Do You Know The Difference Between a CV and Résumé?

As you can imagine, in my line of work, the topic of résumés comes up quite often. This makes sense because résumés have been a standard part of the job search process for a long time.

There has always been a need to document one’s work history and accomplishments. Often, we call this a résumé, but sometimes people call it a curriculum vitae or CV.  Among all the questions I receive on this topic, there is one that comes up again and again. “What is the difference between a résumé and a CV?”  My quick answer is that a résumé is much shorter and more strategic than a CV. My longer answer follows below.

Ideally, a résumé is a marketing document written for a specific opening. You may have a general version that you use as a template, but you should be tailoring your résumé for each unique circumstance, utilizing keywords gathered about the job. You are not necessarily listing everything that you have ever done on your résumé! You need to focus on the key points that demonstrate you are a good fit. If there are things in your background that have no relevance to a certain opportunity, you may decide to leave them off.

On the other hand, a CV is a historical account of your career. Curriculum vitae is a Latin phrase meaning “course of life” and it is commonly referred to by the shortened acronym of CV.  A CV is a long document with many details related to someone’s entire career. It might be 10-15 pages long, including a comprehensive list of responsibilities and qualifications. It might include the name of a supervisor and the street address of an employer. Sometimes it includes personal information such as familial status, date of birth, or a headshot. Generally, I don’t recommend sharing this type of personal information with employers, but these things are often expected on a CV.

Most professionals in the United States will not need a CV because they are used in very specific situations. First, CVs are common to certain geographic areas, such as European countries. Second, they are used in a limited number of industries, such as academia. Therefore, if you are not looking for work outside of the US and you are not focused on teaching in higher education, you may never need a CV in your lifetime.

For most of us, the résumé is going to be the document we will prepare to position ourselves for a specific job opportunity. The advantage of a résumé over a CV is that is it targeted to share only the information necessary to prove one is capable for a specific job opening. This is on purpose so that the reader will not have to read through many pages of someone’s entire work history to understand why he/she/they might be a good fit for the job.

There is much debate on the length of a résumé, so let me dive into this for a minute. Some career professionals insist on a one-page résumé. I do not. If you can fit everything necessary in one page, kudos to you. This might be possible for someone with less work experience, such as a recent college graduate, or for someone who has stayed in one field their whole career. However, if someone with a long and varied work history tries to fit it all on one page, it usually doesn’t work well. Often, in trying to limit oneself to one page, the information becomes so watered-down that it is not obvious what value the person brings to the role. For most professionals, a two-page résumé is ideal. Three pages is acceptable, but you don’t want to make it longer than that. The longer the résumé, the less likely it will all be read.

I know it can be hard to create a two-page résumé, especially if you have had a long and distinguished career path. When trying to decide what to include in a résumé, constantly ask yourself “Is this information helping or hurting my candidacy?” As a simple example, should you include your current location? The answer depends on your situation.  If you are applying for a job near your current location, showing you are local can be to your advantage. It might imply that you know the area well, that you have an established network, and that the hiring process could go fast. On the other hand, if you are applying for a job far away from your current location, you may not want to share your locality on the top of your résumé. Sharing your whereabouts may make the employer wonder how easy it would be for you to move and therefore, you might look like a less appealing candidate.

You could use the same logic to decide if you should include the location of past employers.  If you are trying to show you can work in and adapt to multi-cultural environments, sharing that you have worked in various locations around the world would help make your case. However, if you are trying to show that you are very knowledgeable about a certain geographic location, showing you have worked for different employers in that same location might be advantageous. In other cases, the location of past employers is not adding any value to your marketability at all. In those situations, you can decide to leave that information off your résumé.

Now that you know the difference between a CV and a résumé, you should be able to choose the right document to submit when applying for future opportunities. If an employer uses the word interchangeably, confirm that it’s a résumé they want. Usually, if they want a CV, they will state it in the job posting. When in doubt, assume that the employer is seeking a résumé.