Should you use the CV format or the traditional resume format for job applications? In this guide, you will learn the difference between a CV and resume, including the key components of each, when to choose one over the other, and proper formatting for various fields.
Table of Contents
- – Introduction
- – Traditional Resume Vs CV: What’s The Difference?
- – The Key Sections Of A Resume
- – The Key Sections Of A CV
- – When To Choose A CV
- – The Three Types Of Resumes
- – CV Vs Resume: Geographical Considerations
- – CVs For Academic Roles
- – CVs For Medical Positions
- – CVs For Creatives
- – How To Write A CV
- – The One-Page Summary CV
- – FAQs And Tips For CVs
- – Final Tips For Writing A CV
Think a resume and a CV are the same thing? Think again. It’s a common misconception, but beware: not knowing the difference between these two documents could cost you job opportunities.
True, both are used as part of a job search. However, depending on your field and the job in question, either the CV format or the traditional resume format may be more appropriate. It fully depends on the field and the particular job you’re pursuing.
How can you know which one is best suited for you and for the job you’re applying for? In this guide, we’ll tell you. You’ll learn the difference between a CV and a resume, which one you need in your job search, and the important details for each one.
Traditional Resume vs CV:
What’s the Difference?
While the resume and CV (short for curriculum vitae) are both used by individuals seeking employment, there are a few key points that differentiate each document.
Note: Curious about the term “curriculum vitae”? Well, it comes from the Latin curriculum (meaning “course”) and vitae (a version of the word “life”), roughly translating to “the course of [my] life.”
One of the first known CVs was written by Leonardo Da Vinci in the 1480s. He wanted to get work in Milan, so he sent a letter to the city’s Regent offering up his many skills, including his ability to build implements of war, his architectural know-how, and his prowess with sculpture.
The primary differences between a resume and a CV? Purpose and length. A CV is a written overview of someone’s life work–much like Da Vinci’s summary of his many skills and accomplishments, over the entire course of his working life up to that point. A resume, on the other hand, is much more precise, targeted, and brief. It’s meant to prove your qualifications for a particular job, rather than show the entire course of your career development.
Purpose: Both a resume and a CV have the same ultimate goal of netting you a great interview. However, the documents themselves have different purposes in terms of what they hope to convey.
- A resume is tailored to the position at hand, and includes relevant work experience and skills.
- A CV tends to be more static, meaning it might remain the same regardless of the job you are applying for. The CV is more like a biography of your entire career.
Length: A resume is a brief summary of your work tailored to a specific position you’re applying for; therefore, the length is pretty short–a page or two.
A CV, on the other hand, is far more comprehensive, including your education, publications, research, and achievements.
While a CV could conceivably get longer and longer the further you go down your chosen career path, make efforts to keep it readable. A CV is typically two to three single-sided pages, though it can go up to five or six. There is also the option to create an abbreviated CV in certain circumstances; this is a more focused, condensed version of a full-length CV. If an abbreviated CV is desired by an organization, they will typically note this in their job application requirements.
To further illustrate the differences, let’s take a look at the key sections of a resume and a CV.
The Key Sections of a Resume
- Basic information:
Include your name, phone number, and email address, plus your city and state. You may choose to omit your postal address, as many resumes are distributed online. Make sure that your email address is professional-sounding. For example, if your email address is wino4life (at) aol.com, create a new, professional email, such as your name (at) gmail.com. Studies show that an unprofessional email address can result in rejection up to 76 percent of the time!
Include a brief summary of your qualifications and how you can add immediate value to the organization and job position you are targeting.
- Work experience:
In the traditional, widely accepted chronological resume format, your relevant work experience will be listed from most recent to oldest experience.
List skills that are relevant to the job being offered. The skills section is a great area to insert keywords and tailor your resume for the position. For example, if you’re applying for a position in the Information Technology field, you could emphasize your skills with technical project management and systems development.
A list of the schools you attended, including the highest degree attained and the dates attended. Unless you didn’t go to college, high school listings are not necessary. You can also include certifications, professional development, special training, and continuing education courses.
- Additional sections:
You might also include other sections such as certifications, professional affiliations, awards, or volunteer work.
The Key Sections of a CV
The key sections of a CV are similar to those of a resume, but tend to put more emphasis on education and include expanded information about your experiences and accomplishments. A CV is a record of your life’s work, showcasing your achievements in academia, publications, research, and professional experience.
- Basic Information:
List the basics: your name, title, and contact information.
Include college and graduate studies, if applicable, in reverse chronological order. Include the name of the degree and concentration, the school name, and the dissertation/doctoral study topic if your dissertation has been completed and approved. Otherwise, include it in the research section.
- Thesis or Dissertation Work:
When adding information about your thesis or dissertation, include the study topic, title, a brief summary, and the name of your advisor.
