Employment Applications: Resume v. Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Original Content Created by Heather R. Houlton (heather dot houlton at gmail dot com)

Students often have questions about the difference between a resume and a curriculum vitae (CV). We're often asked, "Which one do I need?" or "Which one is better?" These questions are difficult to answer because they entirely depend on who your audience is and what kinds of positions you're seeking. A Resume and CV serve different purposes: 

  • A Resume is a 1-2 page document that outlines your work experience, skills, accomplishments, volunteer experience, and education in a succinct manner. The resume is supposed to give a clear overview of your professional experience and accomplishments that relate to the specific job for which you are applying. Resumes can also be used to get your foot in the door at a company and can be given to a representative for which you'd like to be employed. But the content of your resume needs to be specific to your audience. 
  • A CV is a multi-page document (from 2 to 20 pages) that outlines everything in your academic and professional career, including work experience, skills, grants, publications, technical talks or posters, and education. CVs are not limited to just these items, but they could also include your service items to the profession such as sitting on committees, teaching load or philosophy, and field camp/work experience. The most common use of a CV is in academic career pathways (like professors or academic researchers).

In both cases, your writing needs to be clear, concise, and accurately portray your experiences. There is a wealth of information on the internet about what makes a good resume or CV. Honestly, what we found is that if you follow the general rules of thumb, then Resumes and CVs can be quite subjective depending on who is reading it. Some (but not all) general guidelines to a solid Resume or CV include the following: 

  1. Have a clear and very consistent format that highlights your accomplishments without them getting lost in big blocks of text. The layout of your document is critical for finding information easily. It is said that a recruiter only takes 6 - 10 seconds to read a resume or CV. They need to be able to find your most important information fast - and that is all about how you set up your document. 
  2. Include your full name, LinkedIn profile URL, contact information such as email and phone number (but not physical mailing address), and a very brief (2-4 sentences) summary of qualifications (NOT a "Statement of Purpose").  A summary of qualifications is basically your elevator speech - who you are, what you do, and why you do it. It's how and why do you bring value to this particular position. Be specific! A "Statement of Purpose" is basically a fancy way of saying "I want a job." 
  3. Include section headers such as "Summary of Qualifications," "Education," "Work or Professional Experience," "Pertinent Coursework," "Research Experiences," or "Volunteer Experiences" where applicable. 
  4. The MOST IMPORTANT part of writing a resume/CV these days is to include the exact language (both keywords and key phrases) from the job posting in your document. Applicant tracking systems and the use of computers with artificial intelligence go through and pre-screen application materials before a person ever sees them. The key to "tricking" the computer is to make sure you include the posting's key phrases and words eloquently within your resume/CV. Make sure that your language makes sense when you integrate the posting's language into your materials because eventually when a person in HR does read your documents, it needs to make sense and be clear. 

The following are some great resources to get you started on crafting your resume or CV. 

  • From the Geological Society of America, they have a Resume/CV writing workshop and mentor program during their annual meeting. Here is a PDF that they published to help provide guidelines about crafting these documents. Have a look! 
  • There are even resume services you can hire to help you write a solid resume that will turn heads. Services like these might be a good option after you've gone through several iterations to improve your resume because they use experts to tighten and highlight the most important aspects of your experience. Be cautious though. Make sure you get pricing information first before you commit to their services.