Recruiting and selling key personnel are critical factors in preparing winning proposals. Despite its importance, it is easy for even experienced proposal managers to let key personnel efforts get overshadowed by other issues. And even if your team does stay focused on selecting the right people, effectively selling these key people throughout the proposal often remains a major challenge. As a result, while key personnel should always be one of the contributors to a win, it can cause an otherwise winning proposal to lose.
Who should be named as "key"?
Customers have different opinions of what should be "key" positions. Usually, the number of keys specified in an RFP is a compromise between the customer technical group (user) and the contracting group (buyer). From the bidder's perspective, however, unless your proposal is page-restricted, you should include comprehensive resumes and strong marketing on all individuals you think are essential for accomplishment of the SOW. For those positions not specified as "key" by the RFP, you can designate them as "critical" and accomplish almost the same purpose.
When do I start recruiting and how do I find the right people?
Recruiting key and critical candidates is a task that can consume much more time than anticipated. Since the quality of your proposed personnel is crucial to success, recruiting is too important to delay: Some other bidder may lock up a person who would be a perfect fit with your team, perhaps even one who would make your good team the best team. With this in mind, you should start recruiting early in the proposal process, immediately after you determine what your key positions are. And your recruiting efforts should continue until contract award.
Once you've started the recruiting process, you should always plan on developing more than one candidate for key/critical positions. Even the most qualified and enthusiastic candidates may succumb to the offers of a competitor. Or, worse yet, you may find that your "ideal" candidate is not as qualified as you thought.
The process of recruiting is as important as the people you choose to fill the positions. It is always a good idea to dedicate a senior person to direct the recruiting effort. While it can often be an additional duty imposed on the Proposal Manager, many companies find it cost effective to hire a recruiter or consultant for the task. Recruiting resources include any source that either employs or can provide referrals to qualified individuals. These normally include current/past employees, competitors, professional organizations, and employment services. Regardless of your confidence in any single source, it is wise to use a variety of recruiting.
Knowing when you've found the right candidate
Once you've found candidates, you can determine if they are the right candidates through research. But before conducting reference investigations, thoroughly review the candidate's resume, completed application forms, and other information to ensure the candidate is really worth the effort of the investigation.
What should you request from a prospective candidate? At the very least: 1) a resume and 2) the names and contact information for past supervisors, customers, etc. Candidates should provide references for employment going back at least five years. Once you have determined that a candidate appears to have the qualifications needed to fit the key job description, then initiate your reference checks. Information you should be able to verify includes: employers and employment periods; salary history; capability to perform intended work; strengths and weakness; achievements (technical/management accomplishments, cost reductions, papers, awards, etc.); academic degrees, professional certifications/licenses, etc.; character and personality traits; medical and psychological problems; financial problems; and criminal, security, and other legal problems.
And finally, at least with respect to reference checks, check all key and critical personnel. Why? You should always bet that your customer will check references for your key or critical personnel; if they are not real or provide "other than positive" comments, you may find yourself having to answer some difficult questions during orals. Worse yet, since service contracts are so personnel-dependent, problems such as these could cost you the job.
Selling Key Personnel
There are several places to sell key personnel to the customer. The primary-places that keys are sold are in the proposal. The areas include key person introductions, compliance matrices, and resumes. But your selling opportunities don't stop with the proposal document. Other areas in which the keys are sold to the customer include: 1) information that your customer obtains from reference checking proposed keys, 2) oral presentations, and 3) general reputations of the keys (papers, presentations, general knowledge, etc.).
In the proposal, you begin the sell in the introduction of key and critical candidates. You can describe the overall qualifications of your team and then support your claims with a matrix illustrating all candidates' major strengths against RFP requirements. But the strongest sales vehicle in the proposal is a set of well-crafted, program-specific resumes. Never use candidate-supplied resumes in the proposal; their resumes were written to get a job (almost any job) whereas you want to convince your evaluators that your candidate is the best choice - not just a good choice - for a very specific job. Proposal resumes must present your candidate's specific background, experience, and skills relevant to the specific project you are bidding. And be explicit: Make certain the evaluator understands the relationship of the cited experience to the proposed project. Consider a candidate's experience in the broad scope of requirements for the proposed position, not just technical credentials. Consider technical tasks, management tasks, span of control, commonalty of technical and/or management disciplines, complexity of work, location(s), customer(s), similarity of problems/challenges, earlier program phases, etc.. Also look at characteristics such as responsiveness and flexibility. Again, be specific… make the connection for the evaluator.
All resumes in a proposal should be similar in appearance, but minor format and style modifications can be made to better sell specific candidate capabilities. The best approach is to write them in a format that will best sell the candidates. Unfortunately, you don't always have this luxury since many times the resume form specified in the RFP hinders your ability to sell key candidates. You can overcome this problem in several ways such as including strong in-text key introductions with key person compliance matrices, or by providing additional information (if permitted). Also, slight modifications of the customer's resume form can help you emphasize candidates' strengths.
Finally, unless you are exceptionally fortunate, you will have to make compromises. Some candidates just will not match to RFP requirements perfectly. In these instances - hopefully few - you must craft your sell so that you overcome any candidate deficiencies. You must prove that your candidate can do the work better than other bidders' candidates.