In today’s market, we are all competing for proposal talent, and it’s not always easy to find the right fit. Our industry has historically been one where people have “fallen into” it, rather than choosing proposal management as an intentional career path. Proposal management isn’t a college major, so most students don’t even know our industry exists, which means that when they graduate and start sending out resumes, they don’t know to look at firms that have proposal departments, and they certainly aren’t looking on the industry job sites. What that means is our industry has no guaranteed pipeline of job applicants like architects and engineers do. We have to work harder to bring talent into our industry and that leaves us with this question: How do we find and cultivate the next generation of proposal/capture/BD/writing talent so we ensure a robust pipeline of new professionals?
The following are a few tips for ensuring your company is ahead of the game.
Start an Internship Program
Most A/E companies have internship programs for technical staff; fewer have them for marketing personnel. Although it may sound daunting at first, establishing an internship program at your company can pay you back in spades because you will have a first-row seat to new talent entering the workforce. Internships tend to be win-win arrangements — companies get to see if an individual would be a good fit and interns gain real-world experience. Work with your HR department to develop internship opportunities in capture management, client management and business development, writing, graphic design and desktop publishing. Students are clamoring for summer and year-round opportunities, paid and unpaid. Sometimes, local universities offer course credits when their students serve as an intern with industry.
Don’t neglect high school students either. Teenagers are open to potential careers to study after graduation, and summer jobs/internships are a great way to expose students to all the majors our industry hires in (i.e., business, marketing, communications, journalism, English, graphic design, rhetoric and writing, political science, etc.).
Partner with Local Universities
Look no further than your local university to partner with. APMP’s National Capital Area chapter partners with George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, through their Graduate Pathways Mentoring Program. This is a semester-long program in which industry professionals mentor students in a variety of topics, with the main topic being to promote the field of proposal management. Participating in a program like this gives you firsthand knowledge about the students who are about to enter the job market and offers your company first dibs on the talent.
Mentoring plays a huge role in both helping to ensure new hires stay in the industry and ensuring current employees understand their opportunities for career growth within our industry. Be sure to work with your new hires, junior staffers and senior staffers to monitor their engagement in the industry.
- For the new hires, spend time explaining our industry and where they see themselves fitting in. Ensure they receive a solid foundation in capture management and understand that there are many different career paths in the field.
- For the junior staffers, talk to them about where their specialty interests within our field lay: writing, proposal management, client management, graphic development, etc. Sometimes the industry neglects the junior staffers and assumes they all want to do proposal management. Remind them there are more career opportunities than proposal management within our industry.
- For the senior staffers, tap into their experience and encourage them to lead mentoring and internship programs. Senior staffers bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the industry and should play an integral role in training our next generation.
Talk Up Our Industry
Each of us plays a vital part in ensuring our industry has access to the talent we need. Participate in high school career days and promote business development skills, project management skills, graphic design skills and writing skills. What other industry is looking for majors in English, rhetorical writing, business, marketing and graphics, to name a few? Talk to your neighbor’s teenager who isn’t sure what they want to be when they grow up. Invite them to an industry event so they can see that we support our professionals and offer a career, not just a job.
Participate in College Career Days/Interviews
Encourage your company to participate in college career/interview days. The A/E majors are usually bombarded with companies coming to campus to recruit them. Does your company send a proposal person to interview business, communications, English and other non-STEM majors? If not, it’s a lost opportunity.
We need to be both targeted and creative in our approach to find and cultivate the next generation of proposal professionals. Let’s work together to ensure we are shoring up our staffing pipelines and doing our part to reach out to the next generation.
Heather Kircher, CF APMP, has more than 25 years’ experience in pursuit writing, editing, proposal management, strategy development and proposal training. Her focus is in the federal market, where she supports proposal efforts and specializes in leading large, multimillion-dollar IDIQ proposals. Heather can be reached on LinkedIn.