The thin red line between a CV and a Resume

By Steve Lord in careers | December 23, 2014

You might be asked to submit a Curriculum Vitae (CV) or a resumé with a job application. Despite the former sounding like a vital part of your brain and the latter sounding like a tempting dessert, the truth is that the two are much closer to each other than you may think.

A Resumé

The best way to think of a resumé is to treat it as an overview of who you are. Resumés are common in places such as the United States and typically take less time to read, which may explain their popularity. A resumé should be no more than two pages and should contain:

  • Full name and contact details
  • Keywords
  • An overview of your skills
  • A summary of your experience
  • A summary of your education

If you resumé is more than two pages long, it’s not a resumé, it’s a poorly written CV. The keywords should go near the top below your contact details and need to match the job description. Don’t go overboard and make sure that you’re able to talk for at least 5 minutes about any keywords you use without resorting to Google. Your skills overview needs to be no more than a couple of sentences, preferably bullet pointed to make them easier to read.

Make sure that you’re able to talk for at least 5 minutes about any keywords you use without resorting to Google

Your experience is the meat of your resumé. If you don’t have any full work experience then add volunteering experience, be that in something related to what you want to do or something that demonstrates credibility, such as any contributions to open source projects. This too should be bullet pointed.

Education and certifications should be limited to only relevant qualifications ordered by relevance and recency. I have basic certifications in social care, but I’d never dream of putting them on a job application. Fire safety or Health and Safety certifications are where I’d draw the line, the line being “Useful but not relevant”.


If a resumé is a bullet-pointed list of your achievements, a CV tells the tale, in theory. In the United States, CVs are generally only requested for more academic positions. In these instances then a long CV of 3-5 pages may well be worthwhile. For everyone else in Europe, the Middle East, Africa or Australasia then a CV is no more than 3 pages in length and is slightly more in-depth than a resumé. The purpose of a CV is not to sell yourself by embellishing or explaining your brilliance in detail. The purpose of a CV is to allow the people reading it to make a quick yes/no decision and move on. Nobody wants to read your CV, and we can exploit this to our advantage.

The purpose of a CV is to allow the people reading it to make a quick yes/no decision and move on

A good CV will contain the following:

  • Full name and contact details
  • Keywords
  • A couple of sentences summarising you overall
  • Your work experience, broken down in reverse chronological order
  • A summary of your education

If this looks almost identical to the resumé it’s because it is. Most people in the UK especially say that they want a CV, but a funny thing happened when word processors started to become popular. People started using resumé templates bundled with office products. There are millions of poorly formatted documents sitting in inboxes up and down the UK that will probably print incorrectly because they were formatted of US Letter instead of the UK’s A4 paper size. So for the UK, unless you’re in a profession that really wants that level of detail then less is more especially if plenty of people are applying for the job.

Avoid weasel words like “dynamic”, “strategic”, “paradigm” or anything belonging in air quotes that makes people want to punch you in the face

In this case it’s much the same as the CV. The usual contact details at the top are followed by keywords to help stimulate conversation in an interview and be crossed off by a recruiter. Your summary needs to be around 3 short sentences in length, no more than 3 lines long and should avoid weasel words like “dynamic”, “strategic”, “paradigm” or anything belonging in air quotes that makes people want to punch you in the face. Treat the opening statement as though it’s a sample of your writing output. In the event of applying for penetration testing job may I suggest you treat the summary as though you were writing a finding for the executive summary in an important report - plain and concise but professional and formal English (if English is used in CVs in the country in which you’re applying for a job).

For each role you document in the work experience section you want to minimise gaps in employment and make sure that what you put in is relevant to the job you’re applying for. If it’s not relevant, kick it out. Normally I would suggest putting a sentence in summarising the role and using bullet points to highlight key things that match the job description. Ultimately the objective is to make your most relevant points the most readable, and any potential problems as invisible as possible. They can find out about your personal and professional failings in the interview stage, but for now focusing on your good points without over embellishment will suit best.


While the differences between a resumé and CV appear straightforward on paper (no pun intended), the reality is that the latter is mostly a slightly longer version of the former. Ultimately you should focus on readability more than anything else, always bearing in mind that nobody wants to read your resumé or CV in full.

In my free 30 day email course on career hacking for penetration testers, I talk about my 3 best CV Hacks to make your CV better than the rest. If you’ve found this article useful you could do a lot worse than sign up. The course is all about hacking your career whether you’re just starting out or thinking about a change. It’s written with penetration testers in mind, but if your only thoughts of jobs involving penetration are less than pure then the broader career advice is just as relevant. Sign up using the form below.

Never miss a post

Like what you see?.

Get our latest electronics and security content in your mailbox. We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe any time.