CV vs. Resume: Do you know the difference?

It’s up to you to connect the dots for employers and show how you’re a fit for the opportunity.

By Anish Majumdar, CPRW | Job Doctor | Winter 2016


The question I’m most frequently asked by physicians who are about to embark on a job search is, “Do I need a CV or a resume?” It’s usually followed up a moment later by, “What’s the difference, anyway?”

The confusion is understandable. After all, if you’re hunting for a position in Europe or other parts of the world, resumes and CVs alike are all referred to as CVs. Even here in the United States, where significant differences have emerged between the two documents, it is by no means uncommon to hear the two terms used interchangeably. Let’s talk about the major differences between CVs and resumes, and how to develop either in a manner that gets noticed by employers.

Layout: Comprehensive vs. Strategic

Lay a curriculum vitae and a resume side-by-side and the first big difference becomes apparent: length.

While most resumes stop around the two-page mark, a CV can easily stretch to three, four, even five pages. Ever wonder why? Inspecting the layout of each document reveals some important clues. Here are the general headings for each:


  • Opening section
  • Education
  • Licensure & certifications
  • Postdoctoral training
  • Professional experience
  • Teaching experience
  • Research experience
  • Publications & presentations
  • Community involvement
  • Professional affiliations


  • Opening section
  • Professional experience (with teaching and research experience usually integrated)
  • Education
  • Community involvement
  • Professional affiliations
  • Special interests (optional)

CVs are sticklers for detail and leave very little wiggle room for interpretation. It’s what you’ll need to pursue clinical and academic positions, and because of the life-and-death stakes, it’s how you’ll communicate that you have the specific knowledge base and experience required for success. Use the following question to guide your CV writing efforts: Have I made it crystal clear that I can handle every one of the major responsibilities required by this position?

A resume is what you’ll need for non-clinical positions, everything from hospital administration to technology/informatics (serving as chief medical information officer, for example), pharma/biotech R&D and management consulting.

Due to the significant career pivot necessary for jobs like this, emphasizing the right details is far more important than being comprehensive. Ask yourself the following question when crafting a resume: Have I elaborated upon those aspects of my experience and training that support a move to the targeted position?

Branding: Expert vs. Visionary

In a hiring environment that is growing ever more complex and data-driven, it is essential to do the heavy lifting when it comes to branding yourself. Never rely on someone else to connect the dots between what’s on the page and why you’re a great candidate. Take control of the message to get a significant leg up on the competition.

I usually begin CVs with an opening paragraph designed to establish credibility and professional stature. This is where you’ll want to include details such as being board certified and fellowship trained, the Level I Trauma Center you’re working at, and the strong EMR experience you’ve gained. Everything needs to be tied down to specifics. Show an unbroken timeline of your work history. Avoid fluff.

For the resume, think in terms of an “elevator pitch.” If you only had the time it takes for an elevator to go between floors to convince an employer to hire you, what would you say? Wouldn’t it behoove you to communicate your passion, and perhaps back it up with one or two career accomplishments that demonstrate transferable skills? Remember: It’s only considered bragging if done badly!

Keywords: Hard vs. Soft Skills

The use of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), software designed to serve as the first pair of “eyes” when it comes to evaluating candidates for a job, is a hiring practice that is ubiquitous outside the health care industry. Up until recently, physicians could rest easy knowing that their CVs would be evaluated by an actual person, not rejected by an ATS system for insufficient keywords. Times have changed, and it may surprise you to know that physician Applicant Tracking Systems are being increasingly used to identify high-quality professionals. Here are the strategies I use to address ATS systems and get documents seen by those who matter.

CV keywords are all about hard (read: quantifiable) skills. Think about including a boldfaced section near the start of the document that calls out procedures and emerging/established areas of expertise. Here’s a keyword section I developed for a nephrologist who had recently completed his training and was on the hunt for a clinical-heavy role:

Procedures: Peritoneal Dialysis (PD), Central Line and Arterial Line Placement, Lumbar Punctures, Paracentesis, Conventional Hemodialysis, CVVH/CVVHD/SLED, Home Hemodialysis, Thoracentesis, Arthrocentesis, ICU Care and Ventilator Care

Resume keywords can focus more on soft (read: big picture) capabilities. The goal is to move beyond current skills and into the realm of potential. Here’s a keyword section I developed for a board-certified pediatrician in search of a program development/consulting role:

Core Competencies: Health Care Management, Program Development, Community Outreach, Health Care Information Technology, Quality Improvement, Patient-Centered Medical Home, Public Health, Critical Care, Health Care Reform

Expert tip: Searching on LinkedIn for professionals who currently have the job you’re after is a fantastic way to get keyword ideas. Insert the exact job title into the search bar, click on the first few member profiles that come up, and scroll down to the “Skills” section for a rundown of keyword ideas. Of course, be sure they’re based in your reality. Be prepared to defend the keywords included within your resume or CV in an interview.

Anish Majumdar is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and founder of He works one-on-one with physicians and health care leaders in developing optimized CVs and resumes, LinkedIn presences, and other tools for rapid job placement. He can be reached at


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