Resume or CV?

Balance scale with resume and CV, with a question mark in center.Not surprisingly, job postings and online applications usually require the applicant to submit a resume. In some cases, the posting allows the applicant to submit either a resume or something known as a “CV.” At other times, however, the posting may specifically require submission of a CV. So, what exactly is a CV and how does it differ from a resume? When might a CV be preferred over a resume?

The abbreviation “CV” is short for the Latin phrase “Curriculum Vitae,” which translates to “course of life.” When speaking, most people just use the abbreviation “CV.” However, if you wish to use the Latin words, the two most commonly accepted pronunciations are:

Curriculum “Vee-tie”

Curriculum “Vye-tee”


As you most likely already know, a typical resume includes information such as:

  • Education: where and when you went to high school and/or college, degrees received, GPA and/or noteworthy academic awards.
  • Employment history: current and past organizations for whom you have worked and the dates of employment, the positions you held and associated duties, and noteworthy job accomplishments.
  • Credentials: applicable licenses, certifications, etc.
  • Applicable professional or other work-related organizations of which you are a member.

Unless an applicant is very experienced with significant work history and education, a resume is traditionally kept to one page (one side of one page) in length. Even experienced applicants will usually keep their resumes to no more than 2 pages (both sides of one page). Why? The people who review incoming resumes (managers, HR representatives, recruiters, etc.) usually have to process a huge number of submissions. They simply do not have the time or desire to read a lengthy document for each applicant.

Although opinions are mixed about whether or not this should be done, resumes are often revised or tailored as needed to best fit a particular position for which one may be applying. In my opinion, resumes need not necessarily be “carved in stone.” I see no problem in making a few adjustments to one’s resume to enhance or highlight certain aspects that may be of interest to a specific employer. However, a resume that is well-written in the first place should only need minor changes at times. Certainly, it should not require a complete overhaul every time it is used.

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Like a resume, the CV contains the same employment, education, and other information described earlier, but often in more detail. However, this is where the similarity ends. Unlike a resume, the scope of the CV is much broader and includes additional information such as:

  • A bibliography (a list of papers, abstracts, articles, books, or other publications which the applicant has authored).
  • Specialized education or advanced training, including internships, residencies, fellowships, etc.
  • Specialized skills, such as languages spoken or advanced computer software or programming abilities.
  • Titles, dates, and locations (including city, state, conference or organization name, etc.) of presentations or speeches which were given by the applicant.
  • Various work-related, academic, community, or professional association committees or boards on which the applicant has served and the role (e.g., Chairperson, Treasurer, etc.)
  • College classes, courses, seminars, or other training programs developed and/or taught by the applicant.
  • Various grants, awards, or other recognitions that the applicant has received.
  • Professional references (resumes usually do not contain professional references).

This Could Get Lengthy

Because a CV is intentionally more detailed, it may often fill numerous pages. Many authors suggest a typical CV should have a length of 3 to 5 pages. However, some very experienced professionals may have CVs of 15 or more pages. So, why is it acceptable for this document to be so much longer than a resume? Simple. Because the employer specifically asking for a CV wants and expects to see that level of detail.

A CV may be thought of as an extensive biographical profile of an individual’s life and career. Thus, unlike a resume, it is usually not tweaked to fit each new job application. Of course, the CV is updated as needed whenever the individual has new and relevant content to add.

When is a CV Most Applicable?

Typically, CVs are almost exclusively used in academia, medicine, science, and research. These fields place very high importance on an applicant having significant amounts of education, teaching experience, authoring of papers, service on committees, and so forth. Because the CV is the format of choice for presenting such information, it is usually the document requested by employers for positions in these fields.

However, even within these fields in general, the document expected by the employer depends on the position sought. Unless the posting states otherwise, most positions normally thought of as “regular jobs” call for a resume, not a CV. For example, an individual applying for a billing position in a medical clinic or hospital would normally send a resume, not a CV. Similarly, a person applying for an administrative assistant job in a university physics department would also likely send a resume rather than a CV, as the position sought does not directly involve teaching or performing scientific research.

Resume or CV? Which Do I Submit with My Application?

The answer to this question is usually simple: submit whichever type of document is requested in the job posting.  However, there is an important caveat. The differences between resumes and CVs as described above tend to apply to the USA and Canada, but not necessarily everywhere else. In some countries, the terms “CV” and “resume” may be used interchangeably. Still, in other countries, submitting a full-blown CV may be the norm when applying for a job that would only call for a basic resume in the USA or Canada. Know what information the employer in that country is looking for and expects! You certainly would not want to send a potential employer an eight-page CV when what they expected was our equivalent of a simple one-page resume!

If you are considering applying for positions internationally, check out an article by Michael Tomaszewski on which discusses many of the differences between CVs and resumes in various countries.

This is Getting Rather Personal

Here in the United States, we take for granted that most personal information is not to be included on resumes and CVs. In fact, most applicants know it is illegal for an employer to ask for such details. Most of us would be shocked and appalled if an employer were to ask during a job interview, “So, are you married?” or “Exactly how old are you?” But, such information is not necessarily off-limits elsewhere in the world!

An interesting article by Alison Doyle on points out that “… overseas employers often expect to read the type of personal information on a curriculum vitae that would never be included on an American resume, such as date of birth, nationality, marital status, and place of birth. United States law governing what information job applicants can be asked to provide does not apply outside the country.”

The bottom line is that when applying for positions in other countries, be sure to research and double-check their expectations for the type of personal information to be included. Then, decide whether you are willing to provide such details as a precondition for being considered for the job.

Don’t Think You Need a CV? Develop One Anyway

Chances are that unless your career involves the fields of academia, medicine, science, or research, or you are applying for certain international positions, you will not be asked to submit a CV. So was learning about CVs a waste of your time? Not at all. Here’s why.

First, you now know the differences between these two documents and when each may be the right tool to use. Second, you are now better prepared to consider developing a CV as a personal resource. Let me explain.

Developing a CV for your personal use can be a helpful exercise in thinking through and documenting all the various accomplishments of your career. As you gain experience over the years, intricate details such as exact dates, locations, names, etc. will start to blur a bit. While the CV itself may never be sent anywhere, it can still serve as a useful reference when you are fine-tuning a resume or preparing for a job interview. Instead of having to research and look up detailed information each time you need it, you’ll have it ready at your fingertips.

Here’s a final thought. Suppose you are already well-established in your job and career, in whatever field it may be. You likely have an impressive resume prepared and ready to go. However, if the day ever comes when you consider putting that experience and knowledge to work teaching part-time at a college or university, odds are they will want a CV, not a resume. Keeping an up-to-date CV along the way will save you the headache of later trying to remember or locate all those details spanning the years of your career.

Agree? Disagree? Share your experience or thoughts? 

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