Often used interchangeably, the terms résumé and curriculum vitae (CV) do not mean the same thing. Which you use may depend upon your location and the career field.

Undercover Recruiter defines the difference between the two common documents used in job applications. The CV provided in-depth information about the applicant and “contains a high level of detail” about the applicant’s achievements. The résumé is a succinct summary of the applicant’s relevant experience and achievements, typically a single page, but seldom more than two pages. The applicant updates his or her CV, adding information and, by necessity, pages. In contrast, experts advise job applicants to tailor their résumés for each job application, or at least for each type of job. 

Which should you use?

The purpose of a résumé differs from a CV. A résumé offers a summary of your qualifications; a CV provides the recruiter or hiring manager a complete catalog of your educational and professional background. A CV is far more comprehensive. Recruiters spend little time—an average of only six seconds according to a study conducted by TheLadders—reviewing an applicant’s qualifications and work history.

Undercover Recruiter notes that “The jaded folks in HR will accept both types although I would recommend you use the local version.” The Balance notes that “In Europe, the Middle East, Africa, or Asia, employers may expect to receive a curriculum vitae rather than a resume. Within the United States, people in academia and medicine tend to use CVs rather than resumes.” Applications for fellowships and grants also tend to favor the CV over the résumé.

Formatting for both types of documents will include use of headings, bullet points, and body text. Formatting concerns the settings of margins, fonts, spacing, etc. Format refers to the type and organization of the document as well as its appearance. With regard to appearance, consistency reigns. If you use round bullet points in one section of the document, then do not switch to square bullet points in another section. Use the same font for headers and the same font for body text. 

When it comes to using fonts, experts recommend sticking with commonly used fonts such as Times New Roman or Helvetica. Unusual or decorative fonts detract from perusal of the document, causing the recruiter or hiring manager to focus more on the beauty of the document rather than its content. Graphic designers often suggest using a sans serif font (such as Helvetica or Arial) for headings and serif fonts (such as Times New Roman or Garamond) for body text. The combination of serif with sans serif fonts allows for visual contrast. Serif fonts also help to lead the eye from word to word, making it the better choice for blocks of text. Do not violate the rules of good document design by using more than three fonts in the same document. 

Finally, employ an organized layout and strong visual hierarchy. In other words, make the document as easy to read and comprehend as possible.

What should you include?

Both the résumé and the CV contain some identical information: your full name, contact information, education, skills, and work experience. A CV also includes “research and teaching experience, publications, grants and fellowships, professional associations and licenses, awards, and other information relevant to the position you are applying for.” In both documents, place your name and contact information at the top. Everything else goes below that. Both documents may also include keywords for more targeted search results by recruiters seeking job candidates.

Be aware that international CVs often require personal information that potential employers may not legally request in the USA.

Formatting your résumé

Regardless of which you decide to use, pick a format and be consistent throughout the document. You need not use the same format for each version of your CV or résumé, but consistency within the document remains imperative.

Because of its limited length—usually no more than two pages—the typical résumé includes only the following information: name and contact information, education, and work experience. Résumés usually follow one of three organizational formats: chronological, functional, or combination. The chronological format illustrates the progression of your career over time. The chronological format makes the most sense if you’re applying for a job in the field in which you’ve been working. In other words, you want to move either laterally or to the next higher rung in the corporate ladder.

Page count isn’t the only measurement of length. According to Forbes, “The number of words actually affected recruiters in a bell curve manner. So what’s the magic word count that keeps recruiters reading (aside from your work experience)? About 390 words per page.”

If you’re seeking to change careers—moving from one field to another—then display your career trajectory in a functional résumé. A functional résumé works best when the job candidate has employment gaps or transferable skills not acquired in directly related employment. In this format, list each function as a heading and then the experience acquired beneath each function. That experience may include volunteer and unpaid positions: the importance is on the skill, not the title or length of employment. The beauty of the functional résumé is that it showcases your skills and abilities, not whether you maintained consistently gainful employment over a certain number of years. Experts advise restricting your résumé to three or four functions.

A combination résumé suits the job candidate who seeks to change career and who has a solid—if unrelated—employment history. It not only showcases your continuous employment, but also directs attention to the skills you have built over the years. Divide résumé sections in this format by header information (name and contact information), objective, a briefly annotated list of functions or skills, and then work experience or work history. The Balance advises, “[D]o not offer further descriptions as you have already described your abilities in the functional part of this resume.”

Formatting your CV

If applying for a job with an employer outside the USA and submitting a CV, be prepared to provide personal details that you might not think is any of their business. Such details may include your nationality, place of birth, and date of birth. 

Following your personal details, write a paragraph under the heading “Profile.” This paragraph summarizes your experience and skills in narrative form. Think of it as your 90-second elevator speech.

Follow the profile with:

  • A list of academic interests.
  • Professional certifications. If a third party organization has certified you as competent in a particular area of expertise, make sure the hiring manager knows.
  • Educational accomplishments. This may include not only degrees and diplomas, but the institutions and years of graduation. Also, include titles of dissertations and theses.
  • Grants, honors, and awards. If you have been recognized for teaching or service, list that information here.
  • Publications and presentations. Show recognition of your authority as an expert if you have published article and books—not including personal blogs—or delivered presentations at professional or trade conferences.
  • Work experience. Include separate listings for work, laboratory, research, and field positions, even if they’re with the same organization. Mention leadership and other relevant experiences, even if they were performed in a volunteer capacity with a civic or other non-professional organization.
  • Scholarly or professional memberships. List any offices held. This shows continuing involvement in your field of interest.
  • Professional references. Include the names, job titles, and contact information for those colleagues and supervisors who have agreed to serve as references.

Using color or pictures

The ease with which software enables us to jazz up our documents tempts job seekers to employ creativity in formatting their résumés and CVs. Resume Target and CareerThinker warn against succumbing to temptation: “There is a chance that adding colour into your resume will help you “stand out from the crowd”. However, there is a greater chance that a hiring manager will dislike the colour, and that you will not be considered as a serious candidate.” Forbes disagrees, stating “a fully functioning and eye-catching resume includes an inclusive marketing strategy including splashes of color and tightly written copy.”

The same goes for photographs. Most resume writing authorities caution against them; however, Forbes acknowledges that we live in a multimedia age with short attention spans and a strong focus on visual media. Again, a professional and tasteful portrait probably won’t affect the hiring manager’s decision either way.

Make a good impression

Your CV or résumé, plus a cover letter, usually serves as your first contact with a recruiter or hiring manager. Therefore, it should be clean, well-organized, and free of inaccuracies and grammatical errors. Typos indicate a lack of attention to detail. Most people do not proofread their own work with any significant degree of effectiveness, so get a trusted colleague, friend, or family member to review the document before you send it out to represent you. The operative concepts for a good résumé or CV can be summed up this way: clean, succinct, organized.