Make Your Resume Bullets MEANINGFUL with CP’s CEO Test

The most important thing to do if you want to build a compelling MBA resume is ensure that every single bullet on that resume outlines a result worth caring about. Your MBA resume should show admissions committees, recruiters, and employers that, 1. you understand how your individual achievements translate to the bottom line for the companies and organizations you’ve partnered with, and 2. you can communicate your contributions in a succinct, logical, and compelling manner. The Resume Protocol CEO Test will help you bring your bullets up to scratch on both fronts. Carry on for more MBA resume rules of the trade!

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Writing Meaningful Bullets

So you’ve learned how to format your MBA resume and how to really write to your resume audience (any audience!), but how do you know that your reader will actually care about what they’re reading? By putting your resume bullets to the CEO Test – that’s how!

Think of your resume like a movie trailer.

It doesn’t tell the whole story; it shows you the sexiest scenes so you will want to see the whole movie. That’s what a resume is supposed to do. Most people unconsciously think that their resume is supposed to SUMMARIZE their career to date. But that’s not quite right! Instead, it’s supposed to highlight ONLY the BRIGHT SPOTS!

And bright spots in business can be reduced to the bottom line. The bottom line is given by this simple equation:

R – C = P (Revenue minus Costs equals Profits).

Even when an organization has social impact objectives, they are still measurable in terms of bottom line impact – a simple measure of the sum total results of the organization minus the cost involved in reaching those results. So for a company like Coca Cola, the bottom line is all the revenue they earn from selling Coke minus what it costs them to make, market, and distribute the Coke and take care of the Coke brand.

For an organization like Doctors Without Borders, the bottom line is the number of people whose lives they save or improve measured against the cost of providing those services.

Take note: I am not claiming that the whole world can or should be reduced to profits. But in the world of business, everything can and will be. Unprofitable companies can’t survive, and social organizations that don’t create more good than they cost will likely disappear.

What this means for your resume is that you need to be able to trace your own impact to the bottom line and communicate it in those terms. Remember, when you get to the interview, the subtler aspects of your experiences will have a chance to shine.

But the resume is black and white, so learn to understand your impact in CEO terms.

The CEO Test

Here’s the test: If the CEO of your company were to read your resume bullet, would they shake your hand? Would they care that you did that? Or would they stare blankly with indifference?

The CEO is responsible for the workings of the entire company, so they will likely be unconcerned with the job duties or responsibilities of any one member of the team. Results, on the other hand, especially those that translate to the bottom line, are a matter of CEO concern.

You want each of your bullets to showcase a result that you produced and where you excelled vis-à-vis expectations, targets, or peers.

Consider these examples of passing and failing resume bullets:

CEO Test Fail:

  • Responsible for managing a $10M media campaign

CEO Test Pass:

  • Spearheaded $10M social media campaign introducing new skincare product, exceeding first-year sales targets within four months

Notice how the word “responsible” gives us no information about the content of your work or the outcomes produced. It’s an absolute no-no as a bullet-opener.

Let me repeat that: no MBA bullet should EVER begin with the words “Responsible for.” Ever. Just never.

CEO Test Fail:

  • Performed investigations to resolve customer complaints and identify broken processes

CEO Test Pass:

  • Developed a new monthly performance monitoring framework which identified a $2M annual cost savings opportunity and a critical call center data issue in the second month

The second bullet here totally reframes the content not in terms of the “task” that was assigned, but in terms of what got created.

What you are told to do matters little. The initiative you take to create something new and change the status quo for the better matters a lot.

CEO Test Fail:

  • Conducted detailed analysis of client’s profit and loss statements and presented findings to senior executive team

CEO Test Pass:

  • Drove recommendation to divest three snack brands for consumer goods client by identifying key strategic misalignment in manufacturing process based on detailed P&L analysis

Who you presented to, who trusted you, and who liked your work isn’t the best kind of impact you can show. Early in your career, it’s easy to think that being tapped by a senior executive to do something is meaningful because it shows that an important person trusted you. But the reader doesn’t know that executive. It’s much more meaningful to showcase the work you did that generated or justified that trust.

