What Is a CV and What Is It For?

A CV often gets confused with a resume. So what is a curriculum vitae, and what’s the difference between the two?

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By Ho Lin 3 minute read

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What is a curriculum vitae?

To apply for a job, you will need a  curriculum vitae also known as a CV. Curriculum vitae is Latin for “course of life” and refers to a document that either highlights your professional experience or your academic history depending on the country you’re submitting your application to.

Below, we’ll take a look at how a CV can help in your professional job search, how it differs from other documents and how you can create a professional CV.

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CV vs. resume

The difference between a CV and a resume largely depends on where you’re from. In the EU, a CV and a resume are the same documents that are submitted to a potential employer detailing your work experience, certifications and skills to prove that you’re a good candidate for a job title.

What is a curriculum vitae in the U.S.? In the U.S., a resume is a document you submit to hiring managers to get a new job. A CV, on the other hand, is a long document that thoroughly summarizes a person’s work history, detailing every relevant point in the person’s career, including their research experience. A resume is like a list of details about the job seeker, while a CV is more like an in-depth profile.

Another key difference between the two is that resumes are used in nearly every kind of job position and industry while CVs are primarily used for positions in academia. Job applications that benefit from having a CV include:

  • Research assistant
  • Lecturer
  • University or college professor
  • Assistant teacher
  • Mentorship roles
  • University dean

How to write a CV

Regardless of your work experience or the position you’re applying for, there are six key elements you need to include in your CV:

  • Header
  • Resume summary
  • Skills
  • Work history
  • Education
  • Achievement and awards

Depending on the job title you’re after, you may also want to include sections related to any research you’ve published, as well as grants or fellowships you’ve received.

Header

The header is the section at the top of your CV that contains your contact information. This section should include:

  • Your full name
  • Your phone number
  • Your email address
  • Your professional title
  • Professional social media links, like your LinkedIn profile

Resume summary or objective

The resume summary is a short summary that highlights your most impressive academic achievements or work experience. It should be no longer than three sentences since it exists to hook the hiring manager with your impressive credentials.

For example, if you’re applying for a role as an editor in a scientific research journal and you were once a research assistant, you’ll want to mention that in the resume summary. If it’s the most relevant work experience you have, then you’ll want that to be the first point a recruiter knows about you.

For job seekers with little work experience, a resume objective can be written instead and this should also be no more than three sentences. The resume objective is a personal statement highlighting the applicant’s goal and intentions for applying. For example, if you’re applying to be part of your first research project, explain why participating in the project is important to you and what you can bring to the table. You can also mention any professional affiliations that can advocate for you as a candidate.

Skills

In the skills section, list your hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are technical abilities that you are trained for, such as proficiency in a computer program or a foreign language. Soft skills are characteristics related to your work ethic and interpersonal relationships, such as your ability to work in a team.

Ideally, you’ll want to list between 8-12 relevant skills. Read the job description to find keywords related to the specific job so you can narrow down the list of skills that set you apart from other candidates.

Work history

The work history section summarizes your years of experience. This can be experience working for professional associations, research positions and teaching experience. Your work history should be listed in reverse chronological order, with your most recent job listed first.

Education

In the education section, list your academic history. Starting with your highest level of education, such as graduate school. Highlight any training you’ve done, certifications you’ve received and your honors. You can also list grants and fellowships in this section but if it gets too long, you may want to add a separate section for those.

Achievements and awards

If you’ve received any sort of recognition for your professional or volunteer work, mention it in this section. Try to keep it as relevant as possible to the job title and only include certifications received after high school.

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FAQ: What is a curriculum vitae?

Have questions? We’re here to help.

Ideally, a CV should be no more than a page and a half long. CVs do run longer than normal resumes but they should still be kept as short as possible to keep the information relevant to the job position. If you’re having trouble keeping your CV short, take a look at some CV examples to understand what you need to focus on.

You should include a cover letter with a CV because it’s an important part of the application process. It allows you to go into even more detail about your background than a CV and helps you stand out by delivering a personalized letter about your goals and achievements. Check out our Cover Letter Builder to assist you in writing your cover letter.

You can create a CV using a functional format, chronological format and combination format. A functional CV focuses on your skills and is recommended for entry-level positions or job seekers with little experience. The chronological format would best fit the single column format of a CV, it focuses on your work experience and is recommended for job seekers with careers spanning nine years or more. The combination format is best for those who have three years or more of work experience or who are changing careers.

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WRITTEN BY Ho Lin

Ho Lin is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and editor with two decades of experience in content strategy, creation, and development. He holds a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University and his background includes experience aiding military veterans as they transition to civilian careers.

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