Male sitting at a desk holding an iPad with his resume open and ready to edit

Although their names are often used interchangeably, a resume and a CV are not the same. As you enter the workforce, it’s imperative to understand the difference and know when to use each. Below, I’ll explain the components of a resume and a CV and describe the situations that call for using one versus the other.

What is a resume?

A resume is a document that provides an overview of your work history and career accomplishments. It typically includes your formal education and may contain a brief list of skills and credentials pertinent to your profession.

A resume acts as a highlight reel of sorts; spotlighting your top achievements in an easy-to-review format. It is important to keep a resume concise, as professional norms dictate that it should not exceed one or two pages, depending on your level of experience.

Resumes are organized by job position, with each role receiving its own section. The most common format is reverse chronological order, with the current or most recent position listed first, along with the employer, location, and dates of tenure. Candidates often use bullet points under the job title to highlight their achievements.

Instead of using reverse chronological order, some candidates choose to use what’s known as a functional resume format. In the functional resume format, accomplishments are grouped by skill rather than role (i.e. customer service experience, management experience, etc.). A functional resume may be useful if you’re making a career transition where your work history doesn’t directly correlate with the new role for which you’re applying.

Both the format (clear) and the length (short) of a resume are important, as the document usually receives only a very quick glance from the person reviewing it; the average recruiter spends less than 10 seconds looking at a resume.

The purpose of a resume

A resume’s primary purpose is to convey your level of competency for the role you’re seeking. Thus, it’s important that the items listed on your resume be grounded in tangible achievements—‘increased revenue 15%,’ for example—rather than the abstract listing of job responsibilities. Including personal information like weekend hobbies or religious affiliations is discouraged.

I encourage job seekers to think of their resumes like the cover of a magazine—the kind you would see in the checkout line at a grocery store. Magazine publishers carefully consider the headlines they place on the cover. Their goal is clear: they choose words and phrases that will capture the viewer’s attention immediately. If they are successful, the reader will buy their publication…and if not, the reader will quickly move on. When creating your resume, focus on writing headlines (and highlights) that will catch the attention of recruiters and hiring managers. Doing so will greatly increase the likelihood that they will want to learn more about you as a candidate.

Resume summary:

  • Work history and achievements: Listed in reverse chronological order, beginning with your most recent job. Use bullet points to highlight your accomplishments and skills demonstrated at each job.
  • Education: Brief details about your degrees, relevant honors, and relevant professional certifications.
  • Skills: A concise list of skills that qualify you for the position, particularly those that match the job description.

CV definition

CV stands for curriculum vitae, which means ‘the course of your life’ in Latin. The Latin translation is not far off; this document is a comprehensive explanation of your history in the professional world. In addition to the roles you’ve held, it includes your academic background, research experience, publications, professional honors, group affiliations, and more.

For an individual at the beginning of their career, a CV might run two or three pages. For professionals with several decades of experience, the document is often much longer. It grows as your career advances.

A CV begins with a personal profile, which is also called an objective or a personal statement. Consider this the document’s overview. This section is meant to summarize who you are, the qualities that make you the right candidate for the job, and a bit more information about your professional goals.

After the personal profile, CVs are organized into sections with information displayed chronologically. For example, your CV might include sections for the following areas: work history, education, professional certifications, teaching experience, awards, publications, professional memberships, interests, and so on. CVs will differ from person to person, as not all sections are relevant for all industries.

The purpose of a CV

In America, a CV is most often used when applying to academic and research positions, grants or scholarships, or for speaking engagements. It provides the reader with a full history of your academic credentials and professional accomplishments, which is particularly important in academia, medicine, and scientific research.

A CV allows employers and academic committees to assess a candidate’s trajectory in their professional field comprehensively. For jobs that require extensive qualifications, it serves as a platform to elaborate on credentials, including education history, publications, research, awards, and honors.

A CV is also used as a networking tool, allowing professionals to share their backgrounds, skills, experiences, and accomplishments.

CV summary:

  • Personal Profile: A summary of your professional persona, highlighting aspirations and strengths.
  • Detailed Work Experience: A list of all positions held, in chronological order. This section is more comprehensive than in a resume.
  • Education: Detailed information about your academic history.
  • Additional Sections: Depending on your field and career stage, this may include publications, research experience, courses taught, and professional affiliations.

CV Versus Resume: What’s the Difference?

Though these documents are similar, there are some key differences between a resume and a CV. It’s important to understand the nuances of each so you can be sure to use the appropriate document for your situation.


The biggest and most obvious difference between a CV and a resume is the document’s length. A resume is short and concise. Anything longer than two pages is typically frowned upon. A CV runs for several pages or more. There’s generally no limit on how long a CV can be.


A resume is accomplishment-based, serving as a high-level summary of your career achievements. It’s an overview rather than a deep dive.

The opposite is true of a CV. It’s more biographical, meant to give the reader a holistic understanding of your professional life. While it includes accomplishments, it also includes less achievement-oriented elements like soft skills and memberships in professional organizations.


Another major area of distinction between resumes and CVs is geographic location. American and Canadian professions rely heavily on resumes, while the UK, Ireland, and New Zealand use CVs for vocational purposes.

The CV is the document of choice in most of mainland Europe, which even has a standard CV template many employers in the EU require job seekers to use. Other parts of the world use the two documents interchangeably.

Americans applying for positions abroad will often be required to provide a CV rather than a resume.


The United States is unique in that industry plays a big role in whether a CV or resume is the document required in job applications.

Whereas a resume is universal and can be used for practically any job, a CV is specifically called for in academia, research, and scientific positions. Because these fields place a heavy emphasis on credentials, certifications, and being published in journals, books, and elsewhere, it makes sense that the longer CV is the document of choice.


The final difference between a resume and a CV is the level of customization. Whereas a CV is static, a resume is dynamic. If you’re a job seeker, you’ll be well-served to tailor your resume to the position you’re applying for; listing accomplishments that directly pertain to the skills required for the job. A CV, on the other hand, only changes as your career advances and your credentials grow.

Contact information

This is one thing resumes and CVs have in common: no matter where in the world you are or which document you’re using, it should begin with your contact information. The norms on the extent of this information vary from country to country, but at a minimum, you’ll want to include your name, email address, phone number, city, and state/country.

Including your full street address was once the norm but has become increasingly less common in favor of the simpler city and state/country in North America and Europe.

When to Use a Resume Versus CV

If you’re applying for a job, the easiest way to know whether to use a resume versus CV is to look at what the job posting calls for and use that. Unfortunately, it’s not always so simple. Many job postings use both phrases interchangeably or use the dreaded “resume/CV;” ignoring the fact that there’s any difference whatsoever between the two documents.

When applying for most jobs in North America, you’ll want to use a resume as it’s described here. When applying for academic jobs and research positions in North America, you’ll use a CV.

If you’re applying for jobs internationally, it’s a good idea to do some research on the country’s professional customs and what is meant locally by the terms ‘resume’ and ‘CV.’ In some countries, for example, the two terms are truly interchangeable and don’t share the same differences as they do in North America.

It’s also important to do your homework to understand professional norms in the country where you’re applying. In America, for example, it would be highly unusual to include a photo on your resume, but in some places, like China and Germany, including a headshot with your CV is the norm or even required. In Japan, it’s not uncommon for CVS to be written by hand.

When in doubt about whether to use a resume or a CV, ask. It’s always better to go the extra mile to get it right than to guess and send the wrong document, which could hurt your chances.

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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn