Résumé versus Curriculum Vitae: What’s the Difference?

Written by
Jonathan Schmidt-Swartz and Emily Tobey

Nov 2, 2020

Nov 2, 2020 • by Jonathan Schmidt-Swartz and Emily Tobey

Although most PhD candidates have some familiarity with composing an academic CV, these students may feel anxious or uncomfortable when tasked with writing a résumé. From the French résumé—meaning “summary”—its brief format has an entirely different goal than a lengthy curriculum vitae—Latin for “course of life.” Understanding what hiring committees and recruiters look for when reading résumés will make the process of transforming a CV into a résumé a little less painful.

Summarize Your Skills

Unlike a CV, a résumé serves as a window into the skills you have acquired from your educational and professional history. It showcases whether your work experiences and expertise make you a suitable hire for the job. Your descriptions of previous work, therefore, serve as opportunities to demonstrate how you have obtained those skills.

A Résumé Should Always Be Tailored to the Job Description

Before starting a résumé, read the job description and reflect on what qualifications and skills are pertinent to the position. Begin to think how you can frame the experiences you have had—whether it’s teaching, presenting at conferences, independently researching, publishing, or writing a dissertation—to exemplify that you possess the skills necessary for the job.

After you have chosen what experiences are relevant, it’s important to recast your academic and professional accomplishments into quantifiable achievements and to list skills instead of tasks.

For example, avoid listing duties:

Teaching Assistant: Primary instructor for all levels of Spanish language and teaching assistant for literature and culture courses, graded student work, and held office hours.

It would be far better to showcase accomplishments:

Teaching Assistant

  • Served as primary instructor of students for all levels of Spanish language and as teaching assistant for literature and culture courses
  • Received a 97% positive teacher evaluation rating in classes ranging from 10 to 120 students
  • Tailored course content to students of all abilities and backgrounds

Because recruiters may have to assess hundreds or thousands of applicants, there is very little time to make an impression. The number of students taught and the teacher evaluation results highlight achievements that are quantifiable and, therefore, easier for hiring committees and recruiters to digest.

Clearly Communicate the Breadth and Depth of Your Work

In addition to adding those quantifiable details, it is also important to communicate the importance and value of your work. If you were the president of your graduate student association, emphasize the challenges of the job and how you were able to manage them and accomplish your objectives. For example:

President of Graduate Student Association

  • Elected head of the Graduate Student Association, representing 9,000+ graduate students and 30,000+ students system-wide
  • Managed $500K budget
  • Cosponsored the first annual Doctoral Career Symposium, leading efforts to establish graduate student professional development

Language Matters: Use Action Words

The use of action words may also help you strengthen your résumé, enabling you to communicate more effectively what you have done and the skills you have acquired. (See this list of 185 action verbs for examples.) These action words can help you convey your initiative and ability to take advantage of opportunities.

The goal of a résumé is not to serve as a laundry list of accomplishments or experiences but to tell the story of why you, a graduate student in the humanities, are a perfect fit for the position. It may be helpful to add a narrative introduction at the top of your résumé to introduce yourself, in two to three sentences, and to frame how your unique background as a researcher and educator establishes you as the strongest candidate for the job. A well-written résumé will be a potent advocate for you as an applicant in today’s competitive job market.