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A CV is not a resume, even if you’re a doctor

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This is Part 1 of a three-part series on CVs and resumes for physicians pursuing non-clinical and alternative jobs. You may want to start out by reading the intro to this set of articles. Enjoy!

Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, a curriculum vitae (or CV for short) and resume are not the same thing. And they are not interchangeable. What is the difference between a resume and a CV? A resume is a one- to two-page (and sometimes longer) summary of highlights meant to display your qualifications for a job or a professional position. It’s used prevalently across many industries and is most often what a jobseeker should submit to a potential employer when applying for a job.

A CV, on the other hand, is used primarily within academia. It is often significantly longer than a resume, and tends to get lengthier the more time you’ve been in your career. In fact, if you only know one thing about the difference between a CV and resume, it’s probably that “a CV is long, and a resume is short.” For the most part, this is accurate. But there are much more meaningful differences between the two. So let’s talk about both, how to write them, and when to use them.

You’ve probably been led astray about resumes and CVs

Yes, you’ve most likely been given false information about CVs and resumes at some point. You might have heard conflicting information, and don’t know what to believe. You might be unsure about how to write your resume and CV because you don’t know what sources of information to trust. But this is an easy thing to fix.

Our formal education and medical training takes place in an academic setting. As a result, many of us have learned what we know about job applications from academics without a lot of non-academic experience. And, since CVs are used more commonly than resumes in academia, many physicians start out their careers with some familiarity of CVs but with a skewed view of what a solid resume should include. False information from our academic advisors includes:

“Put everything on there!”

“Just add to it whenever you have a new project or publication!”

“List all the titles of your dissertation and research grants, for sure!”

If you stay in academia, you’ll probably be fine. Many of us vying for atypical or non-clinical careers, however, could use a resume boot camp. You can pull through in non-academia with a CV, but it will put you at a disadvantage. A savvy employer will quickly notice if you send a CV instead of a resume for a position more suitable to a resume. He will know that you:

  1. Have limited experience in the field, or
  2. Did not put a lot of time and thought into your application.

Don’t let this happen to you.

Sometimes you’ll see a job ad that says to send a resume or a CV. This doesn’t mean you should send either one! The ad was most likely just written by someone who doesn’t have a clear idea of what they want in a candidate. It still matters, and one type will probably be better than the other in ensuring that your application gives a great first impression and makes your relevant experience shine. Do yourself a favor and send the most appropriate one based on the job description or situation.

An example of a job post requiring a resume or CV

These are examples from actual job postings. Don’t buy this! Give them what they’re actually looking for, not just what they say is acceptable.

In general, here’s when you might use one or the other

Use a resume if you’re applying to a position in:

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Managed care
  • Finance
  • A non-profit
  • A startup
  • A company without a specific job opening, in which you’re trying to get your foot in the door (i.e. “Sure, send me your resume – I’ll pass it along!”)

A CV is usually preferred for jobs:

  • In a hospital system
  • With a university or medical school
  • In a physician practice group
  • Focused on research

A position in academia is not necessarily a full-time, tenured position. Adjunct professorships, guest lecturers, etc are suitable for a CV as well.

It’s also common to use a CV when applying for a grant, a scholarship, or certain committee positions. Be sure to check the requirements or ask the organization if you’re unsure.

Governmental positions deserve their own paragraph here. US government jobs stand on their own, in that applications for jobs with the federal government have their own requirements and norms. This really should be the subject of its own post. But, for now, know that the online application in USAJobs is lengthy. The system will guide you through the development of a kind of CV / resume hybrid, for which your Perpetual CV will help you immensely.

Main differences between a resume and a CV

None of these are black and white rules, but here’s a general sense of what sets a resume apart from a CV.




The purpose is…To provide a timeline of your professional activitiesTo convince someone that you’re the right person for a job
The reader will…Understand your area of expertise and what has established you as competent or as an an expert in that area, as well as your contributions to the fieldAppreciate your experience as it is relevant to the position in question, recognize your accomplishments within the organizations you’ve worked for, and begin to imagine how you might benefit the company
The length should be…As long as it needs to be1 or 2 pages; 3 if you have a lot of experience
Regarding design,…Boring is fine; Times New Roman is a-okayCertain eye-catching features can be helpful; strategic use of white space, bullets, and italics
Situations it should be used are…Professorship applications; jobs at academic institutions; scholarship applicationsJobs outside of academia; networking
You should construct…One, and add to it over timeA generic one to have on hand, and one for each type of position you pursue if you’re actively job-searching
Stuff to highlight includes…Training, titles, grants and awards, publications, and invited presentationsKey achievements in previous positions, and experiences particularly pertinent to the open position

Check out the rest of the series on CVs and resumes:

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