I was recently speaking with a proposal function team leader who was bemoaning the fact that five years ago you could post a job ad for proposal professionals and sit back and wait for a flood of resumes. This individual seemed genuinely puzzled that company name recognition alone will no longer drive a steady flow of applicants.
Today, LinkedIn is awash with “I’m hiring” posts. The creative, marketing, digital and proposal talent market is tight, and competition for candidates is fierce. We are in a buyer’s market, where candidates are the buyers and employers are sellers.
As proposal professionals, we live and die by the written word. We spend significant time, resources and emotional energy on winning new customers. Recruiting for proposal professionals, however, is sometimes something of an afterthought. Unfortunately, unfilled positions can have a huge financial impact on your department or organization, and a detrimental effect on the existing team’s workload and morale. So, why not apply the same proposal-winning principles to hiring candidates? We need to adopt the same competitive mindset used in sales collateral and proposal verbiage to appeal to prospective hires.
Hiring proposal professionals?
Churning out the same, tired old job descriptions and relying on a post-and-hope approach simply won’t cut it in 2022.
How can employers stand out from the crowd and woo skilled proposal professionals in the current hiring environment? Candidates today are increasingly picky, so if you’re going to market, it’s critical to first address the “so what?” factor.
Let’s break it down using three basic C’s of successful proposal professionals: Compelling, Clear and Compliant.
What sets your job opportunity apart? Companies are highly attuned to the need to demonstrate their value proposition and differentiators to customers when responding to RFPs. Do the same for prospective job candidates!
Make your job ad memorable. Inject your win themes and some personality to reflect your organization and team culture. Think carefully about why a proposal professional would leave their job to join your team. Focus on their needs as much as your own. Of the various opportunities that a candidate may be considering, what makes yours stand out? What is your win theme that will attract your new hire? Here are some areas you might emphasize:
- A company mission focused on doing meaningful work with positive impacts on the customer’s community.
- Flexibility (especially remote work options).
- A supportive work environment.
- Great opportunities for professional growth and advancement.
- Organizational initiatives that address diversity/social/climate impact.
- Exceptional benefits and perks. “Good” benefits are standard at most firms now. What stands out as unique or exciting about yours? For example, I love that my company offers paid sabbaticals upon employment milestones.
- An amazing team/culture. Share information about your team’s personality and values; candidates want to know what kind of organization they will be joining and sharing this information will help attract the kind of individual who will align with your organizational culture.
It’s also important to evangelize the message. If you have the support of internal corporate human resources and/or an external recruiting firm, equip them with the right tools, verbiage and messaging to be the best possible ambassador when conducting outreach and follow up. If additional hiring managers are involved in the process and they haven’t hired in a while, reiterate the fact that candidates are in the driver’s seat, and they need to sell the company and the role to the new hire. Ensure that they are reinforcing and reflecting the positive messaging when courting candidates, versus potentially derailing your efforts. (For example, let it be known if you are open to considering applicable work experience as an alternative to a college degree.)
Another best practice is to act as a PR guru and brand ambassador for your company, even if you’re not actively hiring. One of my LinkedIn connections is a pro at this. She posts regularly about company announcements, awards and accolades, and highlights the difference her organization is making to customers and within the community. This ongoing drip-feed campaign promotes the employer brand proposition, and elevates her organization and group as an employer of choice.
Make your communications clear from the beginning that you are addressing candidate needs and drivers. The best proposal writing is customer-centric (i.e., not all about you) so start with identifying the candidate persona that you’re looking to attract. Craft your messaging around how your opportunity meets their personal and professional goals.
When you’re on professional networking sites, don’t post “me-centric” headlines such as “I’m hiring” or “Know anyone?” one-liners with a link to the job ad and call it a day. These posts are just noise and they put the onus on candidates to do the work to investigate the role, without any incentive.
Instead, highlight clearly and succinctly why the role is interesting, important and impactful. (My pet peeve is seeing an “Exciting opportunity” announcement without any details that articulates why the role is exciting.) What is the biggest WIFM (What’s In It For Me?) for proposal candidates? Be concise and creative, and don’t be afraid to get personal. For instance, you might include a line about why you joined your organization or why you love working for your firm, or what the successful candidate would love about the role. Remember that your goal at this stage is to pique interest and encourage candidates to further investigate.
And refresh the formal job description to include positive messaging and flair, with a focus on describing the role and goals. Help your prospective new colleague visualize themselves in the role and project the future impact they will have rather than providing a long list of duties and requirements.
Setting aside compliance for federal proposals (which has a specific meaning), consider compliance here as responsiveness to candidate preferences and expectations in the context of today’s workforce environment. Here are two important steps:
Embrace diversity, equity and inclusion. If your organization is truly embracing DEI goals, the recruitment process should be designed to be attractive to candidates of all backgrounds. Are you taking steps to eliminate bias in job descriptions? There are tools that will help you identify biased language and exclusionary words and phrases from your job ad.
Streamline the application and interview process. One of the biggest challenges in helping clients recruit is a rigid resume submission and lengthy interview process. At Cella, we are seeing that candidates are routinely fielding multiple opportunities and it’s not uncommon for someone to interview and receive offers in the same week. Job seekers now expect a responsive and seamless way to apply and interview for roles. Is your resume submission process mobile-friendly? Do you require a cover letter? (If so, ditch it!) What is your response time to get back to a candidate? (Hint: It should be less than 24 hours). Have you streamlined the interview process to reduce the number of steps and expedite an offer? Did you coordinate interview schedules with all stakeholders ahead of time to ensure a smooth process? Are you requiring any kind of additional assessments?
It’s time to think (and act) agile! Remember, the more hoops that proposal candidates must jump through, the higher the risk you lose them to a competing firm that offers a more enjoyable and streamlined hiring process.
Please contact me if you would like advice on your recruiting strategy, or click here to explore Cella’s recruiting services for staffing and proposal resource support!