College, medical school, residency, fellowship, first job, career changes, promotions—the list of instances when you have needed or will need a detailed record of your credentials and accomplishments could go on. The process of pursuing and getting the position you want inevitably involves a resume or a CV. Yet the distinctions between these two documents often remains unclear. All of a sudden, applications no longer mention a resume but ask for your CV instead.
The first time you encounter the switch, it is tempting to simply rename your file. But understanding the differences and knowing how to create and maintain each document can help you avoid substantial extra work and set you up for success in your next application.
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How is a CV different from a resume?
A CV, an abbreviation for the Latin phrase curriculum vitae, is literally the “course of one’s life.” As such it can include a lengthy description of your education, experiences, and accomplishments. As life progresses, new items are added to a CV but nothing needs to be removed. This is in contrast to a resume (from the French résumé or summary), which is a shorter summation tailored to its recipient.
The effect of this difference is easy to see. A resume should be 1 page while a CV will grow as your career grows. It is important to be cognizant of this formatting difference and ask for clarification if you are unsure about an application’s expectations.
Further, a resume includes and highlights your background that is relevant to the position. A resume for a job that involves extensive travel and frequent public speaking would list your applicable experiences first and highlight skills and accomplishments that relate directly. But the same applicant would submit a very different resume if the position was looking for someone with pediatric experience. This aspect of a resume means that each one you send out might be slightly different. Intentionally adjusting your resume should be part of your application process.
In contrast, you only ever add to a CV. The document might be different from one application cycle to the next, but only because your background and accomplishments have grown. For your CV, more time is spent maintaining your record of positions, awards, and publications outside of an application process. This keeps items from being unintentionally left off and makes submitting a CV for licensure or to accompany a presentation straightforward.
Should I use a CV or a resume?
In many cases, whether you are asked to send a CV or resume depends on the field. Academic positions, research roles, and medical jobs often ask for CVs. In addition to basic background information, like your name, contact information, and post-secondary education, a CV will often include prior research, teaching experience, publications, presentations, fellowships, professional associations, and awards. Each of these items is added over time and are listed within categories in reverse chronological order.
A resume will include many similar items (name, contact information, education), but will often list work experience as the first category before including other relevant background information. This ensures that the most salient strengths are not buried by other details.
Regardless of whether you need to provide a CV or resume, there are some fundamental tips to ensure that you get a fair and thorough evaluation.
Use a correct and common format.
Whether you're writing a CV or a resume, make sure to keep it clear and visually appealing. You can use a downloadable template (like this one!), or simply make sure to use a clear and readable font.
Check for errors in spelling and grammar.
These are easy mistakes to make and can unfortunately obscure your excellent qualifications.
Keep it up to date.
Do not wait until you need the document to try and remember your accomplishments.
Keep an up to date list of relevant items in your CV.
This makes sure that this document is complete and will make assembling a resume much easier.