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For a Winning Interview, Tune Up Your C.A.R.

An important part of any job interview is your ability to describe your accomplishments. By developing a few “mini-stories” in advance of the interview, you’ll be prepared to answer interview questions with solid examples of your achievements, while making it easier to remember your accomplishments in a stressful situation. Begin by describing an accomplishment and the skills used in that situation. See if you can break it down into a five- or six-sentence “story” describing the challenge, action and result (hence, C.A.R.).

C. Challenge or problem that you encountered

  • What needed to be done?

  • Where did you start?

  • Describe your specific assignments, responsibilities or duties

  • Describe the situation, project or task

  • Emphasize the extraordinary challenges

  • How and why did the situation arise?

  • Did you notice or discover it yourself?

  • Did you suggest or initiate the action?

A. Action that you took to resolve the problem or situation

  • What did you do?

  • How did you proceed?

  • Describe your goals, plans and procedures

  • Emphasize your creative and innovative approach

  • Describe what you actually did and how you did it

  • Emphasize what others did under your supervision

  • Describe the difficulties that you encountered and overcame

R. Result that was achieved for you or the company. (Be specific and use measurable examples whenever possible)

  • What did you accomplish?

  • State how well you carried out your responsibilities

  • Describe your contributions and achievements

  • Quantify your results and specify them in concrete language

  • Describe how completely your plans were realized

  • Emphasize who (company? department? boss? other?) benefited

  • Exactly how and how much did they benefit?

Sample C.A.R. statements

Below, we’ve described some sample job situations, and then broke them down into the challenge the employee faced, the action he/she took and the results achieved.

  1. Sample accomplishment

    “When I began as a new Human Resource Manager, the IT Department averaged a 38% turnover rate for the last 3.5 years. Employees were being terminated without prior warning, and no formal corrective action was being taken to discipline them and improve their behavior. I created a disciplinary warning system for the department managers. Within eight months of implementing my new system, the IT Department’s turnover rate decreased by 18%.”

    C – The IT department’s turnover rate averaged 38% over the last 3.5 years.
    A – I developed a formal verbal and written warning policy for department managers to follow. It required managers to provide each employee with a written copy of their job description. Furthermore, it directed managers to review these job descriptions with their employees and verify that their employees understood them. I also incorporated a requirement for all managers to write a development plan for each employee, with goal-setting in mind, to be addressed during their semi-annual performance appraisals.
    R – Within an eight-month period, I had decreased the turnover rate in the IT Department by 18%.

  2. Sample accomplishment

    “I joined the management of a magazine after its subscriber numbers had decreased from 11 million to 8 million. Unless we took a detour fast, we were on our way over the cliff. Under my leadership, the century-old organization was re-invigorated by shifting up to new sources of revenue. We adopted newsstand distribution, foreign language editions, a cable-TV channel, an online store, and new corporate partnerships. These strategic decisions helped us increase our subscriber base to 20 million.”

    C – After 10 years of declining revenue and a shrinking subscriber base, a once venerable magazine was threatened with extinction.
    A – I made a series of strategic decisions that included the development of new corporate partnerships, and expansions into new media channels such as newsstands, foreign language editions, a cable-TV channel, and an online store. This refurbished the magazine’s identity.
    R – My strategic decisions helped the magazine increase its subscriber base from 8 million to 20 million.

  3. Sample accomplishment

    “The optical network technology company, where I am vice president, was the best performing IPO (Initial Public Offering) in 2002. However, in less than 30 days, our strategic merger with a telecom company fell through, and our stock plummeted from $63 per share to an all-time low of $13 per share. In the face of disaster, I convinced my partners to make a bold move. Not one engineer left our team, but rather stayed as we built our own optical network. Initially, we needed to acquire two companies to support our technical growth and increase our client base. Today, we offer full-service optical network solutions to companies like XYZ Corporation. Our customer roster is now three times what we had in 2002, and our stocks have risen to more than $300 per share.”

    C – Our company was ranked the best performing IPO in 2002. After a strategic merger fell through, we saw our stock price dive from $63 to $13 per share.
    A – I convinced my partners to respond to this business challenge by making a bold move, rather than scaling back. Capitalizing on our company’s best assets—its employees’ talent, passion and loyalty—we set off to build our own full-scale optical network.
    R – As a result of this bold move, our customer roster has tripled since 2002, and our stocks have risen to more than $300 per share. Today, we offer full-service optical network solutions to companies like XYZ Corporation.