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What Is a CV (Curriculum Vitae)?

image for Tero Vesalainen / Getty Images
Tero Vesalainen / Getty Images
  • The difference between a resume and a CV is mainly in appearance.
  • A resume should include a basic listing of your education and work experience.
  • A CV should include a more comprehensive list of accomplishments, including those in academia.

In the United States, resumes are the standard form of documentation to display your professional and educational history. However, in some academic circles and internationally, the curriculum vitae (CV) is the standard for job applications. The objectives of a CV and a resume are the same, but they look very different. Make sure you know which one an employer expects before applying to a job, because submitting the wrong format can destroy your chances of being called for an interview. Read on to learn about the differences between a resume and a CV.

The main difference between a resume and a CV is in the way the information is presented. A resume includes at least three sections: name and contact information, education, and work experience. Each of these is divided into a section with information, but a resume places more emphasis on job history and the duties performed in each capacity. The resulting format makes a resume an ideal resource for professional positions in the business sector.

In contrast, a curriculum vitae presents more of an overview of your accomplishments in life, especially those most relevant to academia. A CV becomes most relevant when pursuing a job in academia or research, as educational achievements become more of a focus than job duties. In addition, a CV often needs to be updated more frequently, as many academic researchers are often involved in multiple projects and teaching duties concurrently.

Another large difference between a resume and a CV is the length of the document. The standard preferred length of a resume is one page for new professionals and up to three pages for those with extensive experience. A CV is often much longer, starting at two or three pages for individuals beginning their graduate school career and reaching double digits for more seasoned researchers.

Both resumes and CVs present information chronologically, with the most recent accomplishments at the top of each section list. However, the overall structure of a CV differs drastically from that of a resume and contains the following information:

  • Areas of interest: Lists your academic interests and areas of intellectual or research-based pursuits.

  • Education: Provides a list of degrees earned or progress made, as well as the titles of dissertations or theses.

  • Grants, honors and awards: Lists all grants received, honors bestowed and awards received through academic studies and research.

  • Publications and presentations: Establishes your academic experience with a list of published articles and books, in addition to any public presentations given at conferences.

  • Employment and experience: Separates work into areas of relevance for teaching, laboratory, field, volunteer, leadership and other research-related experience.

  • Academic memberships: Lists all professional organizations you're a member of or associated with, in addition to positions or offices held at each association.

  • References: Provides a list of individuals who are willing to write letters of recommendation and includes their contact information. 

In general, if you are applying for a job in the United States, most applications require you to submit a resume, rather than a curriculum vitae. On the other hand, if you are applying for a scholarship, conference, fellowship, political role or funding – or if you are involved in a startup business – you will likely need a curriculum vitae. In addition, if you are applying for a job outside the U.S., you may be asked to submit a CV.

Here are some types of jobs and positions that typically require a CV.

  • International jobs: If you are seeking jobs in other countries, you will likely need to send a CV.

  • Academic opportunities: Given the nature of the scholastic realm, there are often numerous factors to consider during the hiring process, so many academic institutions require a CV.

  • Senior executives: Given that senior executives tend to be highly accomplished, many senior executive positions require a CV.

  • Lawyers: The legal field is very complex, so lawyers often use a CV when applying for positions.

  • Doctors: Given the various skills required to be a successful physician, doctors are often expected to submit a CV when applying for new positions.

  • Scientists: Because science is a complex field and often focuses on academic accomplishments and research, scientists often need a CV to secure positions.

The standards for writing a curriculum vitae are similar to those for a resume. Picking an easy-to-read font type and size will help maximize the legibility of your document. Maintaining a consistent format throughout will likewise convey a theme of professionalism and attention to detail.

Common practices when writing a resume include listing job descriptions outlining responsibilities and accomplishments in each role. This information isn't as necessary on a CV because academic search committees will focus more on education, publications and references. The amount of time spent in a position is still quite important, however, as reviewers will want to gauge your level of experience in comparison to your accomplishments.

Here are some things you should not include on a CV.

  • Irrelevant experience: Including positions that aren't relevant to the role can detract from your relevant accomplishments.

  • Colorful texts and fun fonts: While you often have more leeway when creating a resume, colorful texts and creative fonts can be distracting and make you look unprofessional.

  • Social Security numbers: You should never include your Social Security number in a CV because it can put your sensitive information at risk.

  • Medical information: This is another type of sensitive information that should not be included on a CV.

  • Inflated achievements: While many people tend to embellish their achievements on a resume, this can make you appear dishonest.

One of the most important considerations to remember when creating a CV is that there is no set standard for formatting. Areas of emphasis can vary based on your field, so you must consider the standard conventions of the job you're applying to. Examples of CVs can be found on major job board websites, such as Monster and CareerBuilder. In addition, resources like "The Curriculum Vitae Handbook," by Rebecca Anthony and Gerald Roe, include sample CVs from different disciplines.