How to: CAR stories for your resume and interviews


One of the things I always ask clients to brainstorm at the start of our process is CAR stories–which have nothing to do with any type of automobile!

CAR is an acronym for a type of success story; it stands for:

C – Challenge
A – Action
R – Result

When thinking about a CAR story, the idea is to describe a Challenge or situation you were faced with; the Action you took; and the Result that was achieved. There are also other acronyms, like STAR (Situation – Task – Action – Result), that refer to essentially the same concept.

Let’s use a really easy made-up example.

  • Challenge: Our vendor for widgets was raising prices significantly.
  • Action: I obtained quotes from other vendors and assembled a cross-functional team to analyze whether it was feasible to make widgets in-house.
  • Result: We were able to transition widget production in-house at a 23% savings compared to the vendor’s prices.

When you’re compiling CAR stories, you’ll want to quickly jot them down without regard for complete sentences, grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, etc.

So the above example would look like this Shorthand Example:

  • C – widget vendor raising prices
  • A – got quotes; put together team to analyze
  • R – moved widget-making in-house. 23% savings

I advise compiling your CAR stories in a simple, abbreviated way just like the shorthand example above. Believing that you need to create prose worthy of the Nobel Prize in literature will slow you down unnecessarily, and you’ll waste too much of your time.

Compiling CAR stories does not require writing ability, and if you have the data available, it only takes 60 seconds or less to jot down each CAR story on a notepad (or even a napkin or your smartphone) using shorthand. You could compile 15 CAR stories in 15 minutes or less if you have the data handy. Even if you don’t have the data handy, you can use X% or $X as a place-holder until you’re able to find the missing number.

I don’t advise writing long, detailed CAR stories that are a whole paragraph long (or a paragraph for each letter!). It’s not helpful for my resume writing process, and your interview answers shouldn’t be scripted, so it’s better if you practice your CAR stories for interviews without a precise script.

The CAR format is only for purposes of organizing your thoughts. The above example would be consolidated into a succinct bullet point on your resume that would mostly focus on the result portion. In an interview, you might take a couple minutes to tell the story.

Don’t Be Intimidated by CAR Stories

I find that clients often put CAR stories on a pedestal and tend to over-think them. They’ll come up with numerous metrics related to their performance and then say “I was only able to think of two CAR stories.” There’s a BIG disconnect here.

If they have 10 different examples of metrics that are measurements of various improvements, then each of those 10 metrics would be considered a Result, which could only have been possible by taking some sort of Action, which probably was prompted by a Challenge or a situation. So in reality they probably have 10 CAR stories, not two.

One problem seems to be that some job seekers perceive a CAR story as having to be a really BIG deal. In reality, any result you’ve ever gotten has a CAR story. Some of them aren’t necessarily going to be super impressive, and that’s fine. If you’ve had a 20-year career, you might have a couple dozen CAR stories. We don’t necessarily need to spend time delving into all of them, you don’t need to share all of them on interviews, and not all of them need to be included on your resume. Only the most impressive and relevant ones are worth including.

Compiling CAR stories should be a brainstorming exercise. Compile as many as you can recall, especially from the past decade, and then they can be prioritized in terms of relevance (for your target employers/clients) and impact. You’re better off compiling, say, 15 CAR stories, and only 10 of them are worth using, rather than only compiling five and missing out on the other five that would have also been helpful.

Literally any result achieved in your work likely has a CAR story tied to it. For example: an increase in EBITDA, an increase in top-line revenue, increased efficiency, a cost reduction, time savings, or any metrics that are specific to marketing, supply chain, finance, or any other area of the business.

What is a “Challenge?”

Another issue is the word “Challenge.” I like saying “CAR” because it’s easy to say, and along with STAR, it’s one of the more common acronyms that refers to success stories. However, don’t assume that “Challenge” means a problem. I would encourage you to think of it as “Challenge or situation.” Bear in mind that the word “challenge” often refers to a goal in everyday parlance. For example, “My challenge was to get my marathon time under 3 hours.” So the “Challenge” could be a goal, a desire to improve something, a management directive… and yes, it could also be a problem that needed to be solved!

Keep Track of Your CAR Stories

Updating your resume is a great time to compile CAR stories. If it’s been a while, you’ll probably have a lot! Moving forward, I recommend that at the end of each year you jot down your accomplishments for that year in the form of CAR stories, with numbers when applicable. Keep all of that info handy so you’ll have it handy when it comes time to interview or update your resume. If you’ll be going through an annual performance review process, that’s the perfect time to jot down your abbreviated CAR stories for that year.

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