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What Is A CV

What is a CV (Curriculum Vitae)?

The full form of the term “CV” is “Curriculum Vitae”, which means “course of life” in Latin. And that’s essentially what a CV is: a documentation of the trajectory of a person’s life so far, only with a specific focus on academics and career. Like a resume, a CV is used to gauge candidates applying for professional or academic positions.

The exact definition and purpose of a CV depends on your location, though. A CV in the U.S. is not exactly the same as a CV elsewhere in the world. So, when discussing the meaning of the term, we have to break things down geographically.

What is a CV in the U.S.?

In the U.S., a CV is a professional document that provides an in-depth and comprehensive overview of an applicant’s educational and professional background. It includes not just work history and schooling, but also publications, research experience, conference presentations, grants and fellowships, professional memberships, and more – essentially every achievement and credential a person has earned.

In the U.S., you should generally submit a CV if you’re applying for:

    • Academic or research positions.
    • Research grants, fellowships, or academic scholarships.
    • Admission to a graduate program (especially a doctoral degree).
    • Some types of federal jobs (especially those that involve research).
    • A specialized role in the medical field.
    • Certain opportunities in the entertainment industry.

The U.S. CV is not usually tweaked and tailored for each specific application. It is exhaustive, covering all the details of a person’s career, not only the relevant ones. For this reason, it can be ten or more pages in length.

What’s a CV outside the U.S.?

In places like the United Kingdom, Europe, South Africa, and New Zealand, a CV is more or less the same thing as a resume: a one- to two-page document that summarizes a person’s relevant qualifications for a job application. In some countries, the terms CV and resume are used interchangeably, and in others, only the term CV is used, but to refer to a resume-like document.

Similarly to a resume, this CV is concise and customized for each vacancy, with a focus on relevant work experience, skills, and professional accomplishments. It’s used to apply for regular non-academic roles across most industries. When you hear about a job application CV or a CV for a job, it’s probably this CV definition that’s at play.

CV vs Resume: Key Differences

If you’re still not 100% sure you understand what a CV is, it can help to explore how this document differs from the standard resume. Here are a few key CV vs. resume distinctions:

    • CVs are predominantly only used in academic, research, and scholarly fields; resumes are the standard job application tool in business, industry, and most other professional sectors.
    • CVs are detailed and have no length limit; resumes are concise and limited to one or two pages maximum.
    • CVs tend to focus on an applicant’s academic career; resumes prioritize relevant work experience, skills, and professional accomplishments.
    • CVs typically have a more flexible structure (sections can vary based on the purpose of the document); resumes always follow one of three standard formats and feature the same five main sections.
    • CVs are comprehensive and give a complete rundown of an applicant’s professional background; resumes are customized for the job and feature only relevant information.
    • CVs often include a references section; resumes do not feature references.

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What to Include in a CV: Section Outline

Knowing how to write a CV is crucial to a successful application. What content you decide to include in your CV will depend on your field, career stage, and the expectations of the institution or employer in question.

Remember if you are outside the U.S. then your CV will likely be one to two pages long and contain only relevant information related to the job position.

If you are using a CV in the U.S., then your document will be more exhaustive and contain many (if not all) of the following sections:

  • Contact information: List your full name (treated differently so that it stands out), professional mailing address, phone number, and email address at the top of your CV.

  • Objective or summary statement: Briefly summarize your most notable experience, credentials, and accomplishments while highlighting your professional goals (objective) or emphasizing the value you could bring to the role (summary). You could choose to outline your research interests here too if relevant.

  • Professional experience: Provide a detailed overview of past and current roles in reverse chronological order (most recent to oldest). Include bullet points outlining measurable accomplishments under each role. You could choose to list research experience and teaching experience here too, if applicable, or create separate sections for each.

  • Education: Detail your academic history in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent degree or current degree in progress. Include the institution’s name, degree earned, field of study, and graduation date for each entry. You can list professional certifications in this section as well.

  • Skills: Highlight six to eight technical, hard, and soft skills that are relevant to your field and the purpose of the CV. Alongside a general skills section, you can also include separate, dedicated sections for languages, digital skills, and research skills (more on these below).

  • Publications: Write out a complete list of your scholarly publications, including journal articles, books, book chapters, and conference papers. Use the citation format that’s standard in your field of interest.

  • Research experience: If not incorporated under “professional experience”, outline your research experience in its own section. Include the titles of research projects, the names of supervisors or principal investigators, and your specific contributions.

  • Teaching experience: If you’ve decided to add a separate section for teaching experience, use it to describe your teaching or lecturing roles, courses taught, and any related responsibilities and accomplishments.

  • Conference presentations: Include presentations you’ve given at conferences, seminars, or workshops. Mention the name of the event, the date and location, and the topics you addressed.

  • Conference attendance: Provide an overview of conferences, conventions, and symposiums you’ve attended to show your commitment to expanding your knowledge. Include the name of the event, the dates you were present, and brief descriptions of panels attended.

