“Um, what is a CV?” is a question job seekers often find themselves asking. Approach 10 professionals and odds are high only one or two can tell you the real answer. Good news, you’re about to be one of those few people who know not just what the letters stand for, but how the CV compares to a resume, and whether or not you should have one.
Curriculum Vitae, more commonly referred to by its shorthand abbreviation CV (a Latin term meaning course of life), got tossed around a lot during my first degree. I’m pretty sure I pretended to know what it meant the first time I heard it, only to go home to Google and educate myself before it came up in casual conversation again.
I quickly learned that dissertation-defending PhDs didn’t have resumes, they had CVs. Unlike the resume, which lists work history and experiences, along with a brief summary of your skills and education, the CV is a far more comprehensive document. It goes above and beyond a mention of education and work experience and often lists—in thoughtful detail—your achievements, awards, honors, and publications, things universities care about when they’re hiring teaching staff. Unlike a resume, which is rarely longer than a one-sided single page, the CV can be two, six, or 12 pages—depending on your professional achievements.
Let’s go over some basics of the CV versus resume.
What is a CV?
As touched upon briefly above, CVs are primarily popular among academics, as graduate students often spend a lot of effort getting their work published during these post-grad years. While higher-education institutions undoubtedly evaluate a potential candidate’s grades and test scores, they’re also eager to see where an applicant’s been published.
“Publish or perish” was a popular sentiment during my one year in graduate school, and it appears not much has changed. I spoke with a couple of my former classmates who went on to obtain doctorate degrees long after I’d left with a master’s degree in hand and an I’ve-had-enough-of-that mindset, and they were quick to reiterate how important getting published is to one’s career, and, of course, the standard academic’s CV.
What’s the Difference Between a CV and a Resume?
Short answer: Length.
Long answer: The CV’s static in that it’s not a document needing to be tailored for different positions in the way that a resume is. Rather, according to UNC Writing Center, the CV’s a “fairly detailed overview of your life’s accomplishments, especially those most relevant to the realm of academia,” hence the variance in length; an early-stage grad student’s CV is going to be a lot shorter than a sixth-year student preparing to write a dissertation.
The document only changes as your accomplishments grow—you publish the findings of a scientific study, or a short story, or you receive an award as a Teaching Assistant—whereas a resume can and should be modified often as you job search and apply to different companies and positions. I personally will encourage you to tailor your resume for each and every job you apply to, even if the job descriptions are similar. (It’ll not only help you stand out,)
But, How Do I Know When to Use Which?
Fortunately, if you’re still confused about where to begin, remember that almost any job you apply to will let you know what you need. It’s not typically a guessing game. When you apply for a job in Lagos, or Johannesburg, or Nairobi, there’ll likely be clear language on what’s required with the application. Begin looking into overseas opportunities, and it’s probable that the application will explicitly state that you need to submit a CV or resume for consideration.
Seriously though, if you’re truly dumbfounded about what’s needed, it’s OK to ask the point of contact directly, “Would you prefer a resume or CV?”
Should I Have a CV Handy?
If you don’t currently have one, I’d recommend creating the doc just in case. You don’t have to stop everything you’re doing right this second, but the next time you go to modify your resume (a familiar and somewhat ongoing practice, I hope), start building it out. If nothing else, it’ll serve a dual-purpose: Not only can you have it handy if you do ever need it, but you’ll also have a running list of everything you’ve ever accomplished, a.k.a., a master resume to pull from as you tailor your own for specific positions.
And there you go, everything you ever wanted to know (plus more!) about the differences between a CV and a resume.