If your dissertation is still in progress, or has not yet been approved, include it in the research section rather than the education section. Additionally, list any other research projects or work you’ve done. Include the dates of the project, a brief description, your role, and any significant findings.
- Work Experience:
In this section, list your work experience in reverse chronological order. It might be a single section or broken into sub-sections including employment, research, and/or teaching experience.
- Honors and Awards:
Specific honors or awards should be called out prominently.
List any career skills you’ve developed over the years that are relevant to your experience and expertise.
List any publications or presentations you’ve written or contributed to.
- Additional sections:
Added sections include professional affiliations, volunteer work, or licenses/certifications.
Review: Traditional Resume Versus CV
- There are two key differences between a traditional resume and a CV: purpose and length.
- The purpose of a traditional resume is to act as sales points for a single position, where the CV is more of a career biography.
- A resume is generally 1-2 pages; a CV can be up to 5-6 pages.
- Summary: the resume is a short, targeted summary of your skills and achievements, where the CV is a full record of your career and academic achievements.
When to Choose a CV
When should you choose a CV over a resume? It depends on your chosen field and what you want to convey to an employer.
In general, a CV is more common in certain fields such as academia, the medical arts, and positions that may require a more in-depth view of an applicant’s specific experience and training.
However, there are always exceptions. By educating yourself on the position offered and understanding the different types of resumes and CVs, you can make the best selection for your unique situation.
Often, a resume is the simplest way to apply for a job. However, just as there are many different types of people and jobs, there are multiple types of resumes.
The Three Types of Resumes
The type of resume you use will depend on the job and your level of experience and skill. These are the three main types of resumes:
- Chronological Resume Format:
This is the classic format that most people think of when they think of a resume. Its primary focus is work experience, listing jobs from most recent to oldest. Job-specific and soft skills come next, along with education and other applicable sections
- Functional Resume Format:
The functional resume format is less common than the chronological format. It focuses on relevant job skills rather than experience. Usually, this resume format is chosen because of a lack of experience or relevant experience for the position. The functional format can help make a case for your preparedness for a job by showing your transferable skills and relevant qualifications.
- Combination Resume Format:
Also called hybrid, this format includes a little bit of both aforementioned resume formats, placing approximately equal importance on both skills and work experience. Usually, you’ll list skills first, then work experience. This format is useful when you want to show that you have been employed, but may be changing career paths and want to emphasize your skills over the jobs you’ve worked in the past.
CV vs Resume: Geographical Considerations
Your geographical location also plays a factor in whether you choose to use a CV or resume.
In general, a resume is the standard mode of applying for a job in the US or Canada. This isn’t the case globally, however. In many countries, the CV format is standard. In Europe, there’s even a standardized European Union CV sample format. In Australia and South Africa, both CVs and resumes are used, and sometimes treated interchangeably. Adding to the confusion, sometimes the document is even referred to as a CV resume, or a resume is called a CV.
In general, you should adhere to local customs where you’re applying for a job. For example, if you’re an American citizen applying for a job in Europe, even though you might be accustomed to resumes, it’s most likely the professional choice to send a CV because that’s what employers are used to seeing. Seek clarification on the terms, as well, by asking precisely what is meant by “CV” or “resume” in the job ad or description.
When Should You use a CV in the US?
The resume format for professionals is more common in the USA, but there are certain exceptions.
Typically, a CV is preferred in the US when the position calls for a greater degree of expertise or specific training. Some examples where the curriculum vitae might be preferred include academic positions, medical positions, and certain creative positions such as writers, actors, and visual artists.
When in doubt, do some research on the field, or even reach out to an HR professional to inquire about their preferred format.
CVs for Academic Roles
In some cases, a CV is the right choice, even in the US where resumes tend to rule. While we’ll go into the basics of writing a CV in a little bit, for now, let’s look at some examples of situations where CVs might be appropriate for certain job roles.
If you’ve chosen to go into academia, it’s important to have and maintain a CV throughout the course of your career. A CV may be requested when applying for grants and fellowships, entry to conferences, and can help you secure publishing opportunities.
Here are some specific things to consider including in a CV for academic positions:
- Thesis / dissertation work: Since your thesis / dissertation work is often the first significant work that you’ve done in your field, it should be mentioned in your CV. If it’s completed and approved, it goes in the education section. If still in progress, it belongs under the research section.
- Academic work experience: Academic employment is important to include on your CV. Be sure to include teaching experience, research experience, and any other work that you’ve done within your field. List this in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent/highest degree attained and working back from there.
- Publications: “Publish or perish” is the battle cry of staying relevant in academia, so be sure to include a list of your published works, including books, articles, presentations, and other publications you’ve contributed to in some way.
- Honors and awards: Any specific honors or awards should be called out prominently in an academic CV. This includes grants and/or fellowships.
