Difference between a curriculum vitae (CV) and a résumé

A common belief is that the difference between a curriculum vitae (CV) and a résumé (commonly written as resume) is that a CV is used in the UK while a resume is used in the US and occasionally elsewhere globally. That is true but there are differences between the two documents though it is important to stress that not all recruiters would agree – as with most things – that the differences are either fixed or always applicable. Broadly the distinctions are “fixed” but there is a degree of latitude in interpretation.

A resume is typically not more than a page long, and contains a summary of a person’s relevant job experience and education. A CV (Latin “course of life”) is a longer document, usually detailing important but relatively less relevant things – generally more detailed descriptions of education, publications, awards and other academic accomplishments.

Roughly – again, differences abound:

CV –

  • two pages or a little more
  • contents – name, contact information, education, work experience and relevant work-related skills
  • a summary of academic background as well as teaching and research experience, publications, presentations, awards and other details

Résumé –

  • one page, perhaps two
  • contents – name, contact information, education, work experience and relevant work-related skills; focus is on work experience, listed in reverse chronological order

In Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, employers expect a CV. In the U.S., a CV is used primarily when applying for academic, education, scientific or research positions.

When to use a CV vs. a resume:

In the U.S., a CV is used primarily when applying for international, academic, education, scientific or research positions or when applying for fellowships or grants. For most other jobs, a resume is the convention.

A CV describes or lists out all the details about your career. A résumé is a precis of your working life, presenting all the details which are required, usually for a specific job. A CV is comprehensive while a résumé is concise.

The CV emphasises academic details whilst a résumé is focused on non-academic details along with highlighting key skills and competencies, ideally to sell you for the particular job you are looking at.

A CV should really not be customised; it remains static, whereas a résumé is dynamic, and it changes according to the job: it is more job-specific.

The footnote, however, is that in many parts of the world the distinction is little known or used – people tend to refer to a CV or résumé based on where they live as opposed to its specific purpose. So, distinct yet often very similar or crossed-over. A little confusing but not something to be hugely worried about. HR departments will usually accept both types although most people tend to use the local version – not necessarily because it’s “more appropriate” but because it’s what they’re familiar with. It’s not that hard to convert one to another and most recruiters accept that, over the last, say, 15 years – and continuously – recruitment is so global (recruiters’ location and where candidates will go) that differences are perhaps not always crucial.

To complicate things a little further, there are differences beyond the US. A good example is the “Europass” format, used by a lot of recruiters in mainland Europe, never in the UK or elsewhere; and generally hated by those other than writers who specialise in them: they are notoriously difficult to format, very restrictive, and, crucially to some, very difficult to interpret unless they are all you use.

Nigel Benson (10 Posts)

Nigel Benson is a professional career sector specialist with over 12 years' experience writing executive level CVs and expertise in recruitment, job interviews and training.

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1 Comment

  1. Paul Hichens
    Thank you for this blog/article Nigel.
    I found it interesting, although I do have some observations.

    Firstly, we do work for clients from all around the world, and as you can imagine, they send us documents of all shapes, formats and sizes. Notably, sometimes we receive almost identical documents in terms of structure, layout and length from clients who refer to these similar looking documents using different terminology. Some use the term ‘CVs’ while others say ‘resumes.’

    While the term ‘resume’ may be more common in places such as the USA and India for example, and ‘CV’ more common in e.g. the UK and France it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone from the same place all use the same terminology for what sometimes is pretty much the same thing; because they don’t. In some places the terms ‘CV’ and ‘resume’ are fairly interchangeable. Moreover, even in countries where the terminology is highly predominant one way or another, it doesn’t necessarily mean that each document adheres to a particular set of rules associated with that term, as per Nigel’s examples; because that just isn’t always the case in reality.

    For example, while many US clients send us one page ‘resume’ documents that cover the things Nigel mentions, there are many US candidates who use longer ‘resumes’ in excess of this “one, page perhaps two” rather arbitrary classification. Indeed, sometimes it is well in excess of one or two pages, and with more information – sometimes including information for academic applications. Yes, some US academic clients do use the term ‘CV’, but some also say ‘resume’ when referring to very similar looking documents.

    Conversely, Nigel suggests that CVs consist of two or more pages. Again this is certainly not universal and many people these days, in the UK and from all around the world, are applying to jobs with a one page document that they refer to as their ‘CV’. And this trend for concise CVs is growing. Indeed, the publishers of my CV book identified and chose to capitalise on this trend, naming my book ‘The One Page CV.’

    At the other end of the scale some clients send us what they term ‘CVs’ that are far in excess of two pages. One medical consultant once sent me one that was over 50 pages for example. It’s certainly not true then that CVs have to be “two pages, or a little more” in length. On the contrary, many thousands of people all around the world who refer to their career document as a ‘CV’ apply for jobs with something both shorter and longer than this stated range. Of course it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are all good. And long CVs especially can be counterproductive as they are frequently seen as a deterrent to read, and can be the first for the in. Conversely, the best one page CVs are not just basic summaries, but go beyond the basics and say the same (or more) than typical 2 or 3 page CVs do – just more succinctly and more powerfully.

    There are other areas of Nigel’s article I agree with, such as his observation on the dreadful Europass CV, and other areas where I don’t, but the main one I have an issue with is this comment “A CV should really not be customised; it remains static.” Sorry Nigel, but as far as I’m concerned that’s pure madness! If anyone out there is applying for jobs with a static “CV” they should swap the terminology to a “dynamic resume” PDQ.

    …Well not the terminology as such, because if you get where I’m coming from in this CV versus resume debate, it’s just that – terminology. There are so many variations and exceptions to the so-called “rules” that to my mind there is no real definitive, real-world difference between a CV and a resume. They are different terms for the same thing; namely a document used for career/job application purposes. This common document just happens to differ depending upon each individual candidate’s own preferences, circumstances and target. Yes, different people call it different things. And yes, sometimes geography and regional custom plays a part in what the predominant local preference for the terminology is. Then again some people say toilet, others lavatory, others washroom, others restroom, others WC etc. You say ‘tomarto’. I say ‘tomayto’.

    If a spade is a spade then job/career documents are fuzzier around the edges, and a different animal. Really a CV/resume is more of a mongrel.

    Whatever you choose to call it you should find it gets better results if it is optimised to the job in question, written in a concise, relevant and highly proactive manner and viewed and treated as a dynamic document, rather than a static one.

    Some useful links:
    CV Tips (see tip 3 on dynamic CVs)
    Advice on CV length