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What’s the Difference Between a Resume and a CV (and Which Should I Use)?

August 21, 2019 :: Admissionado

If you’re navigating the confusing landscape of graduate school admissions, you know that one of the main components of your application is a resume or a CV. But, you’ve probably seen by now that some programs ask for a resume, some ask for a CV, and some leave it up to you. 

So, is there a difference between the two? And if so, does it really matter? The short answer is “yes” and “yes.” Let’s get into it. 

What is a resume? 

The term “resume” comes from the French word, “to sum up.” This is a good place to start, because a resume is meant to be a relatively concise summary of your education, professional experience, relevant skills and accomplishments for a particular position (see how you can write your first resume). A resume is generally supposed to be one to two pages, and may include sections such as name and contact information, education, work experience, volunteer experience, relevant achievements, and relevant skill sets. There are a variety of possible formats for a resume, but very importantly, a resume should be tailored for the specific position you’re seeking. 

In the U.S., most employers and many master’s programs tend to ask for a resume—as opposed to a CV. So your submission should be concise, compelling, and relevant enough to quickly sell the applicant to the recruiter, hiring manager, or admissions committee as the right fit for that particular position.  

What is a CV? 

CV stands for curriculum vitae, which is Latin for “course of life.” While this term may seem a little grandiose, it is essentially what this document aims to capture. 

A CV is a longer summary of your background that tends to be used for many grad programs and jobs in academia, scientific research, and medical fields, as well as jobs outside of the U.S. A CV is intended to be a fairly comprehensive—and often lengthy—summary of your academic background, research accomplishments, relevant work experience, teaching experience, publications, certifications, honors, awards, professional affiliations, and, sometimes, references. A CV is generally much more all-encompassing than a resume, and tends to be multiple pages long, starting around two for those early in their career, and spanning several for those later in their career. A CV is intended to demonstrate your academic achievements and scholarly potential, and should showcase your depth of experience in the particular field you’re trying to work or study in. 

Which should I use? 

Submitting a resume vs. a CV depends entirely on the position and program you’re applying for. The most important rule of thumb here is to submit whichever the employer, school, or program is asking for—if they specify. You may think such an obvious rule would go without saying, but many people fail to follow this, either because they don’t understand the difference between the two documents, or they mistakenly assume they’re interchangeable. Starting by simply sending in the correct document is a crucial first step. 

Beyond this rule of thumb, there are a few other guiding principles, some of which we’ve hinted at already: 

  • Most non-academic, professional jobs in the U.S. want to see a resume.
  • More academic grad programs—like PhDs—want to see a CV, while more professionally-focused grad programs—like MBAs, MFins, and JDs—want to see a resume
  • Often, European employers and grad programs will ask for a CV, but it is important to note that the definition of a CV in Europe is slightly different from the U.S. definition. In many European countries, “CV” is used to describe all job application documents, including a resume, and may actually be structured and formatted more like a resume than an American academic CV. So, if you are unsure what’s being requested, it is best to investigate local practices or clarify with the potential employer. 
  • To remedy the varying international definitions of “CV,” some European masters programs—like Imperial College London’s Business School—actually offer a CV template for applicants to use in their applications. So be sure to sift through the website of your intended program carefully, and make use of any resources they provide.
  • Additionally, the EU recently launched an initiative called Europass to streamline the application process for positions in Europe, which offers a Europass CV tool that anyone can use to create a relevant CV. This can serve as a good starting point for applicants confused about the proper format for European positions.

If you have any questions as you prepare your resume or CV, let us know—we are always available for a free consultation.