- Conferences: Conferences are big in academia, so be sure to include your experience on your CV. Include the name of your paper/presentation as well as the institution, city, and the date of your presentation. Use the APA format for these citations.
CVs for Medical Positions
CVs are common for medical professions. While you may need a resume to apply for certain jobs, other positions may require a more comprehensive overview of your experience and skill set that comes with a CV. Additionally, applying for research grants and fellowships will likely require the submission of a CV.
Specific things to consider including in a CV for medical positions:
- Medical work experience:
Include all relevant medical work experience, including employment, research positions, teaching experience, and field work.
- Technology skills:
In the medical field, more and more workplaces are going high-tech for routine tasks and job responsibilities like prescribing drugs. Emphasizing your computer skills and capabilities can work to your advantage in this field.
This section is perhaps most prominent with an academic CV, but it’s still relevant to medical CVs too. It includes presentations, articles, and publications to which you’ve contributed.
- Honors and awards:
Mention any specific honors or awards that you’ve received within your field.
CVs for Creatives
As it turns out, the best creative resume format might actually be a CV.
For certain creative positions, a CV acts as a working biography. It gives context and a “backstory” to your work, and helps showcase your evolution as a creator.
A CV may be necessary when seeking out opportunities such as artist grants or residencies, gallery shows, and may prove useful if pursuing speaking / lecture positions.
Below, you’ll find some specifics for creatives to consider including in their CV. Depending on your level of experience, you can add applicable sections as individual headings, or combine similar headings to create more robust sections (for instance, “Exhibitions and Commissions”).
For visual artists, be sure to include a list of exhibitions, including solo shows, group shows, and collaborative projects.
Creatives such as visual artists or writers should make note of any prominent publications featuring their work, as well as any articles or other papers they have written or contributed to.
- Awards, grants, and fellowships:
Include awards, recognitions, and other honors. If you were chosen for an artist residency, be sure to include that information.
Any notable commissions or projects should be included.
- Lectures/speaking experience:
Were you chosen to do a TED Talk? Include any speaking experiences, presentations, performance, or lectures.
How to Write a CV
Once you’ve determined that you need a CV, where should you start? Below is an explanation of each key portion of a CV and tips for formatting each section:
- Basic information:
You could consider this the header for your CV. It should include your name, professional title (if applicable), and contact information.
Include your phone number, email address, city, state, and zip code.Your geographical information can help if your CV is entered into a database or you’re listing it on a job board: you may be alerted of future opportunities based on your geographical vicinity.
This is a brief summary of your career and expertise. Keep it to a sentence or two, since you can explain this in greater detail in your cover letter.
- Education: The education section should be prominent and near the top. Include college and graduate studies, noting the name or names of schools, degree received, and dates attended.
- Thesis / dissertation work:
If you worked on a thesis or dissertation, be sure to add a brief description on your CV. Add the title, a short summary, and the name of your advisor.
- Work experience:
Relevant work experience should come next. You may have a single section, or it may be broken into different sections based on your history, including employment, research, and teaching experience.
This section will vary depending on your field. For example, a medical professional might have sub-headings for research work, clinical work, and teaching work. On the other hand, a creative’s CV would be more likely to include experiences such as solo gallery shows, curating, and commissions.
- Similar to a chronological resume, the work experience section in a CV should be listed in reverse chronological order, from most recent to oldest. Include the name of the company/location worked, a brief description of the duties involved, and the dates. Also, for each role, include a short sentence describing any highlights or achievements. A CV is more comprehensive than a resume, but it is still wise to highlight your accomplishments.
- Honors and awards:
Have you received any awards? For example, if your research paper won an award, make a note of it. This will help establish you as an achiever in your field. Note the name of the honor or award, where it was from, what it was for, and the date received.
Have you developed specific skills over the course of your career that set you apart? Here’s where you get to explain them in detail. Avoid generic soft skills, and focus on the unique, specific skills you have developed in your particular expertise.
A CV is most frequently required in fields that are associated with publishing, such as academia or medical professions.
You should devote a section of your CV to your published works, including works that you authored, co-authored, collaborated on, or contributed to in some way. Be sure to include pieces you’re working on currently.
List and format as you would a bibliography, following APA format. Include the title, publication date, information on the periodical, and any other contributors. Bold your name on projects with multiple collaborators.
Here are some additional sections that you may choose to include on your CV:
- Professional affiliations:
If you’re a member of any professional associations or groups, note this information, including your title or role if applicable.
If you’ve been on the lecture circuit, be sure to include key presentations that you’ve made, including the name of the conference or venue and dates.
- Volunteer work:
Work in the community can help set your CV apart, so be sure to list volunteer positions you’ve held, including the name of the association, your roles, and the dates you volunteered.
