How did you get involved in the bid and proposal management industry?
Ask that question to most people (altered for their particular industry), and they’ll likely be able to tell you a tale with beginnings in their childhood, their higher education, their lifelong passion for a particular vocation.
But despite being professionals in the industry that serves all industries, you’d likely answer that you ended up here by happy accident.
Stacey Lee is a self-proclaimed ‘proposal fanatic’, whose work on the APMP ‘Intentional Career Path’ (ICP) program is striving to change that for future generations of bid and proposal professionals. The ICP program aims to educate students on how they can find success in the industry very much on purpose and begin forge their path before they even graduate.
We sat down with Stacey Lee for a Q&A about her career, her work with the ICP program, and how making bid and proposal careers intentional could change the industry for the better.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got involved in the ICP program?
I’ve been working in proposals for coming up on 14 years. I did my undergraduate and master’s degrees in political science, where I developed writing and critical thinking skills – then, like most of us in this profession, I just kind of ended up in proposals.
I grew up in Pennsylvania, moved around a bit, and ended up in Vancouver, BC where I live now with my husband, son, and dog. I’ve been at my current company, McElhanney, for coming up on nine years in January. I currently head a nine-person team doing in-house, end-to-end bid and proposal work across a variety of planning, engineering, and survey services.
I initially learned about APMP through some training I did at a former workplace. The educational content has been so valuable for my career that I’ve attended every BPC since 2015 and got my Foundation and Practitioner certifications. I’ve spoken at APMP’s BPC events as well.
When a chance to apply to serve on the APMP Board came up, I was thrilled at the opportunity to give back to the organization and the members. It’s been an amazing experience and I love the diversity of the group of people that I get to work with and the variety of ideas I’m surrounded by.
As part of the Board, it seemed like an obvious choice for me to get involved in the ICP program because helping people to find success in this industry is something I really care about. I’ve had several co-op students come work with my team over the years and I’ve also hired a lot of folks just starting out in their career. I just love to see the realization that the bid and proposal profession exists and can be really impactful. It’s been so fun to be a part of shaping people’s careers, and it’s become a bit of a personal passion of mine.
Can you give me an overview of what the ICP program does and what its goals are?
The idea behind ICP is making the bid and proposal profession something that young people know about, something that they can prepare for, and something they can enter intentionally. I think very few people come into this job having been educated in bid and proposals – they usually just find out about how the job works once they’re already in the workplace!
But the profession is established enough at this point that young people should be learning about it in school. So, a big part of what the ICP program is trying to do is reaching out to students and let them know: “Hey, this profession is out there and APMP is here to support you”.
I took over as Chair of the ICP Task Force this year – my role is really to make sure we keep moving along and that we’re still talking about what more we can do. APMP has made a lot of progress on developing tools for chapters and individuals (available on the APMP website) to reach out to educational institutions to start or partner on programs. We want to keep reaching out to students so they know about the industry, and building those partnerships with universities to have them develop the curriculums that prepare young people to go into the workplace. We’re also working on support and education for businesses around hiring interns in the profession to facilitate more of that.
Why do you think it’s important for the bids and proposals career path to be intentional?
The bid and proposal profession is a big ecosystem in that there are a lot of different roles within it. I think it’s so important that companies see the value in what we do. We win business; we help the bottom line. We should be an integral part of an organization’s strategy.
Having this career path more solidified within our education systems will help organizations and young people really understand the value of the profession. When you attend APMP events, you’ll hear a lot of “I just happened upon this job”, which was certainly my experience. We want this option to be available in the future so that people can actively choose it, be excited about it from the beginning, and really feel like they’re having an impact as part of their careers.
We also have a particular common downside to this job: burnout. This is a challenging job with a lot of deadlines, but if people are better trained for this, they can learn how to manage that pressure better. You can understand the risks of the job early on; learn how to protect your work-life balance and manage common challenges before you’re already in the workplace and trying to figure it out as you go. When you come in with that skillset, as well as the technical knowledge of how to manage various aspects of the bid and proposal process, you’re more likely to be successful long-term.
What are the benefits for young people of being a bid and proposal professional?
It’s a lot of fun! If you like a challenge, it’s a great profession to be in. It’s really diverse and interesting in terms of the people you get to work with and the projects you get to work on. You get to make a direct impact on your organization because you’re such a key part of the business strategy. Delivering work is very important; but getting that work in the first place is equally important and so you’re a big part of how an organization does business.
When I’m working with interns or meeting young people at events, they often leave saying things like: “I had no idea this existed, but this is a cool job and I’m so glad I did it!” There are a lot of people out there who would love to do it but don’t know that it’s an option.
What benefits do you think could be seen for the industry overall if more people were to choose bids and proposals as an intentional career path?
It’s really positive for the profession if we are getting people coming in who are choosing to do this and who are excited to do it. They benefit from doing something they love, firms benefit from people passionate about their careers, and APMP members benefit from having more skilled and knowledgeable people to connect with and learn from.
People are going to be more effective at their jobs from the start if they’ve been properly trained rather than learning on the job. They’ll be able to advance more in their careers and can learn and grow within their organizations rather than just trying to figure it out.
My push with ICP is that I want everyone to know that this is profession that exists. I think it’s vital that people understand the value that bid and proposal professionals bring, and I want the ICP program to help reshape the perception of the role and emphasise the strategic focus of the job.
I think it’s great that APMP has taken the initiative on this, and I look forward to seeing where it goes in the future!