Before the web made the world smaller, regional dialects were only passingly interesting. What has this got to do with CVs? In the U.S., the CV is a document used by academics, and the résumé is a document used by pretty much everyone else. The problem is that “CV” appears to mean “résumé” in Europe. This matters because I am seeing CV advice blogs that might be confusing to American job seekers. I’ve also seen questions on Linked-in asking about the difference. Since anyone in the world can now communicate with nearly anyone else, just be careful that the advice you read is actually intended for you. So here’s a discussion of how CV’s and résumés are different (in the U.S., at least).

Both CV’s and résumés are synopses of professional experience used for job applications. In this sense, CV’s are the résumés of the scientific, academic, and medical worlds and designed to help you get a job. But CV’s differ substantially from business résumés, electronic résumés, on-line résumés and federal résumés.


Business Résumés

A business résumé is typically one or two pages and highlights your skills and experience as they relate to a particular job ad. There is considerable freedom in what you present and how you present it. Because of the severe length restrictions, which stem from the need to get your credentials across to the selecting official as quickly as possible, you must be highly selective about the content you present. You have to “sell” your qualifications to readers, and convince them that you will help the business make money. The question of how to write business résumés has been more than adequately covered in numerous other books.


Federal Résumés

Federal résumés are used by the Federal government. They contain much more material than a business résumé, including required information such as your social security number, high school, salaries and contact information of past supervisors. Federal résumés contain a mix of skills, detailed work experience descriptions, and other highly flexible content. Business résumés and CV’s can be adapted into federal résumés, but don’t submit a business résumé or CV in place of a federal resumes because you will hurt your chances, if not get rejected outright. If you want to write a federal résumé or convert your current résumé or CV into a federal résumé, go get The Federal Résumé Guidebook, 4rdEdition, by Kathryn Troutman. It contains a chapter on converting your CV into a federal résumé written by me.


Electronic Résumés

Electronic résumés are a specialized form of the business or federal résumé, optimized to be read by computer, and stress skills. Keywords and phrases are scanned by specialized software and matched to job announcements. Some CV guides have included advice on rewriting your CV for electronic submittal purposes, but have invented unecessary new terms like “Scannable CV”. Conversion to electronic form really means that you are changing your CV into an electronic résumé. There are guidelines to follow when writing an electronic résumé, and several books have been written on the subject.


On-line Résumés

On-line résumés are also read by computer and matched to job announcements, but are created by entering data into the websites of large job search companies. They are essentially electronic résumés built by filling in on-line forms. It is possible to print them out, but due to their emphasis on skills and almost complete lack of formatting, don’t submit them to human readers. Note that some federal job application systems (e.g. Quickhire ©) used by certain agencies require you to cut and paste your federal résumé into a box on a website, but in this case you would use a federal résumé with simplified formatting and not an electronic résumé.


Curriculum vitaes

CV’s are as long as you need them to be, within the restrictions of avoiding redundancy and padding, and thus grow with your career. The purpose is to showcase your qualifications, products, and activities. Think of it as raw data to be evaluated by potential colleagues looking to predict your future productivity and reputation. CV’s differ because the typical employer-employee relationship doesn’t exist in academia. Instead, you are trying to join a guild. This guild is a group of independent workers who do not report to a traditional boss. The group is tied together through their affiliation with the department, and so tied to the reuptation of the department. Thus, in addition to the basic evaluation of whether you are simply qualified, your future colleagues want to know: 1) who you are professionally, 2) what you’ve done to develop your qualifications, and 3) what effect you might have on their department. They want someone that will bolster their department’s reputation, and thus indirectly their own. There are expectations which dictate CV content. CV’s thus give a detailed picture of your professional development in order to predict your professional future. CV’s are meant to be studied relative to the business résumé. That said, academic positions can have hundreds of applicants. Selection committees will not sit and study each and every CV in depth. So information must be easy to find. A selection committee member might skip straight to your publications in order to see if you qualify for the short-list. If their interest is piqued, they may move on to other sections. So if expected information is missing it will hurt your chances. There is flexibility in the CV, but it comes through placement of sections, varying detail of sections, requirements described in the job ad, and your professional level.


In academia, the need for a CV begins as an undergraduate if you are pursuing graduate study. At this point in your career your CV must convince a prospective advisor that you have the interest, drive and capability to be a good graduate student. While a graduate student, you need a CV when applying for grants or other programs, although these CV’s are typically abridged versions of your full CV. The importance of a CV peaks during the end of your graduate career and continues through postdoctoral training as you apply for permanent positions. Once you land a permanent job, the CV become less important. They are still used for grant proposals and the like, but again these are abridged versions. CV’s are also used in the evaluation of tenure.

6 thoughts on “CV Writing advice IV:What makes a Curriculum vitae different from a resume?

  1. “In this sense, CV’s are the résumés of the scientific, academic, and medical worlds and designed to help you get a job.”

    Great job on the post David especially in differentiating the different kinds of resumes. But basically the difference between CV’s and resumes, as you have mentioned, has been mostly in the geographical use of the terms. Most European countries, with a chosen few, uses CV for the document. While the rest of the US nations have resume. This would be important if you want to address CV/Resume related services to each region.

  2. Thanks. I’ve edited CV Writing advice V to reflect that it’s intended for amercian academic CVs. My question to you is: what do european academics use?

  3. Most jobseekers depend upon expert resume writers – which is a sensible thing to do. Such professionally prepared resumes stand a better chance of catching a recruiter’s attention.But it is no more enough to catch attention. A resume must succeed in amazing any recruiter – by being Interactive.
    In a resume, a recruiter should be able to find additional information about a candidate by
    viewing analytical graphs rather than reading
    clicking on knowledge / skill related keywords

  4. Now that many people have a web presence I think it is safe to put minimal information on a CV. I think CV’s are still important as they signpost the reader to the relevant parts of your skill set or history. But I do wonder how many CVs are actually read in any depth.

    • You’re English, right? I suspect we’re talking about different document types. I gather that the English CV is equivalent to the American business résumé. I’m specifically referring to CV’s used by academics in the U.S.

  5. Pingback: Curriculum Vitae writing advice | David F. Raikow's River Continua

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