Spring has sprung in most parts of the country, unless you live in the seemingly perpetual deep freeze of the upper mid-west or northeast (but even there a robin or two has been sighted and the days are growing longer). This time of year brings back fond memories of the waning days of my college years and the inevitable scramble as students looked to lock up good paying summer jobs, internships, or their first post-graduation positions.

I remember it as a stressful time and a balancing act of sorts between class assignments, campus jobs, and thinking about what comes next after school lets out in May—whether that means a return home to rest, recuperate, and refill the coffers before then next school year begins; or if the time has finally come to venture out solo into the world. I also remember how this was the time of year where resumes got dusted off, polished up, and disseminated to prospective employers.

If you find yourself in that position—whether you’re a student or an executive shifting careers—my blog post from last June, “CAR Stories,” has some good advice on how you can add punch to your resume. Read it and use the guidance in your own job search, or pass this blog along to someone you know could benefit from it.

CAR Stories

(Originally posted on June 26, 2012)

Let’s face it. Most resumes are boring—a laundry list of where you’ve worked, when, and your educational credentials. It’s all important stuff, but just what does it tell a prospective employer about the real you and the attributes you bring to the table?

Absolutely nothing. Zilch. Nada. So you went to an Ivy League college, so you managed your company’s marketing department . . . so what?

Prospective employers want to know about the challenges you’ve faced, the actions you’ve taken to overcome them, and the results you’ve achieved. That’s how they’ll know they want to hire you; that’s how they’ll know you are worth the investment; that’s how they’ll know you will be a productive member of their team, not just another name on the employee roster.

Resumes that use the CAR approach really stand out. CAR stands for (C)hallenge, (A)ctions, (R)esults. Using the CAR approach, candidates tell “stories” about their professional successes, rather than simply listing where and when they’ve worked. It’s a great way to stand out from the crowd and rise above the monkey chatter.

Let’s take a look at a listing from my own resume and compare how it might look using a traditional employment history “listing” method versus the CAR approach:

Example—Employment history “listing” method

VIZION PRODUCTS – Redondo Beach, California (2002-2006)
Founder, President and General Manager
Designer and manufacturer of innovative storage products for the automotive market, acquired by Plasticolor.

Example—Using the CAR method

VIZION PRODUCTS – Redondo Beach, California (2002-2006)
Founder, President and General Manager

  • Launched and built a successful startup company that generated sales of more than $1M leading to acquisition by a major national company.
  • Created and implemented vision and positioning behind company’s products and led successful nationwide product line launch.
  • Managed all operational aspects of the business including marketing strategies, sales, product development, production, licensing, financing, accounting, purchasing, and supply chain. Managed a team of 10 and a $500K budget.

Do you see the difference? My challenge was to build a startup company; my action was to manage all operational aspects of the business; and my results were more than $1 million in sales and acquisition by a major national company.

All things being equal, which approach do you think would make me stand out more in the minds of prospective employers?

Now you might be worried that you don’t have the kinds of results (yet) an employer might find desirable. That’s OK. Partial CAR stories are better than no stories at all. Describing a challenge and your approach for solving it can still provide insight into your skills, your character, and your potential for future success.

For example, all ideology aside, if President Obama were crafting his resume, he could very well describe his challenges as President and the approaches he has taken to-date on a number of issues. As for the results, though, he may either want to shy away from any definitive declarations or suggest that results are still “pending.” Either way, his partial CAR stories would be better than no stories at all.

The CAR approach can also help you energize your thirty-second elevator speech. Rather than simply introducing yourself with “Hi, I’m John Smith. I live in Long Beach and I own a small business,” using the CAR method, you might say, “My name is Paul June. Too many businesses these days are disconnected from the customers they serve and from what will make them successful. I think creativity, fun, and being genuine are the keys to building great customer relationships. As founder of Barrel O’ Monkeyz, it’s my mission to help aspiring companies succeed.”

Even the LA Dodgers success this year can be described using the CAR method: “Manager Don Mattingly has taken a team of underachieving veterans and unproven youngsters (the challenge) and has inspired them through motivational signs such as ‘Players win games; teams win championships’ and banners touting past pennant and world series successes (the action), to achieve the best record in Major League Baseball as midseason approaches (the results).

The CAR approach can also help you with more aspects of your life than just beefing up your resume. When an issue or problem arises with a relationship or other life challenges, take a moment to consider . . .

  • What is the Challenge you have in front of you?
  • What is the Action you will take to address it?
  • What are the desired Results?

When broken down into these segments, even big challenges can sometimes be made more manageable.

What are some of your CAR stories? How might using the CAR approach have made you stand out more in a job search, or address some other life challenge?

Share your thoughts here.