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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Your trusted resume expert… a robot?

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Artificial intelligence (AI) is truly woven into the fabrics of our lives, including job search. Most mid-sized to large employers are using technology and AI tools in the recruiting and hiring processes, and there are also tools that job seekers can take advantage of, as well.

For example, one such tool that I introduce my clients to is Job Scan, which will compare your resume to a job description you’re going to apply for. This helps you tailor your resume to that specific job posting. Even if you’re working with a recruiter on a job not publicly advertised anywhere, this can still be handy.

In a future post I can explore the nuances of how this tool works and why tailoring is preferable to using the exact same document every time without any changes.

There are also other AI and technology tools that are more questionable and less helpful, of course. (Also worth exploring in future posts!)

For now, what I want to address is how to handle a robot’s advice.

Human intelligence vs. AI

AI is an incredible advancement, and as most of us know, there are A LOT of things that computers are very good at that the rest of us simply aren’t as good at.

Robots have been beating humans at chess for years now—remember Deep Blue’s famous chess victory in 1997? Yes, certain types of thinking are easier when you have the memory and speed of a computer.

Limitations of software

Here’s the problem: software is only as good as the people who created it, and most robots we deal with in everyday life don’t excel at everything we throw at them.

For example, if you’re having a complicated marital problem, would Siri be a good source of advice? Probably not. She can find information on the Internet for you, but don’t expect her to give the kind of advice you could get from a marriage counselor or a friend who’s been married for 35 years.

Robots are lacking when it comes to analysis that requires common sense, empathy, and emotional intelligence.

A client example

I had an executive client who, based on my recommendation, ran her resume through Job Scan to tailor it for a job posting. A recommendation popped up saying that her resume was over the recommended length.

However, what she didn’t notice was that it said “unless you are applying for executive jobs.” The software simply isn’t (or at least wasn’t at the time) capable of analyzing the fact that there were VP titles in the resume, and then tailoring the advice based on the fact that she was at that level. Now, if she had read it more carefully, she would have understood that this didn’t apply to her.

One-size-fits-all “rules of thumb”

The other issue is that the software is set up to detect whether you’re over a certain word count (which has since been increased); even if you’re only one word over, it will be flagged—even though being one word over wouldn’t disqualify your application if you applied for the job.

These types of guidelines from an AI tool are usually based on best practices that are applicable to the lowest common denominator of people. Your needs might be slightly different, depending on your industry, career level, target employer, target job, and unique career situations.

You could think of it like government dietary guidelines. They’re based on what will probably work best for most people, but your needs might be slightly different if you’re an athlete, diabetic, celiac patient, or have a food allergy. In those instances, you could work with your physician, dietician, or trainer to determine what will be best for you.

Handling a robot’s advice

Back to my example. My client tried to trim her resume to get it under the magical word count that the robot had recommended (yes, that was sarcasm). But there was so much important information; she trimmed a bit, but couldn’t get it down much and mentioned this to me when we talked again.

I reassured her that the platform clearly states that this isn’t applicable if you’re applying to executive jobs. However, I was left feeling a bit disappointed that she had trusted a robot over me.

When you’ve invested a significant amount of money in working with an executive resume writer who is certified, has spent more than a decade mastering her craft, attends conferences in her industry, contributes to popular resume and career books, is quoted about resume topics by major media outlets, stays current through monthly professional development, is a member of four different professional associations for the resume and career industry, and has a recruiter consultant on her team…why not at least run these things by her first?

At this point, advice from robots needs to be taken with a grain of salt. AI job search tools range from useless to helpful, but even when it’s helpful, you also need to balance it out with the opinions of human experts and your own common sense. Oh, and while you’re at it, please don’t replace your marriage counselor with Siri. 😉

How to list job promotions on LinkedIn

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About one-third of my clients come to me with LinkedIn profiles and resumes that don’t list all the job titles they’ve held at a particular company.

For example: John was hired as Sr. Director – Supply Chain Management at a $5B multi-national company. After only 4 months, he was promoted to VP – Supply Chain Management.

In the example above, I’ve discovered that A LOT of people will simply list VP – Supply Chain Management on their resume and LinkedIn rather than listing both titles. Or they have both on the resume, but only VP on LinkedIn.

Sometimes the inclination to do this is simplicity–not wanting to clutter things up. Sometimes it’s a concern about perception–not wanting anything to mar your status as an exec.

