Saturday, August 7, 2010


By Tom R. Arterburn

cur·ric·u·lum vi·tae: A short account of one's career and qualifications prepared typically by an applicant for a position. Etymology: Latin, course of (one's) life.

ré·su·mé: A brief account of one's professional or work experience and qualifications, often submitted with an employment application. Etymology: French résumé, from past participle of résumer to resume, summarize, from Middle French resumer.

Do you know the difference between a curriculum vitae (CV) and a resume? And why it’s important to have both up-to-date and readily available?

For some, a resume, by definition, is a “summary” – a synopsis of your CV, let’s say. If you’ve ever tried to copy and paste your CV into a job board field with a 500 word limit, or watched a recruiter’s cold stare as he/she lifted your professional opus up and down mockingly as if curling a dumbbell, you get the idea.

For others, a resume is the lengthy narrative and the CV is the summarized version. So if you’re confused, obviously, you’re not alone.

While there are no universal standards regarding exactly what to list in a resume and what to include in a CV, the following is a guide to the basics:

A curriculum vitae often includes a summary of one’s educational and academic backgrounds, as well as teaching and research experience, grants, publications, presentations, awards, honors, affiliations and other details. A document that’s length is only limited by the endeavors of the professional it refers to. It’s the document of choice for a physician recruiter with Cedars Sinai Medical Center, which employs over 2,000 physicians and recruits up to 30 each year. Because it is a research and teaching hospital, says the recruiter, who wishes to remain anonymous, we don’t want to see a two-page resume. We prefer to look at a full CV to see if a person has had any research grants, what kinds of studies they’ve worked on… something much more in-depth. You’ll probably find the same preference among speakers bureaus, organizations recruiting for higher-level positions and journal editors. “We prefer CVs to resumes,” confirms Pam Miller, Assistant to the Editor - Special Projects, New England Journal of Medicine, Boston, Mass. “They provide much more detail and if we are using the CV for any type of evaluation, it usually provides all the details necessary to determine the person's body of work.”

It’s the gold standard for traditional clinical roles, says Ivo Drury, MD MBA, President of Career Consulting for Physicians in Ann Arbor, Mich, who also serves as Adjunct Professor of Neurology, University of Michigan Medical School. “But résumés are of increasing importance given that more physicians consider pursuing non-clinical careers.”

While a CV is likely to be a lengthy and comprehensive chronology of a person’s career, he says a résumé should be weighted to more recent professional activities and to one's accomplishments in the role most relevant to the position they seek. “The résumé, not the CV, gives a dynamic picture of a candidate’s activities in a particular role.”

As for content, the resume should always include a brief biographical summary, work history and educational background. Let the position requirements dictate the rest. “We don’t need to see all the articles you’ve written,” adds Dennis Settles, primary care manager with Kendall-Davis in St. Louis, Mo. “We’re looking for certifications, schooling and work history. That’s it.”

Karen Zeller, president of the National Association of Physician Recruiters has a more traditional take. “I believe there is a difference [between a resume and a CV]. I see a resume as being more of a narrative of objectives and experience. And in ten years, I don’t think I’ve seen more than two or three resumes. They tend to be used more for medical director or administrative positions. I think the standard in the industry is a CV with concise statements about educational background, work history, publications and that sort of thing. If it’s a graduating resident, I tend to receive two-page CVs. If it’s a practicing physician, who has spent some time in an academic setting, that physician will typically have two CVs—one that is abbreviated and shows his/her primary focus… maybe six pages. And then his/her full CV that may be 25 pages.”

When asked about tailoring the CV to one’s career objective, Zeller says she prefers a cover letter “that lists their objective, outlines their strengths and highlights whatever they think makes them a good fit for a particular opportunity.”

Because hiring professionals seem to lack consensus when it comes to CVs and resumes, do as much as you can to discover your target’s preference. When the U.S. Government hires, for instance, it provides a very specific job announcement, which details the required submission materials. Send more and it will be disregarded. Send less and you will probably be looked over. “Here [at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Birmingham, Ala.], the terms resume and CV are used interchangeably. We really don’t make an issue of it,” says Carolyn Watts, resource specialist. Semantics aside, she adds that the most common problem for candidates applying to the VA is failing to provide enough information, which suggests a job seeker with a meticulous CV will fare better than one who submits a terse resume.

The final caveat? No person has ever been hired based solely on their CV or resume. In the ultra-competitive world of hiring, the aforementioned documents are primarily used for screening candidates out. So take advice from recruiters and hiring professionals with a grain of salt, don’t let your resume do all the talking and follow-up on every application in order to identify necessary changes in content, style and format.

Tom R. Arterburn is an award-winning job-search journalist and Executive Director of the Resume Institute

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