Here’s How to Decide When to Use a CV versus a Resume

Resumes and CVs — what’s the difference? What industries use them, what’s inside of them, and more.

Ryan Morrisby Ryan MorrisGuides - 9 months ago

cv vs resume

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 a teacher. 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?

“And moreover, who am I? Where are we? Whose desk is this?”

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Who uses it?

  • Academics
  • Lawyers
  • High Level Executives
  • Scientists or Researchers
  • Europeans

You actually need a CV just to look at this picture.

What’s on it?

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

  • Awards
  • Publications
  • Certifications, or memberships with professional organizations
  • Extracurriculars (interests, hobbies, travel abroad experiences, etc.)
  • Continuing education or professional development
  • Letters of recommendation (but NOT references)

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.

“Might as well throw all these weird charts on my CV too.”

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 of “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 relevant or not.

Resume

Who uses it?

In addition to proving that they’re American, the owner of this hand is also showing you exactly how many seconds they’re going to spend reading your resume.

What’s on it?

  • Contact Information
  • Summary/Statement of Purpose
  • Work Experience
  • Education
  • Skills/Additional Experience
  • References

Why use a resume?

Resumes may not be long, but they are surgical.

Ironically, this is a job where you’d most likely have a CV.

The perfect length of a resume is still subject to some debate, but the common wisdom is that they’re anywhere between one to two pages long depending on your experience within a certain industry. This is a far cry from the CV, which can be six pages or more 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.

So What’s the Big Difference?

Attention spans aren’t really the strong suit of most Americans. The average interviewer 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. At the same time, though, you’re bound by professionalism — while the average hiring manager wants a resume to stand out to them, it can’t do so by being wacky or colorful.

As a result, resumes need to be short — the standard resume is around two pages long, and one page is preferable. 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.

Just imagine the size of this man’s CV.

Here’s another important difference — since the 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.

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.

However, that may not always be the case. Nontraditional resumes are on the rise, particularly in the tech sector, and people have taken to some pretty interesting formats in order to get their work experience across to people. Video resumes and even Vine resumes (before Vine went under) have been used successfully to get jobs.

And visual representations of resumes such as Visual CVs or Prezi resumes (also annoyingly called “Prezumes”) have made it more and more practical and appealing for a prospective employee to include as much information about themselves as they can. With visual resumes, there’s not as much stress for it to conform to the conventions of resumes or CVs. It’s riskier, for sure, but less and less so by each passing year, and the benefits include a lot of freedom to show new employers who you really are.

It might go even further than all that — as this article from Tech Crunch describes, the start-up industry is getting to a place where start-ups themselves are beginning to serve as resumes for their creators and early contributors, who often use the start-ups themselves as proof to larger businesses of their ability to understand and contribute to an industry.

If you think about it, the sea itself is sort of a resume. The Big Red Bridge is a resume. I’m a resume.

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. Unless, for whatever dumb individual reason, it’s not.

The job market is a magical place.

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