MBA Career Advice: Individual Contributions

In this weekly series, our friends at MBA Career Coaches will be dispensing invaluable advice to help you actively manage your career. Topics include building your network, learning from mistakes and setbacks, perfecting your written communication, and mastering even the toughest interviews. 

We have been talking about three tests to apply to your resume to ensure that each bullet showcases your accomplishments and how you excelled. The Cause and Effect Test requires you to show not just the results you produced, but also the actions you took that led to those results. Let’s explore some of the reasons bullets fail the Cause and Effect Test.

Cause and Effect Test Fail:

  • Implemented cost optimization program for a major CPG company, successfully reducing costs by $8M in their raw material sourcing

If your bullet is not focused on your individual contributions, it will fail the Cause and Effect Test. This candidate has highlighted the result of the project in this bullet – the outcome of the entire team’s efforts– not the result of her individual work. This makes it impossible for the reader to understand what she did and how it translated into impact. So even when the overall result was a team effort, you need to highlight your specific contribution and how it helped lead to the outcome.
Here is another phrasing of this bullet that would fail the Cause and Effect Test.

Cause and Effect Test Fail:

  • Reduced client costs by $8M by modeling alternative sourcing scenarios

That is because this bullet is overreaching. It is clear this candidate did not single-handedly produce the result of $8M in cost reduction because we all know that modeling does not itself directly reduce costs. That is nonetheless what the bullet implies. She was one component of a process involving many others that led to that result. An easy fix for this problem is to start the bullet not with the result, but with the action, and then connect it to the result.

Cause and Effect Test Fail:

  • Modeled alternative sourcing scenarios, leading to client cost reduction of $8M

But this bullet still fails the Cause and Effect test because there is a link missing. How did we get from modeling to cost reduction? The bullet needs to draw a logical connection from actions all the way to results.

Cause and Effect Test Pass:

  • Modeled alternative sourcing scenarios and developed a strategic recommendation for CPG client that led to a cost optimization program which reduced client sourcing costs by $8M

To pass the Cause and Effect Test, your bullets need to reveal your individual contribution and then clearly relate that to the ultimate result, while using language that acknowledges when that the outcome was not due to your single-handed efforts.

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