While not extremely common, some individuals choose to add hobbies or interests to give potential employers a bigger picture of their life experience.
If you have any licenses or certifications that are relevant to your field, include them in your CV. Include the license/certification number or title, date received, and where you received it.
Writing a CV: Tips and Review
- While certain sections are common on most CVs, you should tailor it to suit your field and strengths.
- Make your descriptions informative, but keep them as concise as possible. There’s no need to make a CV longer than necessary.
- Not sure about whether or not something is worth a spot on your CV? If you’re not sure, consider whether or not the information is relevant and/or could help secure you a spot on a residency, or make you a more compelling candidate for a grant. If so, consider how to include the information. If not, omit!
The One-Page Summary CV
The one-page summary CV is like the Reader’s Digest version of your CV. Not to be confused with a summary section in the CV, it’s a separate document where you briefly summarize the contents of the full document.
Why might it be requested? For ease of review. Since some positions receive a lot of applications, the one-page summary CV is an easy way for hiring managers to quickly review applicants to see if they might be a good fit.
The one-page summary CV should only include the information that is specifically appropriate for the job or position you’re applying for. This is your opportunity to spotlight specific experience and skills that the employer might like to see.
What to Include in a One-Page Summary CV
- Basic details:
Include your name, title, and how to get in contact with you.
Mention your education and highest degree attained.
List your work experience, including teaching, research, or other relevant experience.
List the skills that will bring value to the position being offered.
- Other sections:
Use your best judgment to include any other information that you believe will set you apart, such as artist residencies, select publications, or awards.
FAQs and Tips for CVs
Here are some common concerns and questions about CVs, including when to use them, and what to include and what to omit.
Are there ever instances in which you might need a CV AND resume? Yes. The resume is a brief, focused sales sheet where you can showcase your skills briefly. Often, it’s the gateway to getting your foot in the door for interviews for a job.
The CV, on the other hand, is a more comprehensive document. When applying for grants or research positions, a more in-depth look at your body of work might be required.
Here’s an example of why you might need both. If you’re a doctor, you may need a resume to apply for a specific job, but a CV may be required for additional trainings or grants that you’ll need to pursue to remain successful and relevant in the position.
Do you need to send a cover letter with your CV? Always go along with what the job posting requires. If the cover letter is optional, include it. Since your CV is a more static document than a resume, a cover letter can help you connect your life’s work to a particular position.
Not only is it good manners to offer an introduction in your cover or job letter, but it allows you to state your intentions for the specific position you’re applying for. Since the CV isn’t as specifically tailored to a single job, it allows you to explain yourself and make a case for why you’re the perfect fit.
What should you never include in a CV? Here are some things to avoid:
- Personal details:
In the US, there’s never a need to put your marital status, age, religious beliefs, or social security number.
- Career gaps:
If you took time off to raise a family or travel, there’s no need to call it out on your CV.
- Personal pronouns:
Avoid personal pronouns entirely. Your CV shouldn’t be in the first person nor should it be in the third person. It is assumed that all of the experience is yours.
- Salary information:
There’s no need to include your salary history on your CV. The CV is meant to showcase your skills and experience; salaries can be discussed later. The only appropriate place to list salary requirements would be on a cover letter, and then only if you are required to do so.
- Why you left jobs:
You don’t need to explain the reasons why you left certain positions. It’s generally seen as inevitable that there will be transitions within a career, and if an explanation is needed, you can do that in an interview.
- Why you want the job:
Nope. Include this information in your cover letter, or explain it in person.
How often should you update your CV? Your CV is like your living biography; as you transition and gain more experience, it will require updates. Even if you are not actively seeking new positions, take the time to update your CV quarterly or yearly. It’s much easier to update a CV regularly, when your experiences and achievements are fresh.
Final Tips for Writing a CV
- Keep your formatting clean.
Since the CV is a longer document, you want it to be clean and easily readable. Choose a simple typeface and clean, easy to read format.
- Keep it short.
The CV is a longer document than a resume, but there’s no need to make it longer than necessary. Keep descriptions brief and avoid being overly wordy.
- Avoid irrelevant content.
While the CV is a comprehensive overview of your career, there are some things that don’t warrant a place. For instance, the stint of waiting tables that you did for a year after college probably doesn’t need to be mentioned on your CV.
- When in doubt, ask.
If you’re uncertain of whether a CV or resume is appropriate to send for a job application, ask the HR manager which they prefer.
The Final Word on CVs VS Resumes
While a CV and a resume both share the ultimate goal of getting you hired, they both go about it differently. Where a resume is more like a one-page sales sheet, the CV offers a more comprehensive overview of your entire career.
Which one you choose to use will depend on your experience and the types of jobs you’re applying for. By educating yourself on how to craft both a resume and CV, you’ll be prepared to take advantage of a variety of different career opportunities.