Curriculum Vitae (CV) vs Resumé | What You Need to Know


Whether it’s medical school or residency applications, job interviews, or even asking for letters of recommendation, you’ll often be asked for a copy of your CV. But what is a CV? Why is it important? And how can you create one that presents you in the best light?

CV stands for curriculum vitae, which is Latin for “course of life.”

This document is your personal list of all your academic achievements and credentials. Although this may sound similar to a resume, the two documents are not the same.

Let’s start by breaking down the differences between a curriculum vitae, or CV, and a resume.


Curriculum Vitae vs Resume

The biggest difference between your CV and your resume is the purpose of each document. CVs are mainly used in the academic or research setting to provide an objective list of your educational accomplishments and awards.

In contrast, resumes are used when applying for jobs. The primary goal of a resume is to quickly catch a prospective employer’s attention and show them why you’re a good fit for the position you’re applying for.

Although the two may contain similar information, there are several differences you should be aware of.

The first is length. Because your CV is a summary of all your qualifications and accomplishments, there is no minimum or maximum length. Although you should be succinct when listing your education and experiences, a CV can be as short or as long as necessary.

If you’re early on in your academic career, your CV may only be 1-2 pages. If you’re further along in your academic career and have your name on hundreds of publications, your CV may be substantially longer.

Resumes, on the other hand, are much shorter. Your resume should be 1-2 pages maximum and be tailored to the specific job that you’re applying for. Much like your CV, you should still include information about your educational background; however, the main focus should be on the job skills, work experience, and accomplishments that make you a good candidate for that specific position.

Employers don’t have the time to review a 6-page long CV when they’re screening through hundreds of candidates. Instead, they want a quick summary of your qualifications and why you’re a good fit.


Organizing Your CV

Now that we know the differences between a curriculum vitae and a resume, let’s discuss how to organize your CV.

No matter what type of program or position you’re applying to, your CV should be well organized, easy to follow, and free from spelling and grammatical errors. You should choose a font that is easy to read and professional, such as Arial or Helvetica, and a font size that is unobtrusive – usually around 11 or 12.

The margins should be consistent at around 0.5 – 1 inches and you should avoid overcomplicating things with excessive bolding, italics, or bullet points. Unlike your resume, your CV shouldn’t be used as an opportunity to show off your graphic design skills. It should be simple, easy to read, and professional.

Most CVs will be organized into five major headings: personal information, education and awards, professional experience, extracurricular experience, and research & publications.

The order in which you present the information may vary depending on your strengths and the type of program or position you’re applying for. The general consensus, however, is to organize the information within each section chronologically, starting with your most recent experience and working backward.

1 | Personal Information

For your personal information, you should include your name, title, and contact information. This includes your address, email, and phone number. Although this should go without saying, don’t include sensitive information such as your social security number. Also avoid including irrelevant or unnecessary information such as your marital status, nationality, sexual orientation, or spiritual beliefs.

2 | Education and Awards

Next is education and awards. Some people will keep this as one section, whereas others may break it up into two separate sections. Regardless, you should mention your most recent degree first along with your graduation date or expected graduation date. If you have an advanced degree, you should also consider adding your thesis as a bullet point.

This is the section where you should also mention any honors or awards, including any scholarships or grants, you’ve received. That being said, as you progress through your academic career, you may want to limit your honors or awards to only your most recent accomplishments.

If you’re applying to residency programs after medical school, for instance, you may choose to omit awards from high school or undergrad. The fact that you were valedictorian or soccer captain during high school isn’t important for residency program directors and may come across as unnecessary “fluff” used to pad your CV. Consider who will be reviewing your CV when deciding what information to include.

3 | Experiences

Next is the experiences section. How to best organize this section will depend heavily on your specific experiences. There is no absolute right or wrong approach. The most important thing is that it is well organized, easy to follow, and everything is categorized correctly.

If you’re a premed, for example, you may choose to split this section into work, research, and volunteering and organize each of your experiences into one of these categories.

For each one, you should go into a little bit of detail about what you did, where you did it, how long you did it for, and, in the case of shadowing or research, who your supervisor was. The key to an effective experiences section is presentation. How you present an experience can sometimes be even more important than the experience itself.

