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  • Hints on Preparing Responsive Resumes

    During my career, I have evaluated, reviewed, edited, or written over 20,000 resumes, mostly for technology personnel. This experience was obtained in staffing and preparing personnel sections for Government proposals. Although some people would think any involvement with resumes is a dubious distinction, this work always seemed like an exciting challenge to me. The "challenge" is how to invest your limited time and ingenuity in a way that will win maximum evaluation points on the personnel section of the bid.

    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 named 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 wheedling 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 25 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. 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 job before the proposal resume writer is to edit or "format" the resume in a way that is highly responsive to the RFP requirements. In many cases, the standard being written to is a formal job description for the position in question. In other cases, however, there is no position description, and it is thus necessary to infer what the position requirements are. If the tech writers do not have the experience to know what the position requirements should be, it will be necessary to have a person from HR or ops at least 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, most do not. It is therefore incumbent on each company / proposal group to develop a format suitable for their proposal requirements. Most resumes for technology 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.

    When we agree that the fundamental job of the resume writer is to conclusively demonstrate that the proposed person is well qualified for the position, the question becomes, how is that accomplished? For even the most time-constrained proposal, the writer should completely rewrite the introductory paragraph, focusing on the requirements. He or she should also address the requirements in as much depth as time permits 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 most or all of the 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.

    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, he or she develops a plan of how each requirement in the spec will be folded into every possible paragraph in the proposal.

    It is sometimes the case that a lazy tech 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 spec. 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 is that asking, who will write the resume? Will it be the tech 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 spec and more if possible. This approach costs less in terms of proposal budget. However, it requires lead time and 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 tech writer can do a quite 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 tech writers doing most of the work for the halt and the infirm personnel who can't write.

    Every writer is confronted with problems caused by proposed personnel who lack some of the required qualifications. For example, the spec may require a B.S. degree, and the candidate may not have a B.S. degree. In cases in which personnel do not posses 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, which he does. 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 tell a lie.

    Carl Dickson
    By Carl Dickson, Founder of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

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