Thursday, September 26, 2013

Writing Effective Proposal Resumes

Several months ago, I reviewed an engineering proposal that weighed in at 34 pages (not bad), plus another 38 pages of resumes (ugh!). Sometimes I wonder if we forget that someone is supposed to read these things.

Or do they? RFPs almost always ask for project team resumes, but I've long questioned how much client reviewers read them. I suspect there's scant information in them that clients care about, meaning that most of the resume content has the potential for getting in the way. 

I know that's hard to hear for someone who's proudly summarized many years of work experience in a multipage resume. But unless you enjoy reading other people's resumes, I think you can empathize with the client. So the challenge is to write proposal resumes that serve their intended purpose, and nothing more. Here are a few suggestions:

Limit resumes to one page. This advice has been commonly repeated for years and most firms are getting the message. Yet I still encounter multipage resumes often enough to warrant saying it again: One page, no more! If the individual has a lot of experience, that can seem challenging. But the purpose of a proposal resume is not to give an overview of that person's career; rather it should highlight the individual's qualifications most relevant to the proposal. That can be accomplished in a single page no matter how long the career.

Make the most important information skimmable. The definition of "most important" will vary by client and project. For example, some clients are particularly interested in seeing that members of your project team worked on your firm's most relevant projects. Whatever projects you feature in your proposal should be well represented among the resumes included. Some clients are looking for specific screening criteria, such as whether the project manager is a registered engineer or how long the person has been with your firm.

Once you've identified what resume content matters most to the client (or made your best guess), you want to present that information in bullets, boldface headings, or the like to make it easy for reviewers to find. Obviously, having a consistent resume format will also help clients uncover what they're looking for.

Clearly identify the person's project role. I often see stock resumes being used that don't indicate the individual's role on the proposed project. That forces the reviewer to refer back to the organization chart, which is an extra step that you don't want to create. Years ago, one of my Corps of Engineers clients requested that all resumes be accompanied by the org chart on the facing page. That's an idea that I've used in many other proposals as well, in particular those with a fairly complex project organization.

Use no more than 3-4 lines per project description. When highlighting the individual's project experience, a common mistake is to include more information than needed. This obviously limits how many projects can be referenced. Keep project details to a minimum, featuring those that are most relevant to the proposed project. The one exception I would make is when the person worked on a very similar project with another employer. In that case, a few more lines of description might be justified since this is probably the only place in your proposal where that personal experience will be recounted.

Consider using mini-resumes instead. Over the years, I've moved away from including one-page resumes in the body of the proposal and instead using mini-resumes. These are brief, readily skimmable summaries that enable placing 4-5 of them on a page. With mini-resumes, I avoid breaking up the flow of the proposal while providing all the detail that the client really needs to assess the team's qualifications. I often supplement these with other related information, such as a matrix showing the team's experience with the different aspects of the proposed project. Usually, I'll include the one-page resumes in an appendix.

Beware of making your project team too large. While not really a resume-writing tip, this can certainly influence client perceptions of your resumes. When you have too many, the impact of each resume is potentially diluted. I've made this point before: Too much information provided often means less information communicated.

Loading up your project team can have other unintended consequences. What you thought showed depth might be interpreted by the client as being noncommittal. Client reviewers may suspect that you're flashing your best resumes without intending to actually use those people on the project. Or trying to show depth may reveal the opposite—those second-tier resumes sometimes aren't as impressive on paper.

Hopefully these suggestions are helpful. But a picture is usually better, so I'm attaching a sample resume that incorporates most of the tips above: 

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