European CV vs. U.S. Resume & CV Differences

It’s important to understand that the CV acronym, which refers to the professional document more formally known as the curriculum vitae, and has a very different meaning in the United States than it does in Europe. In this article, we’re going to look at the European CV vs. the U.S. resume and CV, noting some of the big differences along the way.

A U.S. CV is often a detailed document used to apply to academic, medical, research, and teaching positions. It is much more comprehensive than a U.S. resume, which is almost always one page long. The U.S. resume is used by most American job seekers.

This can all get confusing because the European CV is not quite like either the U.S. CV or the American resume. Additionally, sometimes Europeans will refer to the European CV as a resume, but the document they are talking about is not really the same as a U.S. resume.

Before we look at the differences between these documents, keep in mind that we are using the term “European” in an intentionally generic sense to refer to the shared business norms among primarily Western European countries. We do not mean to imply that the CV is exactly the same across Europe or that European countries are culturally alike. The term “European” is being used for simplicity’s sake to present a snapshot of what CV expectations generally are like in this region.

Now, here are 5 of the differences that stand out the most when considering the European CV vs. U.S. resume vs. U.S. CV:

1. Length.
According to Expect Talent, a U.K.-based recruitment company, the “ideal length” for a European CV is 2 to 3 pages. This is the length an applicant will get if they use the EU administration’s Europass CV.

An American resume, on the other hand, is usually a single page document.  A U.S. CV starts at 3 pages—20 pages would not be inappropriate for a seasoned professional!

2. Paper size for printed versions.
The European CV should always be printed on ISO A4 paper, the standard paper size used for many different types of business correspondence in most of the world. ISO A4 paper measures about 8.27 × 11.69 inches.

The U.S. resume and U.S. CV, on the other hand, should always be printed on American “letter size” paper. In the U.S., “letter size” paper is 8.5 × 11 inches. The exception would be an American acting resume, which is always printed on, or attached to the back of, a professional 8” x 10” headshot.

3. Personal information.
It is acceptable, although increasingly optional, to include some personal information on a European CV.

According to Alison Doyle, author of Alison Doyle’s Job Search Guidebook, many European CVs start off with the following types of information.

  • Marital Status
  • Age
  • Number of children (ages optional)
  • Personal Interests

Nationality and gender are also commonly mentioned on a European CV.

On the other hand, sharing any type of personal information on a resume, CV, or cover letter is considered very unprofessional in the US. The one exception may be gender, since it’s not uncommon for a person with a gender-neutral name such as Jessie, Dominique, or Casey to put the “Mr.” or “Ms.” honorific on their resume or CV to indicate their gender. But, this is always optional.

Now, some American resumes and CVs still mention personal interests or hobbies, but this is usually considered outdated in today’s highly competitive job market, unless the applicant’s hobbies are exceptionally relevant to the position for which they are applying.

The EU administration’s suggested Europass CV format is designed so that an applicant can put their nationality and date of birth just below their contact information.

4. High school information.
A European CV is always expected to contain some secondary school information, even if the applicant has an advanced college degree. On the other hand, a U.S. CV does not contain this information.

A U.S. resume may contain this information, but only if the applicant has not completed any college courses. Even this is sometimes considered optional. When it is included, it’s usually just the basics, in a format like this:

  • High School Name, City, U.S. State (Year of Graduation)

On a European CV, the type of high school information included varies by country. On a U.K. CV, the focus is on A Levels and O Levels, which are tests taken in secondary school that cover proficiencies in specific subjects.

The EU administration’s recommended Europass CV format is intentionally flexible when it comes to this section.

5. Photo.
A European CV will, in some countries, contain a photo, usually a professional-looking headshot. However, the European administration’s recommended Europass CV format doesn’t include this, which may be a sign that it is being phased out.

A U.S. resume or U.S. CV will almost never include a photo. Acting resumes and modeling resumes are exceptions.

Final thoughts on the European CV vs. U.S. resume vs. U.S. CV…
This is all kind of like how “football” in the U.S. refers to a sport with a lot of passing, catching, and tackling, while “football” in Europe refers to what would be called “soccer” in the U.S., a sport with a lot of kicking and running where no one but the goalie touches the ball. An American could end up feeling very embarrassed if they went to watch a “football match” at a party in England wearing a National Football League jersey and matching sweatpants! It’s important not to assume that English words will have the same meaning across English-speaking countries.