Whatever the rationale, not including the original title poses a problem when a prospective employer goes through the vetting process. Employers have become much more vigilant about employment verification and background checks in recent years.

Any discrepancy between the title on your documents and what they get from HR (and any other sources) could be disqualifying. It’s seen as dishonest. Likewise, any discrepancy between the resume and LinkedIn is a deal-killer for some companies and recruiters.

What I recommend

If the first job was a short duration and then you were promoted, and the two jobs have substantially similar duties, it makes sense to combine them into a single description–but the initial job title must be acknowledged.

On LinkedIn you would put:

Job title field: Vice President – Supply Chain Management

Job description: (Promoted from Sr. Director after first 4 months.) And then your description of the job goes right here…

On your resume you have a couple options:

Acme Company
Vice President – Supply Chain Management (Month 20XX to Present)
Sr. Director – Supply Chain Management (Month 20XX to Month 20XX)

And then your description of the job goes right here…

Acme Company
Vice President – Supply Chain Management (Month 20XX to Present)

(Promoted from Sr. Director after first 4 months.) And then your description of the job goes right here…

Either of the above examples would be acceptable to most decision-makers and gatekeepers. The second example is more ATS-friendly if you’re applying online.

What the heck is a CV?

Executive CV Writing

Many of the clients I work with aren’t sure what a CV is, or aren’t sure of the difference between an executive resume (or any resume) and a CV. It can be a thorny issue, so let’s delve in!

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: a CV is not a cover letter! I’ve had people reach out to me in writing saying they want a ” resume and CV,” and I soon learned that they meant a resume and cover letter. (They got confused after seeing countless websites promoting “resumes and CVs,” and assumed it was an abbreviation for “cover letter!”)

A CV is a document similar to a resume that describes your professional qualifications. “CV” is an abbreviation for “curriculum vitae,” which comes from Latin and roughly translates to “course of life.” In other words, it’s a summary of your life’s work.

Two flavors of CV

After more than a decade of working with people on their resumes and CVs, I’ve found that the term “CV” is used in these two situations:

  • A document that is longer and more detailed than a resume.
  • A document that’s not really different from a resume, but is referred to as a CV for reasons I’ll discuss more in a bit.

Use of CVs in the United States

In the US, CVs are often required for job seekers in the fields of academia, medicine, and science. On the shorter side, a CV could be 3-7 pages long, but distinguished scientists and professors who have many scholarly publications to list might need 10 or 20 pages. There are also some senior-level attorneys who use CVs, although most attorneys only need a resume.

Use of CVs outside the United States

In countries outside the US, I’ve found it’s more common for the document a job seeker uses to be called a CV rather than a resume. In some countries, such as Ireland and the UK, it ends up being pretty much the same as what a resume would be in the US.

Meanwhile, in some countries, CVs are expected to be slightly longer, like 3-5 pages, and they might be expected to include a personal photo, marital status, place of birth, citizenship, languages spoken, and date of birth.

When I create a CV for a client who is seeking jobs in countries with different requirements, I simply create different versions. You don’t want to put your marital status and photo on a document for the US or UK, but you’ll want it on there for many other European countries.

CV confusion

Sometimes an American will talk about a “CV” when they’re really just talking about a resume. For example, I knew someone who was interested in an internal opportunity, and the hiring manager was encouraging anyone interested to submit a CV. I questioned whether a CV was truly needed since this wasn’t a scientific, medical, or academic position. She followed up with the hiring manager and sure enough, the hiring manager was just using the term indiscriminately and merely wanted a resume.

I suspect this type of confusion can occur when people hear foreigners, physicians, scientists, and professors using the term “CV” and they start using it synonymously with “resume.” Then other people might pick it up from them.

Using a resume and CV

Depending on the nature of your career, you might benefit from BOTH a resume AND a CV, or you might need one or the other. Having both can be a good idea for some professionals, like physician executives and nursing leaders, who might be asked for either one or both.

The 3 types of resume feedback you’ll get


While putting the finishing touches on a resume, some of my clients get feedback on the document–some of it solicited, some of it unsolicited.

Over the years, I’ve found that this feedback runs the gamut; some is helpful, some is “happy to glad,” and some is out-of-touch.

Out-of-touch feedback

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of outdated resume advice circulating. Self-anointed experts share this advice on LinkedIn and in articles on various websites (some of them otherwise trustworthy). Then, people who don’t know that much about current resume trends and best practices read these tips and articles, believe them to be reliable, and share them with friends and family members.

