Differences Between A CV Vs. A Resume

By Ryan Morris - Apr. 7, 2021

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If you’re over the age of fourteen or fifteen, odds are pretty good that you’ve had to apply for a job at least once in your life. And if you’ve applied for a job, it stands to reason that you’ve had to write at least one resume. Unless, of course, you’re an academic. Or a scientist. Or from Europe.

In those cases, you may have had to write what’s called a curriculum vitae, or a CV. For those from the U.S. — particularly those who aren’t part of academia — you might not be as familiar with the concept of a CV. But CVs still get plenty of use in the U.S. for certain industries, and it’s important to be able to distinguish one from the other.

The reason behind this is that a resume and a CV are not interchangeable. On the surface, they’re both trying to answer a hiring manager’s main questions for you, which are “Who are you, and why should I hire you?” But the resume and the CV each approach this question from very different perspectives, and they each serve a different purpose.

So let’s start with the basics: what purposes are they serving? What exactly is a resume, and what is CV?

What Is a Curriculum Vitae (CV)

A curriculum vitae, often abbreviated as CV, is a document that translates literally into “the course of your life.” As that translation implies, a CV is a comprehensive document that covers all of your life’s work. That means you make additions to your CV any time that you do something of note, professionally.

As you can imagine, this covers much more ground than your typical resume. Any time you publish something, earn a new certificate, or accomplish something particularly special, you add it to your CV’s appropriate section, in chronological order.

There’s no length limit on a CV as there typically is for resumes. However, since CVs necessarily cover everything you’ve ever done, your CV would certainly be longer than one page and could even approach 10 pages.

Who uses a CV?

Job type you want
Full Time
Part Time
Internship
Temporary
  • Academics

  • Lawyers

  • High level executives

  • Scientists or researchers

  • Europeans

What’s on a CV?

  • Contact information

  • Work experience

  • Education

  • Skills/additional experience

Then throw in literally everything you’ve ever done or accomplished, including:

Why Use a CV?

Your CV may not be very long when you’re first starting out, but after a few years in your industry, it’s sure to grow. As you publish articles, teach courses, close cases, gain certifications, or hit whatever other landmarks your industry has to mark progress, your CV will become longer and longer.

It’s a living testament to your professional accomplishments, and the longer it is, the better.

This can start to make it pretty unwieldy and tough to read as you move along in your industry, but that’s okay — it’s not meant to be necessarily digestible; it’s meant to be exhaustive.

After reading your CV, there should be no question about “what else you’ve done.” The CV is used when it’s important that a hiring manager knows everything that you’ve accomplished, whether it’s directly relevant or not.

What Is a Resume?

A resume is a short, easily digestible document that is used for applying to a particular job. In almost all cases, a resume should be a maximum of one page, although 1% of folks (executives, high-level managers with 15+ years experience, etc.) might opt for a two-page resume.

In contrast to a CV, a resume is highly customizable and you don’t necessarily add every new accomplishment, publication, or certificaiton to your resume.

Instead, a resume functions by giving the hiring manager or recruiter who reads it exactly what they need to know in the context of your job application. It answers the “who, what, where, when” of your relevant professional history in a quick, easy-to-read way (when done right).

Ideally, all of the information in your resume should relate directly to the job you’re applying for and, as such, you need to mirror the document to match the job description (while remaining truthful, of course). The most promising job candidates also typically submit a cover letter with their resume, which functions by contextualizing the resume’s bullet points and showcasing your unique personality and skill set.

Who uses a resume? 95%+ of job seekers in the U.S. should use a resume.

What’s on it?

Why Use a Resume?

Resumes may not be long, but they are surgical.

The perfect length of a resume is one page. This is a far cry from the CV, which can be up to ten pages depending on how much you’ve done.

But a resume isn’t meant to show everything you’ve done; it’s supposed to showcase what you’ve done that’s directly relevant. No more, no less.

This has its drawbacks — there’s not much room for unrelated items, even if they’d make you seem more impressive, and the lack of space can make it difficult to even fit in the essentials.

But that brevity also means that there’s a much greater chance that a hiring manager will see the relevant information that you have. They won’t have to wade through the book of your life to find your most relevant experience. They’ll only need to glance at the first page.

The Differences Between a CV vs. a Resume

Attention spans aren’t really the strong suit of most Americans. The average recruiter spends an average of six seconds looking at any given resume. You need a way to sell yourself to your employer, and quickly.

The art of a good resume is to find a way to accurately portray who you are to your employer, emphasizing your uniqueness, in a bite-size way that immediately grabs people’s attention.

In summary, here are the differences between a CV vs a resume:

  • Length. Resumes need to be short. the standard resume is around one page long. They need to be impressive and professional. But most of all, they need to be interesting within the bounds of a resume reader’s expectations.

    A reader should be impressed that you attended a certain art school, not by the fact that you got this information across by putting your resume in the form of an abstract painting.

    CVs, on the other hand, can often be much longer, and it’s encouraged that they are. A CV is more or less an itemized list of all of your accomplishments. As such, the longer the CV, the more impressive the person tends to be.

  • Customization. Since a CV is all-inclusive, it typically stays the same regardless of what position a person is applying for.

    The resume, on the other hand, is expected to have only the most relevant information. Failing to update your resume for each individual application can therefore be a major mistake, as the information relevant to one job opening may not be optimized for another, which can severely hurt your chances.

  • Popularity and purpose. In the U.S., the resume still reigns supreme. Resumes are used for just about every possible position you could hope to apply to, while CVs tend to be reserved for academic or scholarly positions — anything where having a lot of publications would actually be useful to you.

In conclusion: To any American readers wondering whether they should send a resume or a CV to their next big job opportunity, the answer is almost certainly a resume.

Never miss an opportunity that’s right for you.
Ryan Morris

Author

Ryan Morris

Ryan Morris was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog who tried to make the job process a little more entertaining for all those involved. He obtained his BA and Masters from Appalachian State University.

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