CVs and resumes are used for summarising the experience, skills and achievements you’ve attained in your education or career so far. An employer will usually ask for one as part of the application process for a role, often along with a covering letter.
Your CV or resume will most likely be the first point of contact with an employer, so it’s important to get it right.
They could be flicking through a pile of one hundred very similar documents, so invest some time in making it stand out from the others. It’s a tool that can be used to really market yourself and is a great way to highlight why you should be selected for the role.
CV vs Resume
You might be asked to send a CV when applying for a job or position, or you might be asked for your resume. The terms tend to be used interchangeably here in the UK which can be confusing, but they do have different origins and slightly different purposes.
So, it’s worth taking the time to ensure you’re making the most of the format the employer or institution is asking you for. This guide will take you through the difference between a CV and resume, and when each should be used.
What’s the difference?
Here in the UK, most of Europe and in New Zealand, ‘CV’ tends to be used to cover all kinds of CVs. In the US and Canada, they tend to use both the terms ‘resume’ and ‘CV’, depending on the kind of information needed. So, it’s not just an Americanism.
So just to keep things simple, let’s call the two kinds of documents what they’re used for: 1. an employment CV (which our friends in the US and Canada call a ‘resume’) 2. an academic CV.
Employment CV (often called a resume)
When it’s needed
What it is
What detail to include
Order of content
TIP: If you happen to be applying for roles that fall into both the public or private sector as well as roles in academia, you’ll need to have both kinds of CVs ready for those applications. This is much more likely to land you the role than if you were to use a one-size-fits-all CV.
What if the employer hasn’t specified which kind of CV they expect?
As a general rule, public or private sector jobs will require an employment CV (resume), and roles in academia or positions in universities will require an academic CV. But, if there is some overlap with a role, it mightn’t be clear. Sometimes an employer will have helpful information on their website for applicants to read on what they’re after. Have a look for a Careers section on their website, which might indicate what kind of information they want from you.
If it still isn’t obvious, spend some time going through the job description. The tasks, skills and responsibilities listed will give you an idea of what they’re looking for.
If you’re still not sure, it’s a good idea to get in touch with the employer or your recruiter to ask. It’s a fair question, and it’s better to ask and get it right than to waste time sending something that doesn’t give them the kind of information they need.
What if the company is based outside the UK?
You could well find that a company you’re applying to work for just ask you for a ‘CV’. This could be referring to the more concise employment CV type, the lengthier academic CV type, or they might be looking for something completely different. Spend some time researching CVs for the country you’re looking at to get an idea of the format, style and length that’s the preference for the kind of role you’re going for, in that particular country.
Again, it’s never a bad idea to just ask the employer. Don’t worry about sounding stupid – it will highlight your interest in the role and show your attention to detail.
How long should your CV be?
Once you’ve established what kind of CV your potential employer is looking for, spend some time researching the organisation. Getting an idea of their core values will help with overall tone and direction of your CV – what’s most important to them, what they expect of you and the kind of experience they’ll want.
Here are a few more pointers to get you started:
- Research sample CVs – there are lots of useful resources online including sample CVs for every field and industry out there.
- Keep it clear and concise – whichever format it is, try not to ramble on. Bullet points help the reader to skim read the information and get through more of what you include.
- Avoid unexplained gaps in employment – make sure the dates add up. If you did take time out to go travelling or to focus on yourself, list the experience you gained in that time. Be ready to explain any gaps in your interview.
- Sell yourself – use this document to highlight your best skills, qualities and traits. Think about any specific aspects of your academic or professional experience that make you differ from the other applicants.
- Be honest – employers will often carry out background checks on potential employees. And, remember that if you get an interview, you’ll need to be able to speak confidently about everything on your CV.
- Keep your CV updated – it’s a good idea to update your CV for each role you go for. Tailoring it to each job description means the employer can easily tick off everything that aligns and will have no choice but to keep reading.
- Proofread – it goes without saying that you should be double or triple checking your spelling and grammar. Proofreading the document out loud is the best way to quality check it before sending it off. And, you could always get a friend to give it a read through too. They might spot something you didn’t.