Then there’s the folks who presumably have some expertise–someone who worked in HR 10 years ago, for example. This can be tricky. Hiring trends have changed a lot in the last decade. LinkedIn and resume best practices are constantly evolving, and someone whose experience was years ago simply might not be familiar with current practices.

Then there are the executives, managers, HR people, college career counselors, and even resume writers whose understanding of resume best practices is based on what they learned 20 years ago. The knowledge from 20 years ago helped them land a job, and they just assume nothing has changed.

So they might think that all resumes should be one page, have an objective at the top, and be black and white without even the most conservative color accents.

There’s also flawed advice circulating about how to make a resume ATS-friendly (for employers’ applicant tracking software). Some of it is based on what was needed back when companies were scanning paper resumes using OCR and primitive ATS, circa 2001.

“Happy-to-glad” feedback

Some of the feedback you’ll receive is fairly benign, yet inconsequential. Example: “Use Arial, not Calibri” for the font. Or say “developed” instead of “formulated.” Why would someone even waste their time (and yours) with these kinds of suggestions? Simple: it makes them feel important! If you’ve read Dale Carnegie’s work, you know how significant that is.

Having nothing to say presumably happens when someone lacks the knowledge to share any expertise!

Helpful feedback

Sometimes we get resume feedback that is truly helpful. A suggestion about a bullet that might be added, for example. Some of the best advice often comes from people who have hired for the roles you’re seeking. In other words, someone at the level of your would-be boss. It might even be a former boss of yours. Just bear in mind that these folks often give a mix of helpful, “happy-to-glad,” and out-of-touch feedback! So you’ll need to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff–that’s something I help my clients do.

In fact, more often than not I find that advice coming from a particular person doesn’t ALL fall under one category. That’s what can make it so tricky–if one suggestion is solid, it’s easy to assume the rest are, too.

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Why you shouldn’t use an objective on your resume


Ah, the resume objective. They were once a requirement for the top of your resume.

Now, those who are savvy about modern resume trends know that objectives are considered outdated and ineffective in today’s job market.

A couple of the key reasons objectives have fallen out of favor are:

  • The objective statement focuses heavily on what you are seeking rather than what you have to offer.
  • Most job seekers end up writing cliche-filled objective statements that are likely to result in readers rolling their eyes.

Here are a couple examples of objective statements people might have used in the past:

  • “Objective: A rewarding position within a dynamic, growing company”
  • “Objective: A software sales executive position with unlimited growth opportunities”

Doesn’t everyone want a rewarding position? Does anyone want to be in a shrinking company? What does this tell the employer, other than the fact that the person wants a marketing position (which is way too vague–there are so many flavors of marketing)?

The objective statement was intended to inform potential employers about what type of positions you are seeking and suitable for, but there are other ways to accomplish this.
What to do Instead of an Objective

You can use a summary, and possibly a headline, to convey your qualifications and the type of position you’re seeking.

Examples of headlines:

  • “Award-winning digital marketer with history of boosting website traffic, increasing conversions, and growing e-commerce revenue”
  • “Senior-level software sales executive fueling profitable growth through strategic partnerships”

Does that tell the employer more right off the bat compared to the objective statement example above? Of course it does! It hits on exactly the types of things an employer would want in a digital marketer. And there isn’t any question about what type of jobs you’re seeking–you’re obviously seeking digital marketing jobs; no confusion there, and no objective needed.

Your sizzling headline can then be followed by a summary consisting of a few bullet points, or a paragraph, or a short paragraph followed by a few bullet points. You can also include a core competencies section (a list of skills) if you want.

Nails in the coffin of the objective statement

Resume experts started using headlines and summaries instead of objectives about a decade ago, but it takes a VERY long time for every professional, executive, and career counselor to hear about the latest trends in resume writing. So there are still a fair number of folks who are using objectives and recommending objectives.

If you have a resume book that recommends the use of an objective, check to see when the book was published. Any book published more than a decade ago is likely to contain a lot of outdated information.

Here are a couple relatively recent books that emphasize the use of a summary instead of an objective:

  • Resumes for Dummies, 8th Ed. (Wiley, 2019) [I was a contributor to this book]
  • Modernize Your Resume (Emerald Career Publishing, 2016)

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