5.2 CVs and Resumes

We are going to review quite a lot of information to give you an idea of some of the key issues about CVs and resumes. The questions about CVs and resumes in Activity 5.1 will help you grasp these issues and help you design and produce your own CV or resume. It’s also fine to read this introduction as many times as you want to.

So, what is a CV or resume?

  • A curriculum vitae (CV) is a summary of someone’s education, professional history, and job qualifications for a prospective employer. It is taken from the Latin for “the race of life.” This derivation is a useful reminder that CVs (and resumes) are used to compete with others for an interview.
  • A resume is a brief account of one’s professional or work experience and qualifications, often submitted with an employment application. In the USA and Canada, “resume” is another name for curriculum vitae (CV). The word “resume” comes from the French word meaning “to summarize”—a useful reminder that this is what a resume needs to do.

In many countries, CVs and resumes are comparable. In Canada, the USA, and Australia, resumes tend to be shorter than CVs, usually running to between one and three pages. In the UK, CVs are usually no longer than two pages.

For both CVs and resumes, it is a good idea to use key words—often active verbs—to increase impact. An even better idea is to select key words that are important in job announcements and job descriptions. Remember, these documents are essentially your marketing tools, with content adapted for each application.

There is a growing demand for electronic resumes and CVs. These are popular with employers because they save costs. As long ago as 1997, the US Employment Management Association estimated that the average cost-per-hire was almost one-tenth when the internet was used ($377 compared with $3295 for print-based hires—Wikipedia, accessed August 24, 2012). In Europe, Europass—an EU initiative to increase the qualifications and mobility of European citizens—includes a standard CV as one of five documents [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . This CV includes these sections:

  • Personal information.
  • Desired employment/occupational field.
  • Work experience.
  • Education and training.
  • Languages.
  • Personal skills and competencies.
  • Additional information. 

In the USA, a federal resume—which summarizes relevant experiences and education in a chronological format—must be used for all federal government jobs. It should cover your previous ten years’ employment and be between three and five pages when printed. (There used to be a requirement to include a KSA (knowledge, skills, and abilities) “essay” but this was phased out following a memo from President Obama in May 2010.) This resume differs from the standard format in terms of structure, length, and content, and consists of these sections:

  • Job information.
  • Personal information.
  • Education.
  • Work experience.
  • Other qualifications.

This brief overview highlights that there are many different approaches to CVs and resumes. These differences become even more apparent if you spend even a short time looking at the sometimes conflicting advice about writing resumes that is available online. What is important is that you supply the sort of CV or resume that has been asked for—bearing in mind that the person who receives it may spend less than 20 seconds reading it.

It’s also important to realize that while no resume is perfect, it has to be fit for purpose and be relevant and well-presented.

5.1 Cycle of Learning

5.2.1 Introduction to CVs and Resumes