Is a Resume the Same as a Curriculum Vitae (CV)? Key differences and similarities you need to know to jumpstart your career search

What’s the difference between a resume and a curriculum vitae (CV)? Both summarize your education, work experience, extracurricular activities, and skills that are relevant to your career goals. A resume is typically a one- to two-page document that includes the aforementioned information. A curriculum vitae has more detailed descriptions and is generally as long as it needs to be to fully document your history and experience.

You should have multiple versions of your resume, so that each application you submit includes a resume with information specifically chosen for that role. If you’re applying to a managerial position, any experience you have managing others, creating schedules, managing finances, etc., should be prioritized over your summer job in high school, even to the extent of entirely removing older entries.

Research-focused individuals, typically at the master’s and PhD level, should have a CV, which includes teaching experience, publications and presentations.

Your resume or CV should represent how you want recruiters to view you. Highlight the things that are important to you for your future job. If your job history is all customer service but you are applying to research positions, your summary section (if you include one) should talk about your research-related skills, not refer to you as a customer service professional.

What sections should be included?

The position of a section indicates its importance. Recruiters will definitely see what’s near the top of the first page. They’ll likely read the rest of the first page and the top of the second page (if you have one), but will be more or less skimming the rest. Put the most relevant sections near the top (e.g., for a resume you plan to send for a research position, your research experience should come before your teaching experience). Depending on what you want to highlight, most resumes have sections including education, work experience, and skills.

CVs tend to include additional sections, separating out research experience and teaching experience from more general work experiences, as well as publications, presentations, collaborators, and other sections as relevant. Depending on your history, you might want to include a section about armed forces experience, leadership or volunteerism. Obviously, in a one-page resume, you will have to choose the most relevant sections to include to highlight your skills for the opportunity you’re applying for.

How to summarize an experience?

  • Take advantage of bullet points and parallel structure. Be sure to use as many relevant and/or quantitative details as possible.
  • Use action words. “Looked into polymers for automotive parts” does say what you did, but doesn’t give much information on what you know or how that might apply to a future position. “Researched strength, flexibility, and durability of thermoset polymers” has a lot more usable detail; “Achieved 20% increase in durability of thermoset polymer” is quantifiable.
  • Think about keywords that effectively describe your experience. Look at postings for the type of job you’re interested in and pick our keywords and phrases that describe your experience and include them in your resume, personal statement, or other application materials.

Where can I find additional resources?

Many universities provide resume and CV writing resources and may provide templates. Check with your career services staff to find out what resources are available to help build your resume. Also look for public resources from other institutions. Tip: adding into your search terms for many search engines will return results from only .edu domains (primarily educational institutions affiliated with the United States).

Keep in mind that resume and CV review is somewhat subjective. If you talk to different recruiters or different career services staff, you may get different recommendations about formatting. The best approach is to collect as much input as you can, and choose what works for you.

Final recommendations

Create a CV even if it’s just one page long. Add to it monthly any new skills, positions, or volunteer experiences. List literally everything you’ve done in the last five years or since starting college (whichever is older). This is your “living” document that’s updated regularly. When you have a specific position in mind, take this document and cut it down and rearrange sections as needed to be the resume you need. This is often much easier than remembering to update several targeted resumes when you have a new experience to add.