Stay tuned, as our next articles will cover how to work with various types of CV and resume formats.


Curriculum Vitae Tips

Curriculum vitae tips are general guidelines that can be applied to the art of writing a curriculum vitae. Keep in mind that different people will offer different curriculum vitae tips, based on their own preferences and what is popular in their academic fields. Rather than setting curriculum vitae rules in stone, the following article will present writing advice that should help the average professional improve their CV.

Before we start, if you don’t already know the basics, such as what an American curriculum vitae includes and  how it differs from an American resume, please read our introductory article on the curriculum vitae.

That said, here are 7 widely applicable curriculum vitae tips:

1. Do not include personal information such as age, marital status, or gender on an American CV!
If you search for “curriculum vitae tips” online, you will find articles that encourage you to write personal information on your CV.

This personal information might include:

  • Age
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Health status
  • Citizenship
  • Immigration status
  • Social security number
  • Gender
  • Religious affiliation
  • Marital status
  • Spouse’s name
  • Father’s name
  • Mother’s name
  • Children’s names

The websites that offer this advice are not talking about American curriculum vitae!

In some countries, not including information like this can actually hurt your chances of obtaining the position you want. In the United States, the opposite is true. There are many laws in place that make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of factors like age, sexual orientation, marital status, gender, religion, and disability. American employers are afraid of lawsuits. They do not want to see this type of information on your CV.

Including hobbies, on the other hand, may be OK, if they are relevant to the position.

2. Comply with the CV formatting guidelines of your future employer or school.
Some organizations and universities, such as Harvard University, have curriculum vitae tips or guidelines detailing their preferences for curriculum vitae formatting and structure. Obviously, you’re expected to follow them. Look for this on the university or company’s website first. If you’re still not sure what’s expected, check with them.

3. Separate your publications into sub-categories with appropriate headers.
If you have more than a handful of publications, it’s best to place them into separate categories. A huge laundry list of publications is a pain to read.

For example, Harvard’s School of Public Health looks for these sub-categories on a medical curriculum vitae:

  • Peer-reviewed publications
  • Books and monographs
  • Evidence of works in progress
  • Publication or development of educational materials
  • Relevant non-print materials
  • Published abstracts within the past 2 years (not mandatory)

Depending on your field, different sub-categories may be more appropriate. Come up with relevant curriculum vitae sub-categories that accurately describe your publications.

4. Make sure each category contains at least one item.
This is a bigger issue on a CV than on a resume, since a CV is supposed to be much more thorough. You don’t want to emphasize less developed aspects of your professional life, so try not to open a category for just one item, like a single award. Instead, try to place this stray item in a related category. You can change the names of categories to make it fit, as long as you stay within the boundaries of your future employer or school’s CV formatting guidelines.

5. Write out acronyms.
Using acronyms is also a common resume mistake, but it can get out of control on a CV, since so many acronyms are thrown around in academia. Unless it’s really obvious in context what an acronym stands for, spell it out. If you’re not sure whether it’s obvious, that means it’s not.

6. Keep jargon to a minimum.
Again, this is a common resume writing recommendation, but it’s even more important on the CV, since academic professionals use a lot of jargon. It is safe to assume people in your field understand technical terms, but heavy use of jargon on a CV can be confusing, not to mention obnoxious.

7. Update your curriculum vitae regularly.
Yes, this tip applies to the art of resume writing as well. However, since a CV is more detailed than a resume, you could set yourself back further by not updating your curriculum vitae regularly.

If you encounter an unexpected job opportunity, already having an up-to-date curriculum vitae will take some of the stress out of applying for the position. Plus, if you procrastinate when it comes to updating your curriculum vitae, you could forget important details regarding a lecture or committee responsibility.

So, update your curriculum vitae every three to four months, or at least whenever you achieve something significant in your field.

Again, these are general curriculum vitae tips that should help the average professional. It is up to you to understand the norms and expectations for CV writing in your specific field. Remember, if you don’t know, ask.