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4 Tips for Writing High-Impact Proposal Resumes

capture management idiq tech edit Jun 02, 2022
a coffee with a resume below it

It might be tempting to view a resume requirement within a request for proposal (RFP) as an “easy” task. But, like most things with the proposal process, it is not that simple. Proposal Managers will search for candidates via various sources (ClearanceJobs, company-established resume repositories, Indeed, etc.) Once a PM finds a generic resume that looks like it will fit the requirements, it is not as simple as plugging it into a template, and wham, bam, done! Putting a stack of “ready” resumes to the side and tackling them at the end is not the answer for proposal success. 

But there is a foundational truth that you can’t forget: Depending upon the evaluation criteria, resumes are graded elements, so you need to get them right. Plus, proposal resumes, and especially those for Key Personnel (KP), are another opportunity to demonstrate why your team is best suited for the job. They allow you to paint your narrative through the experiences and expertise of the people you have hired (or teamed with). As a result, crafting resumes that are informational and scorable involves more in-depth work than it may seem at first glance. 

So, how do you turn a regular resume into an informational and compelling tool that impresses an evaluation board? 

Trident Tip 1: Build your template first. This might seem obvious, but start by carefully reading the RFP – including any attachments that might have “hidden” requirements for personnel. Familiarize yourself with the baseline requirements so you don’t waste time building resumes for candidates who ultimately don’t qualify. Make sure you keep an eye out for page limitations and required information - like certification numbers, clearance requirements, and chronological work summaries. Building your template first ensures you won’t forget to cover any of the graded requirements and that you’ll carve out enough space to address both the “required” and “desired” skills appropriately. An easy way to track requirements for personnel is to create an Excel sheet with each of the positions and requirements. This helps ensure that each requirement is met.  

Trident Tip 2: Interview your Candidates and Ask Specific Questions. Part of the success of translating a street resume into a proposal resume lies in your ability to interview the candidates. To get the most out of this interview, make sure you provide the candidate a copy of the RFP and a copy of the draft resume that’s been formatted for the proposal template. This will save all parties from spending time discussing skills, expertise, and experience that ultimately don’t apply because they aren’t relevant to the RFP (or won’t fit based on space constraints). 

Begin your interview by evaluating the resume for missing information. Ask for dates and numbers that may be missing (this is especially important if there are gaps as you’ll need to account for those). Ask for the years they graduated, received certifications, and verify whether there are gaps in their chronological experience. 

Once you’ve gotten the specific data out of the way, transition into acronyms within their resume. Have the candidate confirm the definitions and tell you about what each thing was. In-depth descriptions can help you understand a candidate’s experience, it can also make this portion of the interview slow down, which may mean you miss an acronym because of a diversion in the conversation. (Trident Tip: Google can be very helpful with acronyms, but you must err on the side of caution and verify, verify, verify). It might be tempting to plug acronyms in to save space, but you’ll want to keep the acronyms spelled out while you are developing your resumes. As you start evaluating what content to cut and what to keep, it will be helpful to have the full definitions. Plus, the proposal team will be able to revert to an acronym once the proposal’s master acronym list is built.

Once you’ve pushed through the simple, fact-based portion of the resume, it’s time to let the candidate open up. By starting with the facts, you’re able to relax the candidate and refresh their memory about their experience. You’ll both be better primed to discuss the outcomes and results of their experience and why/how it has relevance to this RFP.

Trident Tip 3. Listen, Ask, and Write. Now that you have connected with your candidate on the “easy” details, it’s time to shift from “compliant” to “compelling.” Here’s an easy way to remember the best way to focus a resume’s content: Follow the LAW (Listen, Ask, Write)! 

  1. Listen: No, really listen first. Your candidate is about to share SO much information with you as you review the “greatest hits” of their professional career. This is where they can really show you why they are the best fit for your solution. However, they can only paint this story for you if you are ready to hear it. You have to be an active listener so you know what makes them stand apart from other technically qualified candidates.  
  2. Ask: Ask the silly questions and clarify things they have done. Chances are you are not a senior systems engineer or senior electro optical scientist (if you are – whoa, way to help share the load on proposal development!), so it is ok to have the candidate to explain things to you like you’re 5 years old. This is also a great time to ask leading questions, such as “can you tell me about your time at ___?” or “what does ‘being responsible for’ mean here?” Watch out for the words “provided support” – ask the follow up question to dig into what that “support” entailed. If you’ve outlined the workload, a great question to ask is “What project do you think I should use to highlight your experience?” 
  3. Write: Don’t try to write the resume during your interview. Instead, take great notes. Write down as many of their experiences as you can, tying themes, words, and specific metrics and outcomes to specific projects. You will also want to frame their experience based on the performance work statement (PWS) or statement of objectives (SOO) from the original RFP (and since you’ve provided this to the candidate, they should be able to help with this, too!). The notes you take can help you map out their experience to later tie back into their resume. If you are heads down in writing the verbiage in their templated resume while you are speaking with them, you run the risk of missing some of the information you are hearing.

Trident Tip 4. Re-Read and Validate. We know you’re busy, but you might need to have a follow up call with the candidate. Not only is that ok – it’s encouraged! It’s easy to misconstrue or misrepresent professional experience that isn’t your own, so before you go “final” on the resume, let the candidate review and validate all the information in your wonderfully wordsmithed format one last time. Take the time to go through the resume next to the Scope of Work (SOW)/Performance Work Statement (PWS). Ensure that the key words or phrases from the RFP are included within the resume. This makes it easier for the evaluators to find. 

Conclusion: Finding the right people who meet your company culture while also being able to meet the specifics of the proposal is incredibly difficult, but not impossible. This becomes a more prominent challenge with the short time frame of a proposal. Most of these candidates are highly specialized and have extensive experience within their career field. They are also going to be the face and success of your company in delivery. Taking the time to listen, ask questions, and capturing their specific skills and experience can help make the difference between a compliant resume and an award-earning proposal resume.

If you find that you need a little extra boost before your interview, or want a second set of eyes to evaluate not only your resumes but also your proposal, Trident Proposal Management is here to help. Let our rock star team of capture and proposal experts help you win your next contract!

Written by  Kiley Stewart and Trident Team

Kiley is a proposal and capture manager at Trident. She brings her proposal management, technical editor, competitor analysis, and resume development skills to clients. She is also the voice of the Trident Short podcasts ( A U.S. Navy veteran and military spouse based in Jacksonville, Florida, she supports clients around the world as part of our globally dispersed team. 

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