Is there a difference between a ‘resume’ and a ‘curriculum vitae’? The answer is there may well be an important difference or none – it all depends on who uses the terms.

Employers and recruitment specialists in Australia tend to use the term ‘resume’ when asking candidates to supply a written work history. Like other aspects of modern Australian language use, it follows the American model. Although you’ll find New Zealand and UK employers are starting to use the same term, they still more often ask for a CV or a ‘curriculum vitae’.

While the British and New Zealanders might prefer to use CV, they generally regard the two terms as synonyms.

My Concise Oxford Dictionary defines resume as curriculum vitae. The dictionary suggests the word resume is an Americanism for CV.

Americans often make a clear distinction between the two terms. In their book a resume is a career summary designed to sell your key skills and experiences to a prospective employer while a CV is a fuller record of your work and life history. You can read how one American sees the difference between the two.

By all means read the essay, but I wouldn’t take what the head hunter has to say about European-style CVs too seriously. That’s because British employers prefer short, snappy CVs and they certainly have little relation to whatever it is he is describing in the essay.

For example, when I started hiring people in Britain during the early 1980s people would send CVs on a single piece of A4 paper. Some would make it to a second sheet, but anyone who required more than two sheets of paper would be regarded with suspicion. Admittedly I was hiring journalists and those days word economy was  a virtue. Nevertheless, good British CVs are generally short.

On the other hand, when a recruitment consultant in New Zealand approached me about a particular job she said a two pager is insufficient. She said nothing less than six pages would be adequate.

The simple truth is that there’s confusion about employer expectations of prospective employees. It varies from industry to industry, grade to grade and company to company. Some recruiters ask specifically for a two-page resume, that’s good; many more are vague.

Unless you know what the employer expects my advice is to ask the person handling the recruitment exactly what they expect to see.

That way you do three things. First, you end any ambiguity and can deliver to their exact requirements.

Second, you’ve flagged an interest. You may get to talk more and show something interesting, that way the person at the other end will look out for your application when it arrives.

Third, you’ll be able to figure out some clues about what kind of person or company your dealing with before making any commitment.

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