For most job-seekers, a resume and cover letter are the key documents needed when applying for positions. However, for those applying to jobs in academia and research, or for fellowships or grants, a common requirement is a curriculum vitae, or CV. Although this document bears some similarities to a traditional resume, there are important elements that make this a unique job application document.

This article will explore the elements of a CV, how it differs from a resume, and what to include (and not include) in your CV.

CV vs Resume

Curriculum vitae is Latin for “course of life,” which provides a clue to the document’s nature. Rather than focus on work history, like a resume, a CV is a detailed document highlighting an individual’s professional and educational history, including academic achievements, awards, scholarships, grants, research, publications, and coursework.

CVs are typically two to three pages, although length can vary based on experience. Individuals who are further in their careers or have a significant amount of knowledge may have a CV that is several pages long. The goal of a CV is to be as thorough as possible.

By comparison, a resume emphasizes professional experience relevant to the particular job or opportunity the writer is applying for. While a resume can include an individual’s education history and significant achievements, the primary focus is work experience. Brevity is also key to successful resume writing, with most being a single page.

It’s important to note that the above description of a CV is a uniquely American definition. In other parts of the world, the term CV refers to a document that more closely resembles a resume.

CV Resume
Emphasis Academic credentials and background Professional experience and skills
Standard Length 2-3 pages 1 page
Used For — Academic, research, and science positions

— Fellowships

— Grants

— Most non-academic job roles
Format — Starts with the education section, while the remaining structure is flexible. — Starts with the objective/summary and work experience sections, while the remaining structure is flexible.

— Common formats are reverse chronological, functional, or combined.

Who Needs a CV?

As noted above, a CV is a specialized document required in a few specific industries and instances. Generally speaking, individuals in the following fields need a CV:

  • Academia—Individuals seeking positions as professors, college librarians, or academic researchers must have a CV that demonstrates their research experience, including publications and presentations.
  • Non-Academic Research — Even if you’re conducting research in a non-academic setting, a CV is still typically required when applying for grants, fellowships or other funding to support research, or research-related jobs in the private sector.
  • Medicine and Law — A CV is also the preferred application document for physicians and lawyers. These are two fields where research and publication are common to maintain credentials and stay current in their fields.

Most jobs or opportunities in these fields will inform applicants if they need a CV, but you can always check with the person in charge of hiring to confirm if the instructions are unclear. Unless a CV is specifically requested, the default should be submitting a resume when applying for jobs.

How to Format a CV

Below is the standard information individuals should include when writing their CV. The order of information on a CV is somewhat flexible. As with resumes and cover letters, always start with up-to-date contact information, including email and phone number. Since CVs emphasize academic experience, your academic history (in reverse-chronological order) always goes first.

Following that, sections can be placed in whatever order works best for you. For example, if you’re applying for a professor position, you may want to list your previous teaching experience after your academic history. If you’re seeking a grant for research, you can give your research experience more prominence. You can also eliminate any sections in which you lack experience or are irrelevant.

CVs should be straightforward in tone and presentation. They should be free of embellishments like graphic design elements or fancy formatting. The font should be easy to read, such as Helvetica or Calibri. You can use bold, underline, or caps where applicable for emphasis or ease of reading. Write publication and presentation titles in italics.

CV sections

  • Contact information
  • Academic history
  • Teaching/work/research experience
  • Conference presentations
  • Conference attendance
  • Honors and awards
  • Grants and funding
  • Publications
  • Professional organization memberships

Optional sections:

  • Key skills
  • Community outreach
  • Language skills
  • References

What Not to Include in a CV

If you’re submitting a cover letter, include that as a separate document in your application. Your CV shouldn’t include paragraphs detailing your interest in the position or explanations of why you’re a good fit.

You also don’t need to include a work history irrelevant to the job or opportunity you seek.

Lastly, make sure your CV doesn’t have any spelling or grammatical errors by proofreading it yourself and, if possible, having another person read it to catch mistakes you may have missed.