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Job Seekers in C-A-Rs getting coffee

Maybe you, too, have that Bo Burnham song stuck in your head this week, or maybe you've just been using search engines as your career advisor instead of enlisting the experts - either way, you probably know that the Internet is full of amazing, ambiguous, irrelevant, and downright terrible advice.

Advice for applying to jobs is no exception, which is why it can be so useful to have an actual person to talk to about what fits your situation; competent professionals may have differing opinions, but you are less likely to fall victim to absolutely whack-a-doo instructions you might find in the deep dark corners of Google.

So, what does this have to do with writing resumes? I have looked at hundreds and hundreds of resumes in my time, and I've seen trends come and go. Among my list of Terrible Resume Advice of All Time, right up there with "make it 1 page at all costs" and "just copy/paste the job ad in 1-point white font" (seriously, both of these are terrible advice), is using the C-A-R method to write your job experience.

C-A-R crash-and-burn

C-A-R stands for "challenge - action - result," similar to the the STAR method (situation, task, action, result). Both are helpful mnemonic devices for how to talk about your professional background. If you are in an interview or giving a presentation, or if you're writing personal essay about your experience, the C-A-R and STAR methods are excellent for organizing your thoughts and illustrating a concrete example of what you do well or how you face challenges.

I repeat: This is a really good method when you're talking or telling a story about your experience.


Context is everything, and what works in some situations will absolutely go down like a lead balloon in others. That evening gown may look great on you, but if you start wearing it to the water park, you will get some weird looks.

C-A-R and STAR are great when you know you have the person's attention. If someone sits down to read an essay, they expect to get a story in multiple parts. When someone asks a question in an interview, they expect to focus on you while you answer.

When a recruiter or hiring manager is scanning resumes, though, they do. Not. Have. The. Time.

Expect someone to look at your resume for 10 seconds tops before they start to lose interest. At least every 10 seconds they need another reason to keep scanning. "Do they have the education we need? Yes. Do they have the tech skills we need? Yes. Have they led teams? Yes. Good. Add to the follow-up pile!"

If yours is the 70th resume a recruiter sees in a day, you know what you don't want to do? Waste their time. Show them what they want to see as quickly and efficiently as possible. Your resume shouldn't be a riddle someone has to figure out - it should feel like a bunch of clear answers to yes/no questions and enough of who you are to grab their interest.

If someone asks you, "What time did you get up this morning?" and instead of saying, "7:30," you respond, "Since September, I have had a grackle living in the tree outside my window," you know what you're doing? Wasting their time. Give them what they want so they can move you into the next round. Once you make it to a phone call or interview, that is your time to spin a yarn.

Just the Facts

This is why writing an effective resume can be so difficult. You need concise yet info-dense sections that showcase your professional background, set you apart, and are easy to scan. You will find many, many, many versions of how to do this, some great, some terrible, but in general it comes down to results.

You can think of personal essays, statements of purpose, and professional bios as a chance to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end. For the resume, the only thing that really matters is the end - what was the result, what was the outcome, what was the benefit to the organization of you being good at your job.

This is what we mean when we tell clients they need "achievement-focused" language in their resumes, and a list of job responsibilities is not the same as a list of achievements. All candidates with the job title "Account Manager" have experience working with clients; if you've been an Account Manager, you don't need to explain that on a resume. Cut to the chase and list what happened because you were GREAT at working with clients.

Using C-A-R as a starting point when you're brainstorming about your professional experience is not a bad idea, but you can't stop there. For the resume, focus on the results. List as many good outcomes as you can, quantifiable examples of you making things stronger, cleaner, more efficient, more profitable, more cost-effective, more collaborative, whatever.

Then, once you've dazzled the hiring manager with all the cool stuff you've done, they'll say, "Wow, let's ask them how they did that and how they can do it for us!" Bam. Interview.

At that point, you can start thinking of experiences in a 3-act structure. For the resume, though, stick to the facts, show your results, and save the showmanship for when you know you have their attention.

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