Making Bid and Proposal Management an Intentional Career Path

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If you asked most proposal professionals how they got into their career, it’s likely you’d get some variation of how they “just fell into it” — at first, unsure of exactly what the work entailed, and then, in love with the robust landscape of the profession.

The by-chance nature of how many professionals land in the world of proposals is something many APMP members are looking to change. One of these members is APMP Vice Chair Krystn Macomber, CP APMP Fellow, who leads the Intentional Career Path (ICP) Committee.

“The goal of this committee is to make an impact on students and provide resources that APMP International and chapter leaders can use to promote our profession as an intentional career choice, as well as to promote our association,” she explains.

The committee, which formed in March this year, hopes to offer a more straightforward path into a career in bids and proposals.

“I fell into this career path completely by accident,” Macomber says. “Seventeen years later, and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities the profession has afforded me — whether it was through new experiences, new places to live, leadership opportunities, and now, most importantly, the opportunity to mentor and grow others. I’ve hired a few folks who were either still in college or new grads, and it’s been exciting to watch them learn more about the career path and fall in love with proposals.”

There are a variety of short- and long-term goals the committee has, intended to shine a light on how this profession impacts an organization’s entire business development lifecycle and to build awareness of all potential career options such as proposal development, capture management, sales and business development, account management, writing, graphic design and more. Some of these goals include surveying current members on their educational backgrounds and work experiences, creating conference content specific to the next generation of proposal professionals, expanding APMP student membership options and partnering with academic institutions to start building relationships with students who show interest in the career field.

This last piece is something the APMP National Capital Area (NCA) chapter has gotten a head start on. With its Graduate Pathway Program, universities in and around the Washington D.C. area that offer proposal-related courses can engage with the chapter for mentorship, industry knowledge and various forms of programming.

“This is a profession that doesn’t really have a formal degree program associated with it, so it’s important to put it on the educational map and to cultivate the next generation of proposal professionals,” says APMP NCA President Rebecca Link, CP APMP.

George Mason University (GMU), located in Fairfax, Virginia, is the first institution to participate in the program, which officially launched in April. Link explains that the partnership derived from a relationship between a chapter board member and the GMU faculty member who runs the proposal writing courses.

“They had conversations about what we could do to support each other,” Link says. “We started by featuring a student article in our quarterly publication, eZine. Then one of our volunteers started working with GMU to do an annual proposal manager roundtable where we brought in proposal professionals and answered questions from students. I decided we should formalize these initiatives because there was much more we could do to support the students, which would, in turn, open up further career possibilities once they’ve finished school and lead them to become members of APMP.”

In addition to the article contribution and the roundtable Q-and-A, the program offers:

  • A biannual semester orientation led by the APMP NCA president
  • Year-long mentorship by an industry professional
  • An opportunity to apply for a scholarship to attend the annual Mid-Atlantic Conference
  • An opportunity to present at the Mid-Atlantic Conference (for graduating or Ph.D. students only)
  • An annual job fair
  • Discounted APMP membership

The program will also provide students a firsthand look into what bid and proposal management is all about. “I think the biggest misconception is that this is solely a writing job or solely a graphics job, when the biggest piece of what we do as proposal professionals is work with people,” Link says. “We are expected to be chameleons; we are expected to work with multiple teams across different business units and functions, supporting various missions and projects within a company.” Having this clear picture of what the job entails will help properly prepare new professionals for their journey into proposals.

So far, Link says, the program has received a positive response. The students enjoy having their work featured in eZine, as well as the opportunity to gain industry knowledge from working professionals. It’s also helped GMU be able to build out their program offerings for those interested in this career path.

For chapters that think they may want to venture into similar programming and mentorship offerings with educational institutions, Link recommends outlining exactly what type of support you can provide. “Program design and development is the first step,” she says. “Universities will want to know what you can do for them. Figure out what you can offer these students, how you can involve them and help them become affiliated with our association and your chapter. Then, put together a program and present it to the university and see if it’s a good fit.”

While APMP NCA already has a program underway, the ICP Committee is busy creating resources for chapter leaders and members to leverage whenever they’re introducing the profession to students. “We like to joke that no one knows what we do — some people even think we arrange marriage proposals,” Macomber says. “Our goal is to develop a consistent set of talking points to promote the profession to those who may have never heard of it.”

These resources will include marketing materials, presentations, multimedia documents and other programs to help keep students engaged — because the benefits of engaging the next generation of proposal professionals abound. Not only does it expose new people to the innerworkings of the business development lifecycle within a company, it also ensures the continuity of this important role into the future.

“We need to keep our industry full of talented people; therefore, we need to cultivate talented people,” Link says. “We need to show students that there is a career here, that there’s money to be made and there’s longevity. In doing this, we support the association through increased membership and participation. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Macomber agrees with this sentiment, adding, “As leaders, it’s vital that we are proactive in attracting and building the next generation of bid and proposal professionals. I hope to attend an APMP event one day soon and hear that most attendees purposefully went to school to join this profession. That’s when we know we’ve succeeded at developing an intentional career path.

“It’s great to see so many chapters across the world who are engaged in similar efforts and have a passion for our initiative,” she says. “The APMP ICP Committee looks forward to officially launching our program and resources soon.”

This article is the first in a series exploring the APMP Intentional Career Path (ICP) Committee’s initiatives, as well as the efforts of APMP chapters, that are working toward making the bid and proposal profession an intentional career path.

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