5 Ways to Become More Marketable in the Proposal Field

In the past, people didn’t typically pursue proposals as a profession—people fell into proposals. People rarely knew what they were getting into when they supported their first proposal—but once management found out they were good at it—it was all over from there.

However, more recently we have started to see a shift in this paradigm. The proposal field is becoming a targeted career path for young professionals entering the workforce. Companies are offering proposal universities for recent college graduates. Universities are developing centers for government contracting with focused course curricula. Proposal courses are now offered in established professional writing programs. And students are learning the skillsets they need to succeed in the industry well before applying for their first job.

But, because this is a relatively new trend, young professionals may experience a lack of guidance on how exactly to successfully pursue a proposal career once they enter the workforce. As one of the few my age who entered the proposal profession straight out of school, here are my personal tips for jumpstarting your career success. I hope that others out there will chime in as well!
  • Join APMP, Attend Events, and Get Certified
  • Build Relationships and Network
  • Invest in Training
  • Learn Advanced Features of Microsoft Word and Excel
  • Get Both Small and Large Business Experience
Join APMP, Attend Events, and Get Certified. One of my very first mentors introduced me to the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP). He recommend that I join the organization and start attending the local events. He explained that not only would this be a good resume builder, it would expose me to some of the most successful professionals in the industry. This one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received. Joining APMP and building relationships opened career doors, helped me to get my foot in the door at a large organization, and provided an avenue for me to meet and learn from some of the most experienced individuals in the field. Obtaining APMP certifications has continued to keep me relevant in the field and has served to reinforce my credibility with those who have never worked with me before. 

Build Relationships and Network. I love how this industry is constantly evolving. It provides such a great opportunity for us as individuals to constantly learn and grow. Building and maintaining your network will provide you with critical resources for personal growth, career guidance, and specific proposal-related advice. I have been so fortunate throughout my proposal career to find amazing mentors who have encouraged me to leverage my strengths, work on my weaknesses, and continually grow and improve as a proposal professional. Great mentors will help you to become great!

Invest in Training. Investing in proposal training shows that you are serious about the profession. It demonstrates that you have a baseline understanding of industry-standard best practices, and it signals to employers that you take the profession seriously. Many of the in-person courses out there are great because they are another way to meet people—but they can be pricey. But if those classes don’t meet the limitations of your budget, there are now some more affordable online courses out there as well. Do some research and target a couple courses to boost your knowledgebase. And when interviewing for new positions, inquire as to whether the company offers opportunities for further professional development and training—this company-sponsored offering is invaluable, especially early on in your career.

Learn Advanced Features of Microsoft Word and Excel. Proposal roles and responsibilities vary from company to company. At smaller organizations, you are more likely to wear many hats, and desktop publishing (DTP) will likely be an expected part of your job responsibilities. And even though desktop publishing is typically a separate role at large organizations, you will be able to support a much more agile process if you know how to set up a Microsoft Word template and clean up the editing on your team’s drafts. Your DTP skills will prove to be particularly helpful earlier in the process, especially when your DTP team is slammed with multiple final productions at once. But be careful not to step on toes, and leave the final formatting in the hands of your dedicated production team.

Get Both Small and Large Business Experience. Having experience in both large and small business environments will make you a much more agile proposal professional. From small businesses, I learned how to perform tasks within each phase of the lifecycle. It gave me a more holistic and comprehensive understanding of each role in the business development process. And it made me a more agile contributor because I can jump in and help out with a variety of different tasks. But I didn’t really hone my skills until I gained experience in a large business setting. My large business experience gave me exposure to the best practices of an established and mature proposal shop. For example, I learned how to develop compelling proposal sections with metrics, proof points, and customer benefits; run color team reviews that were efficient and effective; and manage to a proposal schedule that planned for contingencies to reduce risk. This experience enabled me to really grow as a professional. But having experience in both arenas has enabled me to bring best practices from both worlds to my proposal support—which has been a key contributor to my success in the industry so far.

Final Thoughts
In today’s job environment, where the proposal field is becoming a targeted career path, young professionals may be seeking guidance on how exactly to successfully pursue a proposal career once they enter the workforce. In this article, I have shared some strategies that helped me to advance within the industry. These strategies include joining APMP, building your network, investing in training,  learning some DTP skills, and gaining both large and small business experience. If you are one of those young professionals out there looking to advance your career, I hope you have found this article helpful. If you are an established professional reading this because you are curious as to what I have had to say, I hope you will chime in with some additional tips and advice!

Written by Ashley Kayes, CP APMP
Senior Proposal Consultant, AOC Key Solutions, Inc. (KSI)


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