Also note that in the last sample bullet the impact is “drove a recommendation.” You might think that is a weak result, and in some sense it is. This is why many people get frustrated with consulting jobs and move into operational roles – so they can own not only the thinking but also the implementation and outcomes. Service providers (bankers, consultants, lawyers, etc.) don’t really own the outcome, the client does. So if you are in one of these functions, look to see how your work impacted your team’s work and outcome when you are unable to see how it affects the client.

In this case, the owner of the bullet managed to do sound analysis that his team leveraged in the final client service recommendation. For an early career consultant, that is a great outcome!

Consider these last two side-by-sides:

CEO Test Fail:

  • Managed a team of six on a design project

CEO Test Pass:

  • Managed a team of six to design a new client solution on a compressed timeline under budget

CEO Test Fail:

  • Helped design the firm’s five-year strategic plan

CEO Test Pass:

  • Led three executives in crafting five-year corporate strategic plan; plan praised by CEO as the most comprehensive and actionable in firm’s history

You can see how much more powerful the bullets are when they are associated with outcomes. In the first case, the result was reaching a positive outcome under severe constraints. In the second case, it was an acknowledgement from the CEO himself. In both cases, it is easy to see how this candidate excels vis-à-vis challenges and expectations.

The final piece for meaningful resume bullets: Cause and Effect

If you’ve got all your bullets passing the High School and CEO Tests with flying colors, the final step to resume bullet mastery is to make sure your bullets are logical

Once you have refined your understanding of the results you have produced in your work and couched each bullet on your resume in lay terms that a high school graduate could understand, it’s time to make sure your bullets pass the Cause and Effect Test.

If you have really considered the impact of your work and ensured each bullet passes the CEO Test, then there’s a good chance you’re also passing the Cause and Effect Test. But it happens occasionally that even though a bullet delineates a clear result, it’s unclear how the candidate directly achieved that result. (And that’s a definite no-go. The reader needs to be able to easily connect you, as the actor and hero in your life story, to the results you describe.)

Let’s consider an example:

Cause and Effect Test Fail:

  • Improved margins by 14% and created $23M in new profits.

This bullet passes both of the previous tests: It’s clear that the CEO would care about this fact, and anyone with a high school education can follow this language. But what’s unclear is exactly how the candidate achieved the result. If the reader can’t connect the dots between your actions and results, then you will get partial credit for them at best.

Cause and Effect Test Pass:

  • Analyzed daily sales volumes and identified opportunity to increase price point in EMEA Region, resulting in 14% margin improvement and $23M in new profits

Now we can see!! The candidate produced this result through her analytical skills – she looked at a big data set, extracted some valuable takeaways, and used those to drive profitability improvements. Now we want to give her a job!

Let’s look at a few more.

Cause and Effect Test Fail:

  • Received exceptional promotion during a hiring freeze

Cause and Effect Test Pass:

  • Received exceptional promotion during a hiring freeze due to demonstrated excellence in client relationship management and top 10% revenue generation in class

The promotion (effect) is connected to its cause (the candidate’s excellence on two specific dimensions).

Cause and Effect Test Fail:

  • Reduced customer dissatisfaction from 40% to 0 in three months

Cause and Effect Test Pass:

  • Reduced customer dissatisfaction from 40% to 0 in three months by streamlining issue response process, training customer service team, and directly managing key customer relationships

Notice how much more credible the candidate appears because the cause and effect are both clear. The results in the CEO Test will be very hard to contextualize and relate to if you don’t clarify the specific actions you took to achieve them.

With a resume that scores high marks for its readability, meaningfulness, and specificity and operates under a logic that is both apparent and easy to follow, you can rest assured that you’re doing everything possible to establish that vital connection between your life achievements and your audience. More than that, you’ll be exercising the muscle of good communication.

But if it feels like there’s still something missing – if you aren’t sure that your MBA resume will be the one to really stand out from the stack – take a closer look at the personality encapsulated in (or conspicuously missing from) your greatest hits list. And once again, we’ve got you covered. In the final piece of my MBA Resume Protocol, I’ll teach you how to breathe life into your resume – how to make it vivid.

Let’s have a conversation!

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Picture of Angela Guido

Angela Guido

Student of Human Nature| Founder and
Chief Education Officer of Career Protocol

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