How To Create Compelling Case Studies In 6 Steps

Lawrence Humphrey
16 May 2024
7 min read

Case studies are the stories we tell about our work. When done right, these stories can be powerful enough to land us a dream role, promotion, or transition us into a new career.

Storytelling is at the heart of creating compelling case studies. There is no singular way to tell a story, but there are patterns that many of the best stories share. One pattern that we recommend and have adapted is the STAR method (you can think of it as the Hero's Journey of case studies). What follows is the foundation to create case studies in a way that will take your career to the next level.

Why case studies matter

Case studies are important for two reasons: 

  1. They reliably come up during interviews
  2. They are the lifeblood of your portfolio

Both of these impact your odds of getting hired, promoted, or new clients. They are a tangible example of what you’re capable of, and weave together your professional experience into a cohesive narrative.

It may be helpful to think of the job search in the following way: the candidate whose evidence presents the strongest case often gets the open role. Employers gather evidence that try to predict who will excel in their open role.

Case studies are a goldmine of evidence. They contain evidence of your technical and non-technical —inaccurately called “soft” — skills. For an open role flooded with 2-dimensional resumes, a case study that employers can see can make your application 3-dimensional.

Step 1: Choose a catchy title

Choose a title that succinctly captures the essence of your project or accomplishment. Make it engaging and descriptive to pique the reader's interest.

It can be helpful to include the company, users, and/or outcome, for example: “Improving Acme Inc.'s Employee Onboarding Experience by 20%”. Consider using software tools to evaluate and improve your headlines, such as ChatGPT and a headline analyzer tool

Pro-tip: This is deceptively tricky. It may help to finish the steps below and complete this step later.

Step 2: Provide an overview

Consider this the case study’s elevator pitch. If you only had 60-90 seconds to capture the key plot points, what might you say?

Consider the following to get started:

  • In two sentences or less, what was the user and/or business problem?
  • In two sentences or less, what did you and your team do to solve the problem?
  • In two sentences or less, describe the impact of your work.

The goal here is to be succinct. It's been recorded that "80% of recruiters say they spend 3 minutes or less on a candidate’s portfolio". Your work should pass the skim-test. If you’ve done your job right, a reader will get the gist and may be inclined to read more. The less you say, the better it sounds.

An example overview of a fictitious project.

Step 3: Outline the problem

All work, like all good stories, contains a problem. The more painful, the more captivating.

When articulating the problem that you solved, you should aim to talk about the problem from two perspectives:

  • The business - What core metric or behavior was the business trying to address e.g. increase revenue, decrease cost, increase user conversion, increase employee retention? 
  • The user(s) - Who were the humans that your work was for and what was their pain e.g. new hires struggled to find documentation, executives struggled to find patterns in the market, jobseekers looking for ways to get more interviews? 

Your reader may not have the same background as you. Most people can relate to another human experience, and how that may impact a company. Explaining things in this way, with a bias towards simplicity, will make your work more digestible to your readers. 

Pro-tip: Be specific. Use numbers and quotes to outline the problem. For example, 2-year employee retention was 20%. New hires were eager to leave because career mobility was unclear.
Step 4: Tell us the solution story

This is where the heavy-lifting happens. At this point in the story, you and your team of protagonists get to save the day after embarking on a treacherous journey. 

While you still want to be as concise as possible, you have more freedom to tell the story. Depending on the scope and nature of your work, this may look different person-to-person, and even project-to-project. However, employers tend to look for a couple of things:

  • Timeline - How much time did you have e.g. weeks, months, quarters, or years?
  • Scope of responsibilities - What were you directly assigned to do? 
  • Team composition - Who did you work with? What were their roles and who were your stakeholders?
  • Collaboration style - How do you work with your team, e.g. weekly check-ins, remote, in-person, asynchronous collaboration?
  • Your unique contribution - What can you singularly take credit for / what wouldn’t have happened if you were gone?
  • Climactic moment - What surprised you or didn't go according to plan? How did you and your team deal with it?
  • Communication basics - Would someone want to read or hear it? Is it grammatically sound, told with enthusiasm, and have a meaningful plot?
Pro-tip: Stories without conflict are boring. Case studies are no exception. Employers love hearing how you adapted to conflict and what you would have done differently. Consider adding these stories to your portfolio or telling them in interviews.
Step 5: Outcomes and impact

How was the world different after all was said and done? At this step, connect your results to the problem you outlined. Consider the following questions:

  • What changed because of my work?
  • What increased because of my work? What decreased?
  • What data do I have to support this, e.g. quotes or metrics?

Similar to Step 3 where you outlined your problem, use quantitative and qualitative measures. Pull all of the metrics, quotes, testimonials, and success stories you can. Remember: specificity is powerful. 

Keep in mind, outcomes and outputs are different things. Employers care less about how many lines of code you wrote, how many meetings you had, and how many emails you sent. Employers care that the core problem is solved well, reliably, quickly, and within budget. Keep your work in context.

Pro-tip: If you're struggling with outputs vs. outcomes, pretend someone asked you, "so what?" For example, if the output is I deployed a website in 2 weeks. If someone asked, "so what," you might respond that you took deployment time down from 2 months on a website critical for capturing new sales leads.

Step 6: Link Supporting Materials

Seeing is believing. Make sure to share any non-proprietary material that helps make your story real. This includes images, videos, presentations, PDFs, work embeds, and external links.

Employers like to see the final performance, as well as a look behind the curtain. Consider separating your work by “process” (work for your and your team’s eyes) and “production” (work for the world or target users). Future employers will be in the “process” with you, so they want to see your proficiency with different tools, as well as how you approach problems. 

Some tools do a great job of showing how you work. For instance, if you created a spreadsheet that you’re proud of, consider embedding or sharing it. If you have a Figma board you’re proud of, attach it. If you have a presentation, you’re proud of, include it. If you’re short for time, take screenshots or a Loom recording.

Pro-tip: Share responsibly. When in doubt, ask the respective employer what you can share. If that's not an option, consider if the work is public-facing vs. internal. You can always scrub specifics from the work, such as reproduce artifacts without the real data.
Show and tell. Great case studies have materials you can reference.

Getting started — how and when to use case studies

As you prepare your case studies for your portfolio and interviews, you may wonder what makes the cut. In short, it depends. Because different employers, teams, and people value different things, it's helpful to have many case studies you can pull from and highlight as it makes sense.

If you're looking for inspiration on what to include, here are some prompts that make for great case studies:

  • Your most recent project
  • The work you're most proud of
  • Your side projects
  • Your most collaborative project
  • Your claim to fame
  • Your most requested work

Once you make the decision, the Pearl platform walks you through the steps above to create compelling case studies. You can attach spreadsheets, online workspaces, Figma boards, videos, and the other work you're proud of. In order to get started building sharable and trackable case studies, make a free account and get started adding your work.

The Pearl platform's case study builder


Following these steps should get your case studies in a much better place. This is an iterative process, so don't be afraid to release it before you think it's ready. Employers prefer imperfect work more than no work.

For example case studies, you can review the following:

Lawrence Humphrey
16 May 2024
7 min read

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