Although I got my very first job in 2004 right out of secondary school, I didn’t learn to write a resume until I got to Mount Holyoke College. Since then, I’ve written at least a 100 resumes, and reviewed hundreds others from classmates, friends, family, potential job candidates, clients and even strangers. I’ve thought about writing an article on resumes and CVs a gazillion times, but never actually got around to doing it. Today, however is a new day, and a good time as any – and you all have Mash to thank for sending me an article request via Twitter (below).

Bon, if you’re in university or job searching, you’re probably all too familiar with the terms “resume” and “curriculum vitae”. If you aren’t, buckle up, you’re about to be. So, the agenda for the first part of this two-part series on writing resumes is simple: we’ll be exploring what a resume and CV are, their purpose, how they differ, and the different types or structures of a resume.

Resume Vs Curriculum Vitae (CV)

The word ‘resume’ or resumé comes from the French word ‘résumé’, which means summary. It is essentially a document which summarises one’s work history, education, skills, and other accomplishments. The word curriculum vitae, popularly called CV, means “course of life” in Latin. Like a resume, it gives information about a person seeking an opportunity, but unlike the resume, it offers a more comprehensive overview of one’s entire career trajectory, academic background, research, achievements, awards, publications, personal interests, and so on.

Although the names tend to be used interchangeably, there are important differences to note about a resume and a CV, especially if you are job searching internationally: length, purpose and layout. A resume, typically one page (maximum, two pages), is generally shorter than a CV which tends to be a document of at least two pages. A CV expands as one’s years of experience grows, and could run into numerous pages depending on the industry you are in or looking to enter. Academics, PHD students, researchers and scientists for instance tend to have CVs that can go over 5 or even 10 pages. Why? Getting published is an important marker of accomplishment in such fields and hence many pages are dedicated to outlining what they may have published – all using proper citation. And let’s not forget all those long scientific terms.

As I like to think of it, a CV is a mother ship (or master document), while a resume is a smaller mission vessel (or brief). - @jabdulai Click To Tweet

Beyond that, there tends to be a geographical difference: resumes are largely used in the United States and Canada, while CVs are used in the rest of the world, including Ghana (and most African countries), Europe and the U.K. That said, with U.S. dominance, higher application numbers, and shorter attention spans, recruiters in many countries traditionally known to use CVs are opting for length-bound resumes (eg. 2 pages max) or resumes.  Finally, a CV is generally organised chronologically, whereas a resume would be structured more along relevance and providing a good sense of who you are as a professional, what skill sets you possess and where you see your career trajectory in relation to the hiring company.

In a nutshell, a CV is meant to capture the extent of a person’s experiences (academic, career, personal, life), while a resume is fit to purpose with the sole goal of convincing a recruiter that you are the best candidate.

Structuring Your Resume

A resume is an introduction of self. The handshake or hello that precludes a conversation and sets the tone for a potential relationship. You could also call it the companion to a personal statement or cover letter since the two usually go hand in hand. Whereas a cover letter may not be requested, a resume will definitely be requested at some point in the hiring process – I’d be skeptical about a “job opportunity” that doesn’t ask for your resume in some form. All this to say, resumes are important career tools to master and wield.

What should constitute your resume? In addition to your educational experience (degrees, schools, focus, GPA if still in school); your work experience; and relevant skills, you’ll want to include your contact information – and yes, that could include a link to your blog or LinkedIn profile. Some also suggest including a summary of your profile e.g. “a media and development professional passionate about African affairs and with a track record of organising excellent events.” or a resume objective e.g. “Masters degree holder in Economics with an interest in exploring the nexus between development and communications”.

Like most other things in life, there are different types of resumes.  While the structure and format really is up to personal preference, there are some traditional formats you can drawn on and use as guidance: chronological, functional, combination and targeted. With the advent of digital media and a more visual world, you also have non-traditional options like the online portfolio (like this one I created during my final year of college), infographic and even video resumes. Need to put together a resume really quickly? You could consider using a template from Microsoft Word or Pages. Below, I discuss elements of the most common traditional resumes.

Chronological Resume

The most common resume type is the chronological resume. It is structured based on work history, with the most recently held position listed first (reverse chronological order), similar to a CV, but again, shorter. This resume type is often preferred by recruiters since they get a quick sense of your work experience. Besides work experience and education, a resume profile or objective may be included at the very top. That said, I have never included either since each of my resumes have been tailored and targeted to a specific position and/or have been accompanied by a cover letter.

Functional Resume 

Functional resumes are structured based on skills and experience (in lieu of work history), and don’t necessarily follow a chronological order. The key word here is relevant skills; the most relevant experiences or skills are listed at the beginning. If you’re in between jobs, transitioning to a different career path, still in high school or university and doing internships, or yet to have any real work experience, this is the type of resume you may want to use. Why? Because it focuses on what you can offer to the job or company – even if you may not have prior experience in that industry or if you have gaps between jobs.

Combination Resume 

A combination resume combines elements of the functional and chronological resumes. It is generally broken into two parts – the first highlighting the most relevant or related work experience and the second giving an overview of work history or timeline. The benefit of using a combination resume is that you put your strong points (skills and qualifications) forward, while showing the breadth of your experience. The combination resume is probably my second-most used resume format.

Targeted Resume

Finally, the targeted resume! This is hands down my favorite and go-to resume format. A targeted resume is personalised or fine-tuned to a specific job or potential employer – you highlight those skills and experiences that best fit the job requirements. While it does take a lot of work putting together and may require research of the potential employer, it is one of the most effective resumes in my book, because it gives you the opportunity to think through which experiences  and skills might be most relevant for the job you’re applying for. This in turn makes it relatively easier to write your cover letter or personal statement, and also to prepare for your interview. At the end of the day, it saves you tons of time.

So, that covers part 1 of the  resume essentials series. Click here to read part 2 of this series, where I share some tips for crafting your most effective resume yet! Got ideas about structuring and using resumes? Do share. Also, please do pass this on – you never know who could use this information.

Written by Jemila Abdulai. Originally published on

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