What Is a CV? And How Is It Different from a Resume?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Job seekers may be asked to submit a CV, or curriculum vitae, as part of the application process instead of a simple resume. Learn what sets this document apart from a standard resume.

[Featured image] A man in a tie and blue shirt shows his CV to a hiring manager.

For many industries and countries outside the United States, a CV (short for the Latin curriculum vitae) is a professional document that employers request of job seekers. 

Depending on the circumstances, job seekers in the United States might use a CV or a resume to condense and organize a lifetime of education, training, and professional experience. However, CVs are primarily used for academic or research positions, which require more in-depth sharing of past experience and expertise than resumes. 

Outside of the United States, the term is sometimes used interchangeably with a resume. You can tailor both formats to specific jobs, positions, or companies that you apply to, and you can use both to help you stand out among the competition. They can help you get the job—if done correctly. 

When you are preparing for your job search, it’s a good idea to know whether you’ll need to submit a CV or a resume. Many differences exist between the two, including length, format, and contents.

What is a CV?

Experts define a CV in two ways. First, there is a CV that is used in the place of a resume for many jobs based outside of the United States. This type of CV is basically interchangeable with what most American professionals know as a resume. It’s a one- or two-page document that includes contact information, work experience, education history, and a general summary of your goals. 

An academic CV, however, is very different. This document can be several pages long and serves as an exhaustive list of every educational, academic, institutional, and professional accomplishment of your career. Unlike the short resume you may already have, this type of CV is designed as a comprehensive review of your professional life.    

CV vs. resume: What’s the difference?

If the job for which you are applying is based outside the US or the position is not in academia and the sciences, chances are there is no difference between your CV versus your resume. You can assume that your potential employer seeks a condensed sharing of your professional experience, education, and skills on just one or two pages.

However, careers in education or science and research often require a more in-depth approach. In these cases, you’ll want to prepare a full CV. In short, we can sum up the differences between a CV and a resume in three main ways:

 

  • Length: CVs are usually two to three pages, with a recommended maximum of 10 pages. Resumes should be no more than two pages.

  • Contents: A CV should include everything in your professional and academic history, while a resume should focus on the highlights. Unless you’ve had a very long career, you can limit your experience to the last 15 years of work.

  • Format: Job seekers structure resumes and CVs differently, due to the difference in content. A CV generally puts emphasis on academic experience.

Read more: 10 Ways to Enhance Your Resume

When to use a CV

Most human resource managers or executives overseeing the hiring process will clearly state if they prefer a CV or a resume. Always follow the directions outlined in any job opening. 

When the instructions are unclear, you’ll usually want to submit a full CV if you're applying for positions and industries including:

  • Academia

  • Science

  • Research

  • Higher education

However, if you are still unsure whether the employer wants a shorter resume or a longer CV, it is acceptable to ask before submitting if they’d prefer a comprehensive CV or a resume consisting of highlighted information.

What to include in a CV

The information included in a full CV should be a comprehensive review of your professional career and educational training, as well as all the skills, achievements, and associations that are applicable to the position you seek.

Unlike a resume that should rarely be longer than two pages, this document can be as long or as short as necessary. Consider a CV an exhaustive review with many sections.

Contact information

Start crafting your CV by including your contact information. This should consist of your: 

  • Full name

  • Mailing and/or physical address

  • Phone number

  • Email address

  • Social media profiles, if appropriate

You’ll want any potential employer to know how to connect with you easily.

Academic history  

One reason CVs position academic experience before work experience is that careers in education, science, and research often demand that professionals engage in life-long learning. It’s important to keep up-to-date with your industry’s best practices and technological developments, and you can show the work you’ve completed in this section of the CV.

Be sure to include a comprehensive listing of:

  • All degrees, including the degree title, graduation year, and the name of the school

  • Training opportunities, with the title of the training, name of the instructor, and date completed

  • Coursework, whether online or in-person, with the name of the school and date completed

  • Professional certifications

  • Licensure, including the license name and number, licensure agency, and the issuance and expiration dates

Some professionals may have completed continuing education that is not applicable for the position they are applying for. If this is the case for you, consider carefully whether you gained additional skills that could transfer to the position. If there is no connection, you can omit it from your CV.

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Work experience / professional history

Similar to the more common resume, CVs also have a section outlining professional experience. Using an easy-to-read format, you should include:

  • The company or organization that employed you

  • Your job title

  • Location of company

  • Start and end dates

  • A short summary of your responsibilities and achievements associated with the position

To stand out, keep the summary as objective as possible with proven achievements. Think in terms of measurable objectives with clear statistics that show improvements, rather than vague statements based on emotion. Word it appropriately so you do not take full credit for the work of a team.

