Resume Strategy: The C.A.R. Method


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Back in the day, job hunters constructed straightforward resumes that consisted of the education they logged, the jobs they held and the experiences they accrued. That information is still ultra-important to a relevant resume. However, savvy job hunters today are finding ways to optimize those facts. Some might call it “spinning the message,” in order to better convey what they’re capable of accomplishing on the job.  

One of the most effective methods for doing that is the C.A.R. method, an acronym for Challenge, Action and Results. The C.A.R. resume strategy presents your accomplishments in a way that helps recruiters envision your success in the role(s) they’re trying to fill. The end goal is to briefly and efficiently convey to employers that you don’t just show up to your job each day, you face challenges head-on and proactively seek ways of helping your employers. 

“If you’re not getting results from your resume, it could be more than a poor job market,” notes a recent article. “Your resume can be loaded with details about your previous jobs, but without compelling accomplishments, it will blend in with hundreds like it.” 

The C.A.R. method can also be applied to your networking and interviewing strategies. However, here we’ll discuss how to use it to fine-tune your resume to focus on your achievements.

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Power up your wording through C.A.R. 

The first step is to walk through your education, volunteer work and job experiences and think about what you achieved in those roles. Instead of merely listing your job responsibilities, general abilities and innate strengths, dig deeper to find concrete examples of specific actions you’ve taken in response to situations or challenges. You want to show recruiters how your actions have achieved positive and/or tangible results on behalf of your employers, volunteer organizations or others. You want to get to the point quickly so those statements are more likely to be read by prospective employers. 

As you decide what to include, think in terms of the real issues facing your employer and/or your industry. To get you started with your list, you might ask yourself these questions: 

  • Have I managed a department or group? In what capacity, and what did we accomplish? 
  • Have I received awards or other special recognition, and if so, what were they for? 
  • Have I been promoted, and if so why? 
  • Have I managed a budget to favorable results? How large was the budget? 
  • Have I developed/guided new systems, procedures or policies that have produced favorable results? 
  • Have I helped boost efficiency, and have results been tangible?
  • Have I shown resourcefulness by identifying problems that needed solving? 
  • Have I been able to accomplish a goal using fewer resources than before? 
  • Have I written papers, reports or articles that have made an impact? 
  • Have I helped others meet their professional goals? 
  • How have I met or exceeded challenges I’ve been presented on the job? 

Going through that questioning process will help you with the first official part of C.A.R. resume strategy, identifying the challenges (i.e. pre-existing problems, needs or situations) you faced in each of your past and present roles. But as you start crafting your C.A.R. statements, most of those challenges will often be implied rather than stated outright. For example, if you’re a call center manager you do not need to start with, “I was challenged to rewrite curriculum for training of call center personnel.” Instead, you can launch right into a statement about your effective curriculum and the positive results it brought forth. 

Here’s another example of how to change resume items to the C.A.R. format. Say you’re a writer for a content marketing agency, and you’re trying for a job as editor in the same industry. As such, you’ll want potential employers to understand how your background and experience could help them solve their own goals and challenges. Remain truthful, prioritize action verbs and include tangible measurements whenever possible. Monetary statements tend to be the most attention-grabbing, but you could also plug in numbers reflecting time saved, people affected, boosts in traffic or subscriptions, reductions in complaints or similar measures.

As such, the first draft of your resume may mention a job responsibility in these terms:  

“Wrote marketing content for several long standing clients.” 

That merely tells a potential employer that you filled the role. What you want is to show the employer your key achievements in that role by changing the statement to something like this (assuming it’s truthful). 

“Significantly increased annual contracts by strategizing and producing measurable improvements in content performance.” 

An even more effective statement would reflect specific revenue values, if you have access to those numbers: 

“Boosted annual contracts by $200,000 by strategizing and producing measurable improvements in content performance.”

Other make and models: Examples from other industries 

Here are some other examples of how best to “spin” achievements on your resume: 

  • A customer relations manager may have “strategized and installed a communications plan for proactively managing inventory shortages, reducing customer returns 25%. 
  • A volunteer coordinator may have “created and implemented a volunteer recruiting plan on social media that drew 76 new recruits in a three-month span.” 
  • An accounting manager may have “researched, bought and installed new software that enabled a 20% reduction in staffing costs last year.”
  • An elementary school teacher may have “created and implemented curriculum changes that helped raise school reading scores 15%.”

Reviewing the user’s manual  

What else should you know about the resume strategy of the C.A.R. system before getting started? Here are a few more pointers. 

  • After forming a tentative list of achievements to include, you’ll likely want to limit your final resume to three C.A.R. statements per job or experience.  
  • Veer on the side of being short, concise and factual instead of needlessly wordy. 
  • Move your top achievements near the top of your resume, or at least the top of each section, to improve the odds they’ll be read by time-starved recruiters. 
  • Never list “duties included” or “job responsibilities” on your resume. All that tells recruiters is what you were supposed to be doing on the job. 
  • Your years of tenure on any job are likely of less interest to recruiters than what you achieved during that tenure. 
  • Avoid overused cliches such as “team player,” “good communicator” or “detail-oriented” on a C.A.R.-optimized resume. Instead, use clear and objective language to help recruiters understand how your assets have tangibly helped your employers.
  • Include relevant experiences you’ve logged as a student or as a volunteer. Sometimes those experiences can seem even more impressive to employers, since they show you displayed a stellar work ethic and/or showed initiative even when you weren’t being paid. 
  • Never lie or stretch the truth on your resume. You will likely be called on to elaborate on your accomplishments in interviews, and the last thing you want is to be removed from consideration because of untruths.

Benefits of the C.A.R. resume strategy

What are the key advantages of leading with a C.A.R.-optimized resume? Let us count the ways: 

  • They can help you customize each resume to the job for which you’re applying to, since they can be easily edited to focus on the achievements most relevant to that job. 
  • They’re often easy to infuse with industry and skill-specific keywords that will help recruiters find you in their automated online searches. 
  • They help you hone in on exactly what you’ve achieved in your professional life – knowledge that will help you with talking points as you move forward to networking and interviewing for new jobs. 
  • They can help you build self-confidence as you acknowledge your own achievements to yourself. Perhaps even you, yourself, haven’t realized how you’ve contributed over the course of your career. 

A C.A.R.-optimized resume makes sense as you strive to get your resume read and considered in our ultra-busy, ultra-digitized world. Plan for success by taking time to convert your resume to the most powerfully phrased format possible. 

Bottom line: Converting your resume to the C.A.R. format helps it get the attention of time-starved recruiters looking for strong, proactive candidates. 

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Are you ready to take your resume to the next level? Get started today with LeadUp Career’s Resume Toolkit!