What Is A CV? Examples And Definition Of Curriculum Vitae

By Chris Kolmar - Sep. 8, 2020

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Keywords: cover letter, work experience, curriculum-vitae, qualifications, CVs, recruiter, accomplishments, professional cv, easy to read, cv format, bullet-point, writing a cv, hobbies, career change, applying for a job, proofread, looking for a job

Diving into the workforce for the first time, searching for a new job after being laid off, looking for a little extra income — all of these situations can send you running to the computer to try to figure out how to get hired. You know you need a resume. You’re not sure if people read cover letters anymore, but you’ve heard you need one of those even if they don’t read it. Now you’re hearing about something called a professional CV — what is that and do you need one?

What is a CV?

A CV stands for curriculum vitae, which is a Latin expression that roughly translates to the course of my life. Many people get confused because they think the term curriculum is related to your education, but a CV is so much more than just an explanation of your education, which we’ll discuss later.

If the idea of something that chronicles the “course of your life” seems a bit exhaustive and probably too extensive for your professional objectives, then you’re most likely from the United States or you don’t need one in your job hunt.

Who Needs a CV?

In the United States, Americans prefer things short, succinct, and to the point — usually. Most American resumes reflect this attitude and that’s what employers want and are looking for. You’ve probably heard that your resume should only be one page long. That wisdom is changing a little bit as people tend to have more job experience, related coursework, and certification now. It’s not uncommon to see even Americans crafting resumes that are two pages long, but rarely do they go longer.

That’s a lot of information about resumes, but what about the CV? If you’re not living in the United States or looking for a job in the United States you may discover that employers don’t even ask for a resume, they go right to the CV. That means that if your dream is to work in Europe, New Zealand, the UK, Germany, France, etc. they’re going to expect you to present a CV.

That doesn’t mean you’re free and clear of the CV if you’re in the United States though. Higher level technical, scientific, and academic careers in the United States also may require a CV. Once you learn a little more about them, you might find that it fits your career situation better than a resume and make the switch. Let’s talk about the differences so you can decide if a resume or a CV is best for you.

How Is a CV Different from a Resume?

We’ve already discussed the length of a resume, it’s a brief overview of your professional and educational experience. We’re spending quite a lot of time talking about the length of the document because that’s a key part. A resume is brief, a CV is extensive, and it can seem exhaustive. That’s where the main difference lies. A curriculum vitae is designed to be much more thorough. It’s not so much an appetizer for your prospective new employer so much as a seven-course meal, complete with dessert that’s meant to give potential employers a deep look into everything you’ve done and then some.

If we break it down by the common elements, a resume and a CV both include the following:

  1. Your Contact Information

    Job type you want
    Full Time
    Part Time
  2. Work Experience

  3. Education

  4. Skills/Certification/Additional Training

At this point you’d typically wrap up your resume, maybe throw in the contact information for a few job references and that’s it. Seal it with a kiss and send it on its way.

If you’re writing a CV you’ve still got a lot of work to do because you’re going to need to include the following information, too:

  • Awards

  • Publications

  • Certifications

  • Membership in Professional Organizations

  • Continuing Education

  • Extracurricular Activities (interests, hobbies, travel experience)

  • Letters of Recommendation

Wow — right? The CV is more extensive, but it doesn’t include references and it includes extracurriculars, which people in the United States have left off their resume for a long time now.

You can see now why a curriculum vitae is used in the U.S. for more specialized and higher-level positions. It gives employers that intimate view of who the candidate is as a person, where you don’t need to be that thoroughly investigated to work at your local burger joint, or most other jobs for that matter.

There’s probably one big question you have right now – how long is a CV? Well, it certainly isn’t the one or two pages that a resume is but there’s no set limit or requirements for a CV length. Typically, they run in the range of three to five pages. You’re not meant to bowl them over with the sheer length of your CV, but if you legitimately have enough experience to fill a longer CV, then a longer one you shall write.

How Is a CV Formatted?

If you think a CV is the right approach for you, then you not only need to fill it with wonderful things that highlight you as a professional, you need to make it look sharp and professional. Beyond that, there’s no set format.

CVs are not like resumes where employers expect to be able to glance at them and instantly spot the differences. Okay, let’s be honest here, employers actually don’t scan your resume too much anymore, it’s automated and computer programs do the scanning to come up with some highlights that are collated for the hiring professional to review.

Your CV is sort of like a professional autobiography and it needs to have its own highlights, features, and interesting sections that captures the job recruiter’s attention and makes them want to keep reading. While this varies by individual and often by the particular job they are seeking to get, the following tips can help you format a CV.

  1. Easy to read. Font,margins, white space — all of those things are important and should be considered when you create a document you expect someone to be comfortable reading.

  2. Job essentials. If you’re applying for an academic job, then your education will probably be most essential. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a job as a research scientist, you’ll slide your education further down and bring your research experience to the top of your CV. This is where you might need a couple versions of your CV, depending on the position you want.

  3. Parallel construction. If you’re using bullet-points in one area, full sentences in another, and then abbreviated sentences in another you’re going to drive the reader a little nuts. Stick to one type of construction and follow that throughout.

  4. Individualism. The main goal of a CV is to make you stand out and be more impressive than other candidates. Do this by showing off your accomplishments and making a CV that is more amazing than any others. By the way, charts and graphs and sometimes pictures can be a part of an awesome CV.

What Should I Include in a CV?

Suddenly you’re thinking we threw you for a loop. Wait?! We’re supposed to put pictures and other visual elements in our curriculum-vitae? The answer is — maybe. It all depends on the position you’re applying for and how relevant this data is to your experience. If you’ve gone to another country and helped establish a new school and boosted enrollment while serving as Principal, then a photo of that school isn’t out of context at all. You get the idea, if the graphic elements relate to the position and further illustrate your point while also creating visual intrigue, then by all means add them to the CV.

What else do you need in a great CV? Use the following as a checklist to help you get started. You can add and subtract some of the elements or move them around if they don’t reflect your experience adequately.

  • Contact information

  • Work experience

  • Education

  • Skills

  • Professional certifications

  • Additional training or continuing education

  • Awards or significant recognition

  • Publications

  • Membership in professional organizations

  • Extracurricular activities

  • Letters of recommendation

  • Common CV Pitfalls

Resumes and CVs are different, but similar. This means they also share some common mistakes but there are other pitfalls in CVs too. Shared mistakes include:

  • Spelling and grammar errors

  • Not tailoring it to the job

  • Using a generic template that’s not customized

  • Not highlighting your individual skills/talents/accomplishments

  • Writing in passive voice

  • Poor visual layout

Now let’s look at some common CV mistakes. Remember a CV is much longer so it’s going to give you more opportunities to make a mistake.

  • Focusing on duties

  • Using clichés

  • Not addressing employment gaps or career changes

  • Lying or exaggerating so much it’s unbelievable

  • Lack of substantiating evidence

  • Not having an outside proofreader review it

No matter which one you choose to represent you when you’re applying for a job, it’s important to remember that you’re responsible for creating interest in your skills, qualifications, experience, and education. No matter what the job is and good luck job hunting!

Never miss an opportunity that’s right for you.
Chris Kolmar


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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