June 19, 2020


By Katherine Coffman

You might be asking yourself, “How do I highlight my experiences in my resume on how they impacted my organization’s priorities?”

As a retired federal service senior executive, my response would be: “Write like an executive.” And how to write like an executive is to showcase how your significant accomplishments contributed to your organization’s priorities.

“How” may you ask?

My go-to approach on how to showcase your accomplishments is the Challenge-Context-Action-Result (CCAR) Model. Normally used by job candidates who aspire to serve in the Senior Executive Service, the CCAR can also be used for resumes, interviews, and yes...even application KSA essays (they’re still around!).

When it comes to writing your resume, rather than listing your duties, descriptions of programs you lead, or a summary of your responsibilities, it is more powerful to provide a brief summary of your experience to describe your accomplishments by using the CCAR model:

Challenge - Describe a specific goal or problem and highlight that it is directly related to your organization’s mission.

Context - Describe who you worked with (individuals, teams, etc.) and the environment in which you worked to address the challenge.

Action - Discuss the specific actions you took to address the challenge.

Result - Measures/outcomes that had an impact on the organization. This demonstrates the quality and effectiveness of your skills (leadership).

With this model, you can effectively highlight your experience and contribution to the accomplishment of your organization’s mission.

I’ve provided an example of a CCAR below. This is taken out of the Office of Personnel Management’s “Guide to Senior Executive Service Qualifications (September 2012, Page 18).”

As Director of Policy for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, I manage a $1.2 million budget and play a leadership role in setting manpower levels for all Department offices. These decisions are based on the Department’s 10-year Mission and Values narrative, which follows the New Jersey Secretary of Transportation’s goals. (Context)

As chair of the seven-member Executive Committee, I determine expenditures for the Department’s divisions and programs--an annual budget of $3 billion. We set priorities by monitoring expenditures relative to forecasts for each program and the prior year’s expenditures.

For example, several years ago during a particularly bad winter we made a decision to spend additional money on snow removal and to reduce funding for lower priority maintenance such as spring/summer grass cutting along the highways. (Challenge) Before making this decision, I met with Committee members to review upcoming expenditures and how this budgeting shift would impact various office budgets. (Action) In previous years, the Department had been severely criticized for not responding quickly and appropriately to hazardous road conditions. (Context)

As a result of our decision, we had the fewest weather-related traffic accidents in 12 years, and the Department received very high marks from New Jersey citizens. (Result)

Bottom Line

To showcase how your significant accomplishments contributed to your organization’s priorities, write like an executive by using the CCAR method.

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Katherine “KC” Coffman
Certified Executive and Leadership Coach
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