  • Language skills: Detail the languages you’re familiar with over and above your native language. List the name of each language and use standardized descriptors like “Fluent” or “Intermediate” to describe how proficient you are in it.

  • Grants and funding: Provide information about any research grants and other funding you’ve received. Include the name of the grant and the funding source, the grant duration, the project title, and a concise description of the funding goals and results.

  • Honors and awards: List any academic or professional honors, awards, or accolades you’ve received, including scholarships and research awards. Mention the name of the honor, the date it was awarded, and the name of the awarding committee.

  • References: Provide contact details for between three and five academic or professional references who can vouch for your qualifications.

Top 11 CV Writing Tips

Knowing what a CV is, is one thing. Knowing how to write one that stands out from the pack is quite another. Here are a few simple tips to bear in mind when crafting your document to make sure it gets you noticed:

Take time to gather and prepare your information before sitting down to create your CV – it’ll make the writing process much less daunting.
Use a professionally designed CV template to organize your content and ensure the final product is neat and polished.
Where possible, use numbers and metrics to make your accomplishments more tangible.
Browse through real-world CV examples to get inspiration and ideas for your own document.
Organize information with bullet points to make it easier to scan.
Use a clean, easy-to-read font, such as Arial or Times New Roman, and consistent formatting throughout your document.
Be cautious about using too much color or too many design flourishes – these can look unprofessional and distract from the content.
Ensure there’s enough white space on every page to make the document visually appealing and easy to read.
Look into the preferred CV format in your specific industry as this can differ between fields.
Review and update your CV regularly to reflect new experiences, credentials, and skills – it’s meant to be a living document that evolves as you evolve.
Always triple-check for spelling, grammar, and formatting errors before submitting your CV – mistakes and inconsistencies can make you appear less professional.

Key Takeaways

    • In the U.S., a CV (full form “Curriculum Vitae”) is a highly detailed, comprehensive document that catalogs a person’s academic and professional history and achievements.
    • In many places outside the U.S., “CV” is the term used for a concise, tailored job application document that’s more or less the same as a resume.
    • The U.S. CV is generally only used to apply for academic or research positions, grants and scholarships, graduate programs, and certain federal jobs.
    • A U.S. CV is much longer and more exhaustive than a resume, with a stronger focus on academics.
    • In addition to highlighting professional experience and education, CVs typically also feature sections outlining publications, research experience, conference presentations, honors and awards, grants, and much more.
    • Your CV must be carefully planned, neatly structured, professionally formatted, and free of errors.
      CVs should be updated regularly to include every new achievement or qualification.
Pro Tip:

Use an online builder to streamline and speed up the process of crafting your CV.

CV FAQ

Updated: September 19, 2023

In the U.S., a CV is a detailed and all-encompassing document that chronicles a person’s career, studies, academic achievements, and professional activities. It’s predominantly used for applications in academia and research contexts.

A resume is a brief (one- or two-page), customized document that summarizes a person’s relevant work experience, training, and skills. It’s the standard U.S. job-seeking tool in almost all industries outside of academia. Read more about how these two documents differ in our CV vs resume guide.

If you hear about a CV submitted for a standard job application, you’re probably encountering a different “CV” definition – the one most commonly used outside of the U.S. In places like the United Kingdom, Europe, and South Africa, “CV” is the term used to describe a document that’s very similar to the U.S. resume.

It’s succinct, tailored for the purpose, and used to apply for regular jobs in most fields and business settings. It’s always important to double-check which CV meaning is at play before submitting an application abroad.

It depends on the context. In the U.S., most employers across most industries will expect – and therefore prefer – a concise resume. However, in academia, research contexts, and some government settings, a comprehensive CV is more appropriate and therefore preferred. If in doubt, always contact the employer in question and ask about their CV vs resume preference.

A strong CV is exhaustive, well-organized, neatly presented, and easy to read. It includes all the information the reader would need to make an informed decision about the candidate. The content is easy to find, and the language used is concise but descriptive.

A standout CV typically describes experiences and accomplishments (using numbers and action words) rather than simply listing them. It also often leads with a compelling objective or summary statement that grabs attention and grounds the information presented in the rest of the document.

Unlike a resume, a CV doesn’t have to adhere to a length limit. It can be however many pages are needed to effectively convey your qualifications. If you’re an entry-level candidate, your CV might be two or three pages long.

However, if you have decades of studying, research, publications, and presentations behind you, your CV might be more than 10 pages long. That said, it’s still important to express yourself clearly and to avoid writing more than is necessary.

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Conor McMahon, CPRW

Conor McMahon, CPRW

Content Writer

Conor is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) for Hloom.com. He has over three years of professional writing experience as well as experience in professional development training. As a member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers & Career Coaches (PARWCC) Conor has written on career development topics ranging from resume and cover letter best practices, employer/employee communication, job seeking help, and more. He received his degree in Music Industry at Northeastern University and plays guitar in his free time.

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