CV vs. Resume: Here Are The Key Differences

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A common mistake many people make is that they think a resume and a CV are the same. No, they are not interchangeable. Both need to capture attention quickly with impressive content and easy-to-read formatting. And they must market you in the best way possible. But, beyond that, they are very different documents.

Resumes are used for job searches. The goal is to market yourself to an employer to land an interview. That is the key objective – it either works or it doesn’t. Your resume is typically a one-two page document that covers your education, professional experience, essential skills, honors, and awards.

Many people often write a resume by just copying their job description. That is very ineffective. Employers want to see the results of what you did while working elsewhere. Under your work experience, your resume should emphasize your past performance by specifying accomplishments, results, and outcomes you’ve delivered when working for that employer.

To illustrate this point, here is an example from a career counseling client’s resume where I noted a singularly impressive accomplishment. This was under his current job, described in the work experience section:

Launched five new optical products. Results delivered best-in-category performance that captured 14% in new market share from the industry leader.

You can see from the above example that this is a significant accomplishment that will capture an employer’s attention quickly.

When you aim to land a new position, a promotion, or to secure a Board of Directors role, writing a resume is the answer. This is a concise document - no more than two pages. If you have had a long career, the resume often doesn’t go back further than 15 years. Anything earlier than that is seen as too old and irrelevant.

Strengthen Your CV

Your CV aims to demonstrate your competence as a knowledgeable expert. It is a comprehensive document and details the entire course of your career. This CV is typically used by doctors, PhDs, lawyers, experts, college and university educators, and people in the science field. Individuals seeking fellowships, grants, postdoctoral positions, and college teaching or research positions use a CV as well.

This comprehensive, thorough document outlines all your academic and professional achievements. You’ll note your professional work history and summarize all your credentials in a multiple-page document. A CV might be used to seek a new position, though it is often used to be recognized as an industry expert. It is submitted with academic papers for publication and grant applications. In addition, it establishes your expertise for public speeches, thought leadership, or as a top leader in your field.

For a University Chancellor’s CV, I wrote a comprehensive document that was nine pages in length. It included numerous sections a resume does not. It built a progressive picture of the career from the beginning to now. The CV’s headings and content cover much more than a resume. For example, these are typical sections found in a CV:

Education, Professional Experience, Leadership roles, Teaching/Faculty roles, certifications, professional affiliations, Honors, Awards, Board of Directors, Publications, Presentations, Summary of Qualifications, Committee and Task Forces, and Grants if applicable.

Create your Resume for the Hiring Team

Recruiters, hiring managers, and senior leaders are the people who will review your resume. This, of course, is assuming it gets through the Applicant Tracking System.

One common mistake I often see in resumes is that people use text boxes, columns, or tables on the resume’s first page. They note competencies or skills on page one too. First, the employer’s ATS can’t read tables and columns, so usually they aren’t visible on the uploaded resume. In addition, I refer to the upper front-page location as “prime real estate.” Getting to the work history fast is critical. Competencies or skills are not your key selling points. You should delete them off page one. They take away from immediately drawing attention to your recent job title, employer, and list of your top accomplishments.

Another critical mistake employers dislike is when you have a page one section typically entitled “highlighted accomplishments.” This is where you have a list of everything you’ve done that’s notable but not attributed to where you did it. They may appear great to you, but these individual results bother employers. They want to know exactly where you worked when you made these achievements. So, incorporate each of your “highlights” statements into the resume’s work history where it correctly denotes where you did it.

A vital section in your resume, likely missing from a CV, is an influential and impressive summary of qualifications. This is placed near the top under the Career Objective.

This summary captures an employer’s attention and piques their interest so they more carefully review the rest of your resume, since the average resume only gets a 30-40 second glance.

Target the CV to the Reader

Your CV establishes who you are. Remembering who will read your CV when you write it is essential. Is it a professional association seeking speakers, or journal articles to publish? Is it a hiring committee for a major university where you are trying to secure a leadership or research job?

Know who you are trying to impress and position yourself to be recognized as a highly credentialed expert and leader. To better illustrate this distinction, a doctor might have a slightly different emphasis in each CV — a version for patients, another for colleagues, one for landing a keynote speech or Ted talk, and another when seeking a leadership or faculty job. 

© Robin Ryan