Technical and human skills

Employers want to make sure you’re able to complete the tasks as assigned with the right technical skills. They also want to see that you’ve gained workplace skills that will allow you to work within a team or serve effectively in a leadership position.

In the skills section of your CV, be exhaustive. Technical skills include software programs, laboratory mechanisms, and protocols that are best practices of your industry. If you aren’t sure of your human skills, survey former associates or friends to learn your strengths in the workplace. You may be an excellent team player, have leadership skills, or can work on multiple projects successfully, for example.

Achievements

Be sure to highlight achievements earned over the course of your career. These can include:

  • Awards and honors: List the name of the award and the organization that presented it. Include the year, the frequency of the honor, and any other information that helps you stand out.

  • Scholarships and grants: Include the name of the grant, the amount of funding, the awarding institutions, and the date received. If applicable, include information on the project or research for which you used the grant or scholarship.

  • Accolades: Sometimes, work is acknowledged in less-formal ways. You can still include these instances in the CV under a separate section. List the circumstances in which you received these accolades, from whom, and the date of the event.

Professional associations

Membership in professional organizations can show dedication to your field and serve as a powerful networking opportunity. List the associations in which you are most active first. Include:

  • Name of the professional association

  • Location or chapter

  • Title, if you have held a leadership role

  • Date of membership

Published works and presentations

Especially in academic and scientific fields, published work is an important way to stay relevant and engaged among your peers. Include all publications with the following full citation details:

  • Names of all co-authors

  • Date of publication

  • Name of publication, including volume, page, and DOI number

  • Summary of the paper

Presentations are another way to demonstrate your expertise in your field. List all times you’ve spoken publicly on topics related to the position you seek by including:

  • Title of the presentation

  • Name of the conference and its organizers, if applicable

  • Date

  • Venue location

References

For professional and personal references that can change with time, prepare a separate sheet with the name, title, phone number, and email address of people who can speak to your technical and workplace skills.

Be sure to alert your references in advance that you are applying for a job and to expect a call.

How to format a CV

When drafting a CV, the format flexible is flexible, but it should look presentable on the page and be easy to follow. Other tips for formatting include:

  • Use headings for clarity.

  • Highlight your strengths by prioritizing what is most applicable to the position you are seeking.

  • Within each category, elaborate as necessary to demonstrate skills and accomplishments. Use bold font or underlining to draw attention where necessary.

  • List items within each category by chronology. 

  • Be consistent with formatting within each category.

  • Add a footer with your name and page number in case the pages get shuffled.

Tips for creating your CV

Once you determine whether you need to submit a CV or a resume, you’ll want to spend time crafting one that meets the expectations of your potential employer. Follow these tips to enhance your CV:

Choose the right font.

It's important for CVs to be easy to read, and that starts with the right font. Pick a font that is sans-serif, meaning the letters lack decorative lines. These fonts are minimal and modern, allowing the eye to focus on the content rather than the design. Some appropriate fonts to use are: 

  • Arial

  • Helvetica

  • Proxima Nova

  • Futura

  • Calibri

Keep the font size between 10 and 12. Any smaller and it will be challenging to read. Any bigger and the document will be longer than necessary.

Leave adequate margins.

Keep margins (the white space that separates the words from the edge of the page) between 0.5 and 1 inch. Larger margins create white space that will add unnecessarily to the length of the document, while smaller margins will make the wording seem crowded.

Include bulleted lists and section headers.

These techniques give the eye a subtle rest by organizing the words on the page. When listing your accomplishments, awards, or skills, for example, consider using bullet points for quicker reading. For each section, create a header with a slightly bigger and bold font. The more you break down your content, the more enjoyable it will be to read.

Proofread.

When you’ve removed all typos and have a clean CV, you show prospective employers and decision makers your attention to detail. Before submitting your CV as part of a job application, check it for spelling, grammar, and syntax. Ask a friend, associate, or family member to do the same. An error-free document shows professionalism and the care you put into your work.

Include ATS keywords.

An applicant tracking system, or ATS, is a program that employers use to sort large batches of resumes by specific words or phrases that are considered requirements for the position. These words or phrases, known as ATS keywords, are often found within the job listing itself. 

You’ll also want to include role-specific keywords, such as the exact title of the position for which you’re applying and the name of the company. Add these into a career objective section at the beginning of the CV.

The job description may also include other ATS keywords that are specific to your industry. A quick Google search of your industry and “resume keywords” can often show other words worth including.

Save your CV as a Word document.

Save the document as a .docx file rather than a .pdf. This way, you can edit and adjust with each new job opportunity. Plus, some ATS software systems cannot read .pdf files.

Next steps

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