Key Differences Between Resumes and CVs

November 23, 2018 - Cheyene Shuart

It’s Grad school application season, and you’re probably wondering what schools are looking for when they say they want a CV or a Resume. Here are some tips to help you understand the difference.

Whether you’re caught in the hurricane of grad school applications or you’re applying for jobs, the words Resume and CV can get tossed around a whole lot in the wind. What exactly is the difference between a resume and a CV? When should you use them? How do you know? Let us help give you the keys to your grad school applications or a successful job application with these tips on when to use resumes vs CVs.

What is a CV? What is a resume?

A resume in Canada is your typical job application-style document that shows off your skills and abilities, your experience, and your ability to communicate. In a resume, you spend a lot of time talking about how great your skills are and how they would fit the position you are applying for. Typically, you start with a profile of skills and where you gained them, along with what you have accomplished with them when you list your experience.

A CV, or curriculum vitae, is a bit different. International students may recognize it as more similar to the styles used in their cultures. The CV lists your academic achievements, research experience, education, publications, and more. If you’re used to submitting applications in Canada, you know this doesn’t seem to fit the needs of employment applications. Unless you are looking for post-doctorate work, you likely aren’t going to be using this format as a student, except when applying to grad schools.

When to use a CV vs. a resume

Maybe your employer asked you to submit your CV to them as your application, or maybe a grad school application asked for a resume. It’s important to note that not everyone understands the difference between these two documents, so sometimes employers may actually mean resume, and grad school applications may mean CV. It’s more important to pay close attention to the instructions of the applications, so be certain you understand which you need to use.

Employment applications, volunteer position applications, and internships are usually looking for a resume. Some other applications may require your resume as well. As mentioned above, your skills and what you have achieved using your skills are the most essential part of a resume. The resume is used to demonstrate your level of communication and professionalism to a potential employer almost more so than your actual work or volunteer experiences. Resumes should only be about two pages long and should be dense with soft and technical skills and reasons you are a good candidate for consideration.

A CV is more of a long-form professional document expressing the most relevant experiences. Graduate school applications, research and consulting positions, bursaries and grants, international jobs, teaching and administrative positions, and positions in academia are the contexts that require CVs for the most part. For undergraduates, a full CV isn’t going to work, especially because you just don’t have the experiences needed to fill a CV yet. However, for grad school applications, a hybrid cv-resume will be more appropriate – this style will be outlined in the requirements for specific grad programs and in the application package, so be sure to follow it carefully.

Formatting differences

Resumes are set up in a two page snapshot-style document for employers to scan over and find exactly what they are looking for quickly. Most employers take 5-30 seconds to review a resume, so having a profile of skills at the top will help them to get a quick sense of the skills you have and how you can communicate them in a professional manner. Everything should be minimalistic and organized by achievements. Your headings should include your education, relevant/additional or overall professional work experience, volunteer experience, certifications and achievements, technical skills if applicable, and extra-curricular or “other” experiences like club affiliations, sports involvement, etc. It should be concise and tailored to the position you are applying for, with the most recent experience prioritized – all of your experiences should be listed in reverse chronological order within their subheadings to ensure employers can see your most recent and relevant experiences.

CVs are set up for academic review and detail everything you have accomplished academically. Unlike on a resume, you would document your citizenship/visa status, and options to include as headings are your academic background and education, your honours and achievements in academia, research interests and experience, teaching experience and interests if applicable, work experience, affiliated associations and services, publications and conference information, the languages you speak, and unlike in a resume, your references are always listed at the end. The CV is set up in a narrative style and both the quality and quantity of accomplishments and experience should be prioritized. CVs can be tailored somewhat, but they can generally be uniform across applications.

We hope this helps clear things up a little for you! If you want to find out more about writing CVs and resumes, the office of Career Development and Experiential Learning provides drop-in hours from 10am-4pm so you can ask questions and even have your resume critiqued. Workshops and one-on-one appointments are also available through the mySuccess portal to help you develop the skills necessary to build these documents for your professional and academic needs.