Q: What’s the difference between a resume and a vita? And how do I know which one I should use?

A: Let’s start with simple definitions. Webster’s Dictionary defines a resume as a “condensed statement, or summary.” In this case, it serves as a summary of your experience. A vita, short for curriculum vitae, is Latin for “the course of one’s life.”

The two terms are often used interchangeably, with resume the more frequently used in the general population. Vita or “C.V.” (for curriculum vitae) is more often used in academic and research environments. Both types of documents relate the same kinds of information, including academic background, work history, significant accomplishments, etc. However, the presentation and the amount of information can vary substantially.

In general, a resume is a one- to two-page document (sometimes a little longer) that concisely describes the background of an individual. Because of the widespread use and availability of computers, the resume has evolved during the last 20 years to become a document targeted for a specific purpose. With relatively few keystrokes and a good printer, a resume can be transformed to appropriately address the advertised needs of a potential employer — assuming, of course, you have the desired background.

A resume is intended to be brief. A chief executive officer with decades of experience in business may have a multipage resume, but a one-page executive summary that highlights the person’s most pertinent accomplishments is likely to accompany the document.

A vita, on the other hand, is supposed to lengthen over time. The vita includes the same general categories of information as are found in most resumes, but in addition it also features listings (often lengthy) of the individual’s publications and presentations. (This is, after all, a document targeted for academe, where “Publish or Perish” is the mantra for long-term survival.) As a result, vitae tend to be substantially longer than resumes.

In a vita, the “academic background” or “education” section is almost always presented first (a nod to its academic comfort zone), whereas “related professional experience” usually leads off a well-written resume.

If you are applying for a position in an agency or a counseling center, you’ll more than likely send a resume. On the other hand, the application process for research and faculty positions will usually require a curriculum vitae.

Career Center practical tip of the month: If you have to use an industrial-strength stapler for your resume, you should edit it down or write a one-page executive summary.

Common categories used in both resumes and vitae:

  • Education or academic background
  • Licensure/certification/endorsements
  • Professional experience
  • Clinical experience
  • Related experience
  • Internships/practica
  • Community involvement
  • Professional memberships
  • Awards/recognition/honors
  • PublicationsPresentations
  • Categories used more frequently in vitae
  • Books and book chapters
  • Refereed publications
  • Works in progress/manuscripts in progress
  • Presentations
  • Conference and workshop presentations
  • Institutional service/committees
  • Grants received
  • Supervision experience
  • Research or research in progress