What is a Curriculum Vitae (CV)? Definition, Meaning & Purpose

To land that dream job, you must submit the right recruitment documents. So, if the employer requires a CV rather than a CV, you’d better make sure you know what a CV is.

Maciej Duszyński
Career Expert
What is a Curriculum Vitae (CV)? Definition, Meaning & Purpose

There are three recruitment documents every job seeker should be familiar with:


A CV, a cover letter, and a CV.


While the first two are rather well known to most, the last one tends to be confusing. All the more so as it refers to something different in various countries.


Not to worry.


We’ll show you exactly what a CV is.


In this guide you’ll learn:

  • A comprehensive CV definition.
  • What a CV means in the US and elsewhere.
  • How a CV differs from a CV.


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1. What is a CV in the US?


Here’s a curriculum vitae definition:


The “CV” abbreviation stands for curriculum vitae which means “course of life” in Latin. In the US and Canada, a CV refers to a recruitment document detailing your academic and employment history, along with your skills and achievements.


In contrast to CVs, CVs can be very extensive and include detailed lists of your academic awards, grants, scholarships, publications, research projects, or coursework.


This is why a CV is a standard document when you’re pursuing a career in academia. Not so much so when seeking employment in a non-academic role.


A typical CV form can consist of such sections as:

  • Contact Information
  • Research Objective or Personal Profile
  • Education
  • Employment History
  • Publications
  • Awards and Honours
  • Grants and Fellowships
  • Conferences
  • Research Experience
  • References


If you’re looking for more detailed information, as well as CV examples and templates, head straight to our guide on how to make a US curriculum vitae for academic positions.


2. What is a CV in Europe and Elsewhere?


Here’s the thing—


The definition of a CV differs depending on geography.


As we’ve already established, in the US and Canada a CV means a recruitment document you’d normally use when applying for academic positions as well as grants, fellowships or scholarships.


The situation looks different in Europe and New Zealand, though.


In these regions, a curriculum vitae, or CV, refers to a document that’s very much like an American CV.


In other words:


In Europe and New Zealand, a CV is a document that briefly outlines your work experience, skills, education, and professional achievements, and you use it to apply for regular positions. 


So even though in these countries the word “CV” isn’t used at all—


A United Kingdom curriculum vitae will be very much like an American CV, both in terms of its function and form.


In fact—


You can learn the ins and outs of writing a job-winning CV from our dedicated guide.


In other anglophone countries such as South Africa and Australia, both terms CV and CV are used interchangeably to refer to a document similar to a US CV.

Expert Hint: Check out our collection of CV writing guides for 50+ professions. Each guide comes with a CV example and template you can copy and adjust for your needs. 

3. What Is the Difference Between a CV and CV?


Now, let’s go back to the US and have a look at how to distinguish a CV from a CV, and how not to confuse either with a cover letter:





Cover Letter


Usually 1-2 pages

No limits

1 page, 4 paragraphs, up to 350 words


Experience and skills

Education and academic achievements

Motivation behind applying for the post


Standard, non-academic positions

Academic positions, grants, fellowships, research programs, etc.

Complementary to a CV


Shows relevant experience that proves you fit the role

Offers a detailed account of your academic career

Introduces you to the recruiter, offers the whys and wherefores of your application


Bullet points arranged in sections

Paragraphs grouped in sections

Coherent and cohesive paragraphs, a letter format

As you can see, the CV and CV aren’t the same, and they also differ from a cover letter.


However, the table above only highlights the most prominent aspects of the three recruitment documents.


If you wish to learn more about the CV vs. Resume difference, we have a separate in-depth guide explaining each and every discrepancy.


If you decide you don’t need a CV as much as a CV, you can head straight to our guide on how to write a job-winning CV


And obviously—


To give your career a serious boost and improve your chances of landing a job make sure your cover letter is nothing short of riveting.


Key Points


Here’s all you need to know about what a CV is:

  • In the US and Canada, the term CV refers to a recruitment document that details your career with a strong focus on education. It’s used for applying for academic positions.
  • In Europe and New Zealand, a CV is synonymous with a US CV. It refers to a brief document summarising your relevant professional experience and skills.
  • In Australia and South Africa, both terms CV and CV are part of the vocabulary and each refers to a document resembling an American CV.
  • An American CV differs from a CV in many aspects: length, focus, or purpose to name but a few.


Do you have any other questions about what a CV is? Would you like to share your opinion on the subject? We’re always happy to hear from you. Give us a shout out in the comments below!

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Maciej Duszyński
Maciej Duszynski is a career advice writer and a resume expert at ResumeLab. With over 8 years of experience in recruitment, hiring, and training, Maciej shares insider HR knowledge to equip every job seeker with professional advice to nail the job hunt. His insights have been featured by the Chicago Tribune, SparkPeople, Toggl, Referral Rock, and Databox, among others. Maciej has helped job candidates at all stages of their career paths, from interns to directors to C-suite members, to thrive in their job. His mission is to help you find the right opportunity and create a job application that gets you the career you deserve. Maciej holds a Master’s degree in English with a specialization in communication and education management.

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