Your goal should be to demonstrate the traits that programs are looking for through your experiences. Instead of saying you’re hardworking, frame your experiences in a way that shows you’re hardworking.

Use action verbs whenever possible. These are words that convey doing. For example, if you spent a few months researching in a lab, your first bullet point can say something like, “Investigated the effect of a new drug on pluripotent stem cells.” Action verbs help frame your experiences and provide a clearer picture of what you did.

Next, highlight your accomplishments within that role. In contrast to simply listing your duties or your responsibilities, listing your accomplishments often allows you to frame the experience in a way that sounds much more impressive. “Created a system to poll 1,000 students using social media” sounds much more impressive than “Surveyed students through social media.”

You should also try to quantify your achievements whenever possible. For instance, saying “1,000 students” sounds much more impressive than just saying “students.”

That being said, you should be careful to never lie or over-exaggerate your skills or accomplishments. Not only is this incredibly unprofessional, but it can also hurt your chances of getting into whatever program or position you’re applying to – especially if you can’t back up something on your CV. Remember, anything that you put on your CV is fair game for an interviewer to ask about, and they can also check with your references. Make sure you’re able to talk confidently and truthfully about everything you choose to include.

4 | Extracurricular Activities

Next is the extracurricular activities section.

Here’s where you get to showcase the skills that make you a good team player. This is where you should discuss your leadership experiences and any events that you helped organize. You should discuss what you were a part of, what your role was, how long you were there, and approximately how many hours per week you dedicated to it.

This is another great opportunity to use action verbs again. If you were the leader of a student club, you might want to discuss how you “improved” something during your term as leader. If you started the group and built it from the ground up, you may want to use even stronger action verbs such as “founded” or “established.” Similar to the experiences section, you should also talk about what you accomplished during this time.

5 | Publications and Presentations

Lastly, we have the publications and presentations section.

Depending on where you are in your academic career, you may have very little or a lot to write about in this section. If you’re a premed, for instance, this section will be much shorter than if you were a Ph.D. graduate applying for a research position. If you don’t have much to write about in this section, you may want to consider adding it as a subheading under your research experiences.

Regardless, this section is your chance to organize any research articles you’ve written or presentations you’ve done. A good way to organize this section would be to categorize them based on type. As an example, you could have different sections for peer-reviewed papers, published papers, oral presentations, and poster presentations.

This is another section where you want to be careful not to include fluff, lie, or over-exaggerate your accomplishments. Don’t include simple presentations that you did as a student for your classes. Although you may have spent a great deal of time preparing these and they may have been important for your growth as a student, these types of experiences are often seen as just “padding” your CV and can negatively impact the reviewer’s perception of your accomplishments.

Additionally, you should avoid placing the same information in more than one place. If you did a poster presentation on a project that also ended up getting published in a journal, you should only include it once – either in poster presentations or published papers. Including the same project multiple times can come across as just “padding” your CV.

6 | Optional Subheadings

Depending on what type of program or position you’re applying for, you may also choose to include some additional subheadings in your CV.

For example, if you’re a registered nurse applying for clinical research positions as you pivot towards applying to medical school, you may want to include a certification section. On the other hand, a medical student may want to include a section dedicated to any societies or student interest groups that they’ve been a part of.

If you decide to include any of these sections, the same rules apply as they did for previous sections. Make sure they are well-organized and succinct and avoid adding fluff or repeating information.

When writing your CV, it’s important to remember that first impressions count. This is often your first opportunity to make a professional impression, so having a rock-solid resume or CV is paramount when applying for a new job, position, research, or other activity.

If you’re struggling to write your own, be sure to check out the Med School Insiders CV and Resume Editing Service. In traditional Med School Insiders fashion, we’ve recruited top talent and painstakingly optimized our systems to provide you with the best possible service. Our resume and CV editing services include careful, detailed analysis of formatting, content, and tone, in addition to insights on how to improve effectiveness in landing your dream position.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out How to Write a Medical School Personal Statement.


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