Résumé or CV – what’s the difference?

The differences between a CV and a résumé aren’t carved in stone. In fact, in Canada and the United States, the terms are often used interchangeably. Generally speaking though, if what you are trying to foreground is your knowledge of a field, you want to lean more towards a CV. If you want to highlight your relevant skills and experience for a position – then a résumé would be a better choice.

But what’s the difference?

Both are essentially a document of lists – of your education, experience, skills, and accomplishments. A résumé is a 1-2 page ‘summary’ of your most relevant experiences and skills. You are trying to convince the reader that you are well prepared for and will do well in the program or position for which you are applying. This emphasis on experience means that many of the statements in résumés start with verbs because they focus on how you have done what you have done.

CVs on the other hand are focused on positioning your expertise in a particular field, and are commonly used in academic and professional contexts where your level of expertise is important.

In such cases, you want to emphasize where you acquired and how you demonstrated your expertise. Therefore the content of a CV focuses on where you were educated, what you researched, where you presented or published your research, and what you have taught. Consequently CVs are often more noun focused than résumés.

Unlike the people who read résumés, the readers of a CV are usually familiar with the types of activities you will be listing, so it’s unnecessary to provide verb-based descriptions of how you did these things since the reader will already know.

Most Bachelor-level students and graduates prepare a hybrid of a résumé and CV in order to present the more significant research papers and essays they’ve written along with an account of their most relevant paid and volunteer experiences.

Many times post-grad programs will request a CV, not because they expect you to have published your research, or presented at conferences, but because that is what they are used to in an academic setting. Use your judgement to determine how best to showcase the details most relevant to your readers, and ask for lots of feedback from your referees, TAs and, of course, the Career Centre.

Remember, selection committees are made up of academics, not people trained in HR. So at the end of the day, they will be more interested in content than format and structure.


The following samples are taken from successful post-graduate applications and should not be used as templates, only as examples.

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