Proposal Resumes – Hints on Preparing Winning Resumes

  |  September 7, 2011

I will never forget my experience as a young proposal writer working for a small business in Virginia Beach, Virginia. We were an IT services company, so the personnel section was one of the most important parts of our proposals. At the time, my boss was a retired civil servant / general officer with strong opinions on every subject, including proposal resumes. He thought a proposal resume could be prepared in two hours, so I had an interesting challenge in winning approval for enough time to get responsive resumes prepared.

I have found that the time required to prepare a proposal resume varies widely. For those personnel who do not have a resume or have one written in crayon on brown paper bag, you can expect to spend eight to ten hours. At the other extreme, I have found that, you can expect to receive a resume that is already close to the RFP specifications maybe one out of 20 times, and these resumes can be edited into place in possibly two hours. For the average resume, you normally need 4 or preferably 6 hours each to produce a document that can maximize evaluation points scored. This estimate has factored in the time required to contact the proposed candidate to get some clarification or other specific information required by the RFP. However, if the personnel section is small, such as 6 or 8 total resumes, you would want to spend at least 8 hours per resume.

The principle task of the proposal resume writer is to edit or “format” the resume in a way that is highly responsive to the RFP requirements, which will also make it easy to evaluate. In many cases, resumes are written to a formal job description for the position in question. In other cases, however, there is no position description, and it is necessary to infer what the position requirements are. If the technical proposal writers do not have the experience to know what the position requirements should be, it will be necessary for a person from Human Resources or line operations to sketch in the basic requirements.

The uniform format used in proposal resumes helps to standardize the process both of producing and evaluating the resumes. Although some solicitations will specify a resume format, many do not. It is therefore incumbent on each company / proposal group to develop a format suitable for their proposal requirements. Most resumes for technical personnel will have the traditional sections such as summary paragraph, education, and jobs starting with the most recent, as well as sections citing specific Hardware and Software systems experience. However, style of pagination varies widely and can be adapted to suit the personality and needs of each company.

The fundamental job of the resume writer is to conclusively demonstrate that the proposed person is well qualified for the position. How, then, is that accomplished? For even the most time-constrained proposal, the writer should completely rewrite the introductory paragraph, focusing on the requirements and the evaluation factors, if listed. By organizing the resume to follow the evaluation factors, it will highlight any potential deficiencies of the proposed person – allowing the bidder to get more up-to-date information from the person or to substitute more qualified personnel. The resume writer should also address the RFP’s requirements in the individual jobs held by the proposed person.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume that the position description is limited to four requirements: A, B, C, and D. When recasting the introductory paragraph, the writer throws out unrelated existing material and focuses on the relationship between the person’s career and the four requirements. For example, the writer could say, “Mr. Jones has 20 years of professional experience including 4 years of A, 5 years of B, 7 years of C, and 4 years of D.”  His experience in A includes … and so on. When time permits, the writer also needs to systematically address A, B, C, and D in every past job the person has held in as far as honestly possible to do so.  Using this approach makes it apparent to the person preparing the resumes, how to systematically ensure that there is strong evidence that the proposed person is well qualified in all areas of the requirements.  As stated earlier, additionally, this approach also makes it easy for government evaluators to document their decisions to provide a high score.

In order to ensure that the resume completely addresses the requirements, it may be helpful for the writer to create a matrix. In the matrix, the writer develops a plan of how each requirement in the specification will be folded into every possible paragraph in the proposal resume. It is sometimes the case that a lazy technical proposal writer will work on a resume using the genuflection approach rather than being thorough. By genuflection approach, I mean spending a limited amount of time in lightly salting an existing resume with a few details pertinent to the specification. This approach is sometimes necessary when the time has expired. However, no company that wants to win contracts would choose to use this method of formatting a resume.

A key question: Who will write the resume? Will it be the technical proposal writer, the person being proposed, or a combination of the two? From the perspective of the proposal manager, the most cost-effective approach may be to have the owner of the resume prepare the first draft response to the specification, providing as much detail as possible. This approach costs less in terms of proposal budget. However, it requires a longer lead time and more of a coordination effort to accomplish. Additionally, some personnel cannot or will not prepare written input or do not have the time to do so. At the other extreme, the technical proposal writer can do an excellent job of formatting a resume by obtaining the candidate’s existing resume and filling in the facts through interviewing. In the final analysis, many groups will use a combination of approaches, with the good writers doing their own resumes and with the technical proposal writers doing most of the work for the personnel who can’t write.

Every writer is confronted with problems caused by personnel who lack some of the required qualifications. For example, the specification may require a B.S. degree, and the candidate does not have a B.S. degree. In cases in which personnel do not possess a credential such as a degree, it is sometimes possible to substitute. For example, federal standards commonly allow personnel to substitute two years of professional experience for one year of education. Therefore, if the candidate lacks two years on his degree but has four extra years of experience, you can write in the education section, “B.S. (equiv.),” meaning the person has the equivalent of a B.S. degree. Furthermore, some writers will resort to the practice of “weasel wording” when confronted with a qualifications problem. In this case, weasel wording means carefully choosing words to obscure the deficiency, while being careful to not outright lie.  When confronted with an opportunity to “weasel word,” the first line of defence is to find another, more qualified candidate. Weasel wording is the last resort and should not be used except in extreme circumstances.

The importance of having good, responsive, well-formatted resumes in a proposal is critical.  Without them, the bidder probably cannot win the contract.  So upper level management needs to just bite the bullet and budget the hours necessary to prepare winning resumes.

Please don’t wait until the last minute to secure resume-writing support: to do so will put you in a position where the best-for-you consultant talent is scarce or non-existent.



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