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There are many reasons people join a professional organization: certification, education, access to industry research and best practices. Perhaps the greatest reason, though, is the people and the opportunity to be part of a community, to connect with individuals who understand what you do, to link up with the ones who “get” you.
“When I went to my first APMP conference, it was like the angels started singing,” says APMP Treasurer Hélène Courard, CF APMP Fellow. “I realized these were my people. It was so incredible to feel like I wasn’t alone, that there was a community of people who valued and understood what I do, and I wanted to be part of that.”
As a member of APMP, bid and proposal professionals can interact with colleagues in their city, their region and from around the world through their chapter and through the association internationally. While opportunities to meet in person have been limited for some time now, the power of networking — that feeling of being part of a bigger community — still stands. And with the environment around us changing daily, that support system is more important than ever before.
Courard can attest to this. Earlier this year, as the world was in the throes of the pandemic and companies everywhere strategized and reconfigured operations in a new normal, she found herself looking for a new opportunity after her position was eliminated due to restructuring at her organization. She says her continued engagement in APMP through her role as treasurer and as a member of the community helped her stay inspired during this time and that it was through the network she’d nurtured over the years at her chapter, National Capital Area, that she had learned about her current position as the head of proposal management, global public sector at Google Cloud.
For Courard, networking is more than the one-time passing of business cards during social events — it’s about making meaningful connections and building relationships based on shared values. “I’m an introvert at heart,” she says, “but I really care about connecting with people. I approach networking from a perspective of curiosity, so I ask, ‘What do you do? How did you get into this [profession]? What do you love about it?’ And that’s the important thing about networking — the end result is to just meet people and understand their reality.”
Also important is the ability to give back, to reciprocate all the good things you’ve gained from your network. “The beginning of my networking career with APMP was taking,” Courard explains. “And then after a certain point, it shifted to giving — and the giving back has really helped me. Being able to mentor someone and give them advice that helps them overcome challenges and to succeed is amazing.”
When she decided to make a career move, Ginny Carson, CPP APMP, reached out to Courard for advice. “Hélène and I had gotten to know one another well through our work on APMP’s International Board of Directors,” Carson explains. “She had recently made a career move, and when I felt ready for my next adventure, I reached out to her for advice. She generously shared some resources that had guided her search, and when her phone rang with a colleague seeking to fill a leadership role in proposal and capture, I was top of mind!”
Courard’s introduction led to Carson earning a new role at Chickasaw Nation Industries. “I am so grateful to Hélène for that introduction and to my greater APMP network that delivered many meaningful connections.”
Throughout her career, Carson says that she has leaned on APMP’s tangible resources such as the salary surveys, the Body of Knowledge and educational content to learn how to build and lead a successful bid and proposal center, but it’s the intangible resources — the people — that have given her the extra motivation to recently make a change.
“My network of colleagues and friends made me feel confident about my qualifications and ready to take on a new challenge,” she says. “Without my APMP network, my search would have been confined to the geographic areas in and around Charleston, South Carolina, with which I am familiar and experienced. Apart from APMP, I would not have had the reach to find my new employer, who is headquartered in Norman, Oklahoma.”
During these unprecedented times, there are many people who are in flux career-wise, whether it’s navigating a job loss or deciding to make a change to accommodate a shift in life at home. For some, like Carson, the pandemic provided a new way to look at work options.
“I think the teleworking environment created by the pandemic made it easier for me to imagine — and easier for my new employer to justify — a remote leadership role for proposal and capture management,” she explains. “Additionally, I think that navigating the pandemic made me more risk-ready.”
For those who are exploring new opportunities, Courard’s advice is to treat your job search like any other project but to also embrace flexibility. “You must have a plan. You must do your homework, and you have to work at it a little bit every day,” she says. “I looked at my job search as an opportunity. It allowed me to evaluate what I liked, where I wanted to go and to investigate companies I hadn’t even considered.
“But it’s important to realize that there’s always going to be a hiccup,” she says. “Things do not always go to plan and that’s tough for proposal people, but we have to have a sense of comfort with the unknown. At the end of the day, those ‘plans’ can’t be what ground you — what grounds you has to be who you are and what your values are.”
Adding to that, Carson says it’s important to stay connected with your network and grow it however you can. She also advises staying engaged in developing new skills and to “stay focused on results in growing your business. In my experience, there is much opportunity in changing times; get creative about capitalizing on the opportunities available amidst the chaos.”
While networking, in its traditional face-to-face form, seems like a thing of the past, it’s crucial to continue to connect — virtually or through some other socially distant method — to ensure a thriving and robust community of bid and proposal professionals. There are still ways to nurture existing relationships and build new ones.
“Without industry events and work socials, [facilitating] introductions from existing relationships is one of the few ways to expand our networks in the current environment,” Carson suggests. “Also, there are many issues and experiences today that can create stress — and let’s be honest, leading proposals has never been a stress-free experience! Engaging our network, especially colleagues in the bid and proposal industry, is a great way to check in on each other and be available when someone needs encouragement, moral support or just a good listener.”
Courard agrees with this sentiment. “When you’re struggling with a career change or a hard situation in your job, talk to other people who may have gone through a similar situation, and you’ll find ideas. You’ll also find that you’re not alone and that can give you the inner strength to recharge, deal with the challenge and move forward.”
Frances Moffett is the managing editor at APMP.