disqualify your application. 

It's best to take your cue from the hiring organization: is it asking for a CV or a resume? 

5.     CV vs. resume: Which is better?

Once you understand that “CV” and “resume” are usually different words for the same thing, as emphasized above, this often-asked question becomes irrelevant. There is no better or worse option. Which term is preferable should be consistent with where you live or seek to work.

As for whether a normal short-form CV or a long-form academic CV is better, it comes down to what's required or expected in certain specialized fields of academia. Unless your career goals are in that realm, the need for a long-form curriculum vitae is highly unlikely.

6.  What if I'm not sure which kind of CV to submit?

As described previously, the long-form curriculum vitae, fully listing someone's scholastic achievements, has relatively narrower applications in academic, scientific, and medical institutions around the world. These candidates are seeking teaching or research posts, grants, or fellowships. Outside of these circumstances, an ordinary CV or resume is usually all you need.

There can be gray areas that make you uncertain about which type of CV to submit, for example different areas of teaching or research in the private sector. In these instances, if the application instructions aren't clear, don't be afraid to ask. For, as Shakespeare wrote, “advantage is a better soldier than rashness.”

Using the right resume or CV can maximize your chance of getting noticed

While the resume vs CV debate may seem confusing at first, once you begin to examine the differences in format, content, and use, you'll quickly figure out which one you need for your career journey. That should help to ensure that you're delivering the right document to any prospective employer and earning the interviews and job offers you need for career success.

Looking to land your dream job? The first thing you need to do is get your resume up to speed. Check out our expert free resume review services and set yourself apart from the crowd. We match professionals with the perfect writer for their needs.

This article was originally written by Debbie Bride and has been updated by Ken Chase. 

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