CV versus Resume - a question of language?

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Why does a Brit apply for a job with a CV and an American with a resume? To paraphrase Winston Churchill, is it just a question of “two nations divided by a common language?” Or is there a difference between the two documents? What would you use in Canada or Australia? And what about in Ireland or New Zealand?

In fact, although people often talk about CVs and Resumes as if they are one and the same, there are subtle but important differences between the two documents, which can be traced to the origins of the terms.

CV stands for “Curriculum Vitae”, a Latin phrase meaning course of life. A CV is a detailed document that is normally two pages long, and contains a high level of detail about your accomplishments, achievements and experience. Resume comes from the French word for summary, and is a much more condensed document, a concise one-page document summarising a person’s relevant job experience and education.

There are 3 major differences between the two documents – length, purpose and layout. Whereas a resume is a brief one-page summary, a CV is more detailed and can be two (or exceptionally) three pages long. A resume will normally be tailored for each position, whereas a CV tends to be more of a standing document (although the astute candidate may choose to highlight particular skills or experience depending on the job for which they are applying). A CV has a clear chronological order (best practice is to list the most recent position first), whereas a resume can be adapted to best suit the applicant, and the position under consideration.

So who uses what? If you are in the UK, Ireland or New Zealand, you need a CV? If you are in the US and Canada, expect to prepare a resume, except if you are applying for an academic or research post, when a CV is the required document.

Australia, South Africa and India? The terms resume and CV are used interchangeably; resumes are more common for private sector jobs and CVs for public sector positions.

Mainland Europe goes mainly for the CV; in German-speaking countries, the Lebenslauf is the local equivalent of a CV.

One question that does arise is what happens if you are applying for a job with an American company in Europe, or vice versa? Accepted wisdom is that you should apply with the locally preferred option, although the alternative may be acceptable. Perhaps hedge your bets and provide both!

Whatever the type of document preferred in your location, the role of the CV or resume remains very important both for job seekers and those in employment. Very few people can expect to get through life without one, so make sure yours is always up to date.