CV vs. Resume: Differences, Similarities and When To Use

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 17 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Understanding the distinction between a curriculum vitae (CV) versus a resume allows you to select the most appropriate format to present your skills and work history most effectively. It's especially important to align with your recruiter's requirements to make a good first impression. As you become more capable of using both formats, you will feel more comfortable navigating the job-seeking process. In this article, we discuss the differences between a CV and a resume, what each document is, which term to use and whether a resume can replace a CV.

What is the difference between a CV and a resume?

In Hong Kong, the terms, CV and resume, both describe a document that you can share with recruiters to apply for jobs. There is no distinction between them, meaning that a CV is usually equal to a resume. The job-seeking tool presents your qualifications, skills and experience in a structured and legible manner. It contains important information about your contact details, your career ambitions and your achievements to date.

However, if you're searching for jobs overseas, you need to consider the cultural context of these two words. For example, in the United States, a CV and a resume both serve the same function, but they differ in terms of their length, layout, and therefore, purpose. The flexible format of a CV makes it ideal for applying to specific positions in academia, education and scientific research.

When to use a CV vs. a resume

Since recruiters may use the terms CV and resume interchangeably, it can be difficult to determine their actual requirements. The following are a few key questions to ask yourself before submitting your job application so that you can be confident about the most appropriate format to use:

  • Has the recruiter requested a particular format?

  • What format is popular in my industry?

  • Which format has been most successful for my friends and colleagues?

  • What is the nature of the job?

  • Does a particular format highlight my skills and experiences better?

  • Am I applying for an international position?

Applying for international positions

If you're considering applying for jobs overseas, it's important to read through your job description thoroughly to understand whether the recruiter requires a CV or a resume. For employers in foreign countries, each term refers to a different format that you can use to bring attention to certain aspects of your career. Here's a breakdown of these differences:

  • Length: In most western countries, a resume is a concise overview of your career, and therefore, recruiters with this requirement expect you to submit a document that's no longer than two pages. However, if they ask for a CV, it means they want a detailed description of your work history. Typically, it has no word limit, so you can use the additional space to share a more holistic picture of your career journey.

  • Layout: The lengthier format of a CV allows you to discuss your qualifications and skills in greater detail. Rather than just concentrating on three to four major points in your work experience section like in a resume, a CV allows you to elaborate on your roles and responsibilities.

  • Experience: Since CVs have a more lengthy work experience section, it's often the most relevant option for experienced professionals. Fresh graduates tend to use a resume format because they have less experience to elaborate on.

  • Purpose: Your career path and industry can also inform whether you use a resume or a CV. While a resume is appropriate for practically any job and industry, CVs have a more niche audience. Since CVs dedicate entire sections to research and certifications, they are often a common requirement for academic, medical and scientific jobs.

Related: 10 Best Skills to Include on a CV

What is a resume?

A resume is a one to two-page document that summarises your educational background, skills and work history. A resume should be as concise as possible so that recruiters can get a quick overview of your professional background. Resumes can come in three types of formats, chronological, functional or combination format. A chronological resume focuses on your work experience, while a functional resume concentrates on your skills. Combination resumes use a mix of both formats. The versatility of a resume gives you more freedom to play with the structure of your experience.

What to include in a resume?

Here are the major sections to include in your resume:`

  • Contact details: At the top of your resume, place your contact information in a header so that your recruiter can follow up with you. Include details such as your full name, residential address, contact number, email address and any relevant links to your work portfolio.

  • Brand statement: A brand statement is an optional section below your contact details. Think of it as a concise tagline that uses only 15 words to highlight your most impressive qualities.

  • Personal summary: The first section of your resume is your personal summary. This is essentially a two to three sentence introduction of your work experience and career ambitions. You want to hook your reader in with your career highlights in this section.

  • Educational background: This section contains relevant information about any qualifications and certifications you have attained. Remember to state the name of the qualification, the name of the awarding body and the duration of your study.

  • Skills: This section is a brief list of any relevant soft skills and technical skills that you could contribute to the role. Consider using subheadings to impress recruiters with your language skills and software knowledge, too.

  • Work history: Organise your work history in order of recency. For each role, state your job title, employer's name and the length of your tenure. Mention your achievements in each role using examples and statistics.

What is a CV?

A CV is short for the Latin phrase 'curriculum vitae', meaning 'course of life'. It's a detailed depiction of your career to date in a document; therefore, it has no set word limit. A CV is a great option to present a full history of both your academic and professional credentials. Thus, it gives recruiters a comprehensive overview of your career trajectory. This helps them hire professionals in academia and leadership.

What to include in a CV?

Here are the major sections to include in your CV:

  • Contact details: Just like a resume, you will need to include your contact information in the top header of your CV. This comprises your full name, residential address, phone number, email address and any links to your professional website or social media handles.

  • Academic history: In your CV, list your education in reverse chronological order. For each entry, input the qualification you earned, the name of the institution, the length of your study and any majors and minors. You can also go into detail about your thesis, research projects and any accolades you received.

  • Work history: Share a descriptive account of your responsibilities in each of your previous roles. State the name of your employer, your job title and the length of your employment. Elaborate on your achievements with examples.

  • Skills: A skills section is optional in a CV. You can choose to state your most relevant skills and provide some context for each one.

  • Publications: If you are applying for a role in science or education, you will want to share a list of your published research work. Include the title of the study, date and the name of the publication it is in.

  • Awards and recognitions: Awards always look attractive on a CV. List relevant awards with their title, date and the name of the awarding body.

Related: Selecting the Right CV Skills in 5 Simple Steps

Should I say resume or CV?

While in Hong Kong, people often use the terms resume and CV interchangeably, if you're unsure, it's best to confirm with your recruiter about their requirements. Typically, most people will use the word resume because it's the most common format that recruiters will ask for. However, it's important to get in the habit of using the correct term colloquially to avoid unnecessary confusion.

Another way to be sure of whether to say resume or CV is to consider the industry you are in. Listen to the words your industry colleagues use to understand which term would be more appropriate. Think about the purpose of your job application to help you make a decision. For example, if you're in the science industry, your purpose would be to bring attention to your credibility as a researcher. In this case, you would use a CV because its layout suits this purpose better.

Related: 6 Universal Rules for Writing Your CV

Can I use a resume instead of a CV?

A good rule to follow is to use a resume unless a recruiter specifically asks for a CV or your industry demands a specific format. In other words, you can't use a resume as a substitute for a CV. Although it's common for people to use both terms interchangeably, evaluate the circumstances, talk to your co-workers about their experience and personally contact the recruiter to confirm their requirements.

It's best not to make assumptions. Sending in the wrong format can automatically disqualify you from the next stage in the hiring process. However, doing your due diligence shows your professionalism and attention to detail. Following your recruiter's requirements closely makes their job easier and helps you stand out from other job candidates.

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