Have you ever seen the term CV listed on a job posting or career website and wondered what it means—and, more importantly—if you need to have one?

CV stands for curriculum vitae, and while it’s similar to a resume, it’s not the same. We talked to Capella career counselor Sue Fransen Way, PhD, to compare the two documents.

When to Use a CV or Resume

Usually an employer will state explicitly whether a CV or a resume is needed. In general, you would use them in the following situations:

  • CV: A CV is typically required when applying for international, academic, scientific, or research positions. For example, many teaching positions in higher education will require a CV to highlight academic experience.
  • Resume: A resume is the preferred format to apply for most jobs in the U.S. and Canada. Unless the application instructions specifically ask for a CV, you’ll need an updated resume for your job search.

Purpose of a CV and Resume

  • CV: Curriculum vitae is Latin for course of life, which aptly describes its purpose in the job market. Think of a CV as your professional and educational journey. It is a detailed chronological story that tells employers about the knowledge, experience, and accomplishments that made you, with a heavy focus on academics.
  • Resume: A resume is a concise document focused primarily on relevant work experience gained from previous jobs. Think of it as your professional marketing flyer. Its main purpose is to grab the attention of a hiring manager or human resource professional so that you are considered for an interview. It should be easily scannable and include details that set you apart from the competition.

Content and Order of a CV

The content of your CV should appear in reverse-chronological order by section, starting with education and academic achievements followed by professional experience. Group this information into categories with subheads for easy reading.

Categories, in order of appearance:

  • Name and contact information
  • Education (degrees held, where they were earned, plus a summary of your academic background – a much more detailed account than what you would include on a resume, including your areas of focus and academic achievements)
  • Teaching experience
  • Research experience
  • Work experience (relevant work-related skills and accomplishments for each position)
  • Accomplishments (with sections for publications, presentations, awards, honors, affiliations, etc., as needed)

Content and Order of a Resume

The content of your resume should appear in reverse-chronological order, starting with your most recent position followed by past jobs held. Usually education and achievements are last, but if you’re new to the field you might want to list your education first. Keep in mind that you don’t have to include all of your experience, just what’s relevant to the job or career path you seek.

Sections your resume should include, in order:

  • Name and contact information
  • Optional short summary paragraph
  • Work experience (where and when you worked and relevant work-related skills and accomplishments for each position)
  • Education (where you studied and degrees earned)
  • Optional sections (e.g. certifications/licenses, military experience, volunteer experience)

Length of a CV vs. a Resume

  • CV: Since a CV is a comprehensive chronical of your professional life, it is usually at least two pages long, and often more. There’s no limit to the length – you will want to make the document as long as it needs to be to capture your full education and career experience.
  • Resume: A resume is a one or two-page document, depending on the amount of relevant work experience you have.

Customizing a CV or Resume

Both CVs and resumes should be accurate representations of your experience and education.

You can customize either document based on where you are applying, what you know about the position, and/or relevant keywords and phrases from the job description.

To summarize, the main differences between a CV and a resume are:

  • Usage/purpose
  • Contents (topics, level of detail, organization)
  • Length

A good way to remember the difference is to think of a CV as your professional and academic biography, whereas your resume is the CliffsNotes summary of your skills and achievements.

Need help developing your CV or resume? Capella University students and alumni enjoy free, lifetime access to the Capella Career Center for career planning and advice.

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