Resume or CV? What’s the Difference?

I frequently hear early-career scientists and engineers use the term ‘CV’ (abbreviation for Curriculum Vitae) when they are applying for an industry job. This is incorrect terminology, and will likely make a bad impression on the hiring manager, so I want to say a few words to clear up any confusion.

CVs and resumes are very different and should not be confused. CVs are for jobs in academia. A resume is what you want for an industry job search. If you give a CV to a hiring manager in an industry, they will think you haven’t done your homework, and that you are probably not prepared to enter this new world. The private sector is very different than the academic research environment where you got your advanced degree. Nothing screams, “I have no industry experience,” louder than sending a CV to accompany an industry job application. The difference is not just in the name — the two documents are very different in both content and purpose.

What is a CV?

A CV contains everything you have ever done that adds professional credibility: jobs, projects, papers, presentations, patents, etc. Most people would agree that a longer CV is a better CV. This is because the purpose of a CV is to show that you have the credentials to be a professor at an academic institution, and this is all about demonstrating expertise. The more you have done, the more expertise you demonstrate. What’s more, your CV is a full record of your accomplishments, which can be passed around to anyone at the university who wants to see the list of credentials for the new professor who is being considered.

What is a resume?

The primary purpose of a resume is to get a hiring manager to call you for a phone interview to learn more. It should be one page long if you are early in your career, and never more than two pages, with plenty of white space. That’s because a hiring manager in an industry just wants to know if you can solve their current problem(s). A page or two is plenty of space to convince them you are worth a phone call to learn more about.

Sure, they are likely looking for a particular set of skills and experience, but most of all they want to know if you can solve their problems. Listing lots of detail from jobs you had years ago doesn’t show them this. Citing publications and presentations doesn’t show them this. Telling stories about recent problems you have solved, results you have achieved, and leadership you have demonstrated does show them this.

Regarding document length, keep in mind that the hiring manager likely has a big stack of resumes in response to their job posting, and they want to be able to glance at the top few paragraphs and decide quickly which ones to throw out, and which ones are worth reading and then following up with a call.

Want more detail?

If you want more detail on writing a powerful resume, check out this great article by Peter Fiske. Be brief and to the point, put your most relevant strengths and accomplishments up front, and tell some great short stories about what you’ve done to make your experience relevant and memorable (see my ‘Telling Better Stories’ post), and you will have a resume that stands out.

Check out the video version of this cast here:

Will a PhD make me overqualified

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