CV vs. Resume: The Difference, Definitions, & When to Use Which

What is a CV? What is a resume? Which one to use when applying for jobs? What’s the difference between the US academic CV and resume? Check our guide out.

Michael Tomaszewski, CPRW
Michael Tomaszewski, CPRW
CV vs. Resume: The Difference, Definitions, & When to Use Which

Is there a difference between a CV and a resume?

 

Why some candidates apply with a CV, and others submit a resume?

 

Is any of these two documents better than the other?

 

It all gets confusing, that’s true. I’m here to clear out the CV vs. resume difference once and for all.

 

This guide will show you:

  • CV (Curriculum Vitae) vs. resume: the difference between the two in the US.
  • What is a CV, what is a resume, and what to include in each.
  • What CV means in non-US countries.
  • What other documents you are likely to be asked for when applying for jobs.

 

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1. What Is a CV (or Curriculum Vitae)?

 

Let’s begin with an American CV definition.

 

What is a CV?

 

A CV (short for curriculum vitae) is a detailed document describing the whole course of your career: your education, professional experience, and academic achievements. In the US and Canada, a CV is used in academia: to apply for grad school, senior academic positions, grants, scholarships, or fellowships. When you hear someone talking about an “academic resume,” what they mean is the US CV.

 

What does “CV” stand for?

 

Latin “Curriculum Vitae” means “course of life.” As you’ve just learned, the CV meaning in the US is very close to the Latin original: a description of just that—in full detail.

 

What to include in a CV?

 

Depending on the scope of your experience, you’ll want to include some (or all) of the following sections in your CV:

 

1. Contact Information

2. Research Objective or Personal Statement

3. Education

4. Professional Academic Appointments

5. Peer-Reviewed Publications

6. Awards and Honors

7. Grants and Fellowships

8. Conferences

9. Teaching Experience

10. Research Experience / Lab Experience

11. Non-Academic Activities

12. Other Publications

13. Languages and Skills

14. References

 

How long should a CV be?

 

As long as it needs to. For American academic CVs, there’s no standard page-count limit.

 

2. What Is a Resume?

 

For comparison, let’s see a US resume definition.

 

What is a resume?

 

A resume is a document you use to apply for jobs in the US and Canada. It’s a brief overview of your work history and achievements relevant to the position you’re applying for. Typically, a resume should not be longer than 2 pages.

 

The word comes from French “résumé,” meaning “to sum up.”

 

What’s the correct resume spelling?

 

Both “résumé” and “resume” are correct, although the latter is becoming more popular lately.

 

What to include in a resume?

 

In the American work resume, include the following sections:

 

1. Contact Information

2. Resume Summary or Objective

3. Work Experience

4. Education

5. Skills

6. Additional Sections (Awards, Publications, Certifications, Conferences, Volunteer Experience, or Hobbies and Interests)

  

3. CV vs. Resume: The Difference Between a CV and a Resume Explained

 

Time for a quick recap.

 

Here’s a handy table outlining all the CV/resume differences from a North American perspective.

 

CV vs. Resume

CV

Resume

No length limit

1- to 2-page

Focuses on education and academic achievements

Focuses on relevant work experience and skills

Used in academia to apply for fellowships, grants, or graduate programs

Used to apply for all non-academic jobs

Detailed and elaborate: a comprehensive outline of your career

Brief and relevant: its purpose is to show you’re a good fit for a particular job

No bullet points, only plain paragraphs

Skills and professional experience outlined in bullet points

What about other countries then?

 

What does CV mean in other countries?

 

In the UK, Ireland, other European countries, and New Zealand, a CV is an equivalent of the American resume. It’s a short document used to apply for regular, non-academic jobs.

 

In Australia and South Africa, CV and resume are synonymous and used interchangeably.

 

So, if you’re not targeting a post in the US or Canada, is CV a resume, basically?

 

Yes, pretty much so.

 

There are only minor country-specific differences between an American resume and a non-North American CV.

 

For instance, on the UK CV, it’s recommended to write in the first person. In the US and Canada, it’s less common to do so on resumes (but becoming more and more acceptable nonetheless!).

 

Another thing is the use of photographs on CVs. In some countries, such as Germany, Poland, or Portugal, employers might still expect your headshot on a CV.

 

In the UK or the US, a picture on resume or CV will actually hamper your chances of landing the job.

 

Plus, when it comes to printing, the A4 paper is commonly used in Europe, whereas in the US it’s the letter paper.

 

In South Asia, job seekers might need to use a slightly different document: a biodata.

 

A biodata (short for “biographical data”) covers more personal information such as date of birth, gender, religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, marital status, and current salary. It’s commonly used in India and Bangladesh in place of a CV or resume.

 

4. Resume/CV: When to Use Which?

 

If you’re based in the US or Canada:

Use a CV only to apply for academic posts, graduate programs, fellowships, or grants.

Eying a non-academic gig? Submit a resume and a cover letter.

 

Applying for a job in the UK, Ireland, another European country, or New Zealand?

 

You’ll be asked to submit a CV—but bear in mind that its format is almost identical to the American resume format.

 

Make sure to check region-specific CV requirements: the devil is in the detail, and various job markets around the world might have their tiny peculiarities.

 

In Australia and South Africa—

 

CV and resume are synonymous. Both refer to a short, targeted document centered around your most relevant qualifications.

 

Seeking a post in South Asia?

 

You’ll most likely need to write a biodata—a document similar to the US resume or the European CV but focused more on personal information.

 

Key Points

 

Here are the most important items to remember regarding the CV vs. resume difference:

  • In North America, a CV is a longer, more detailed document used for applying for academic posts. A resume is brief and targeted: you submit it for non-academic jobs.
  • In the UK, Ireland, the rest of Europe, and New Zealand, a CV is basically the same thing as the American resume: a short outline of your work history and skills. The term “resume” is not used.
  • In South Africa and Australia, both terms—CV and resume—are used synonymously. There’s no difference between them.
  • In India and other South Asian countries, another document is commonly used to apply for jobs: a biodata. It contains more personal details such as race, religion, family origins, and ethnicity.

 

Is the difference between a resume and a CV still unclear? Unsure which one to pick? Drop me a line in the comments, I’ll do my best to straighten out your queries!

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Michael Tomaszewski, CPRW
Michael Tomaszewski, CPRW
Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Career Expert
Michael Tomaszewski is a resume expert and a career advice writer for ResumeLab. He is a certified professional resume writer (CPRW) and a member of the Professional Association of Résumé Writers & Career Coaches. Michael works with candidates across all career stages—from entry-level job seekers to executive coaches. His insights have been featured in CIO and Best Life Online. His mission is to help you tell the story behind your career and reinforce your professional brand by coaching you to create outstanding job application documents. More than one million readers read his career advice every month. For ResumeLab, Michael uses his connections to help you thrive in your career. From fellow career experts and insiders from all industries—LinkedIn strategists, communications consultants, scientists, entrepreneurs, digital nomads, or even FBI agents—to share their unique insights and help you make the most of your career. Michael has a degree in Liberal Arts and specializes in personal and professional storytelling.

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