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January 1997
(c) P2C2 Group, Inc.


The Human Resource Dimension of Winning Proposals

On some proposal review panels, some government reviewers have been known to turn first to the project organization section to identify who has been proposed as the project manager or principal investigator. While this is not always the case and depends partly on the nature of the requirement, the importance of personnel is often of great importance. This is particularly true when:

  • The principal purpose of the project is to furnish technical personnel to support a program or office
  • A study, research, or evaluation project needs the credibility of a known expert as principal investigator
  • A Research & Development project is a high-risk venture that requires experienced leadership and management to avoid the risk of technical pitfalls, scheduling problems, and cost overruns
  • A systems integration project needs a heavy-duty manager who has steered similarly large and complex projects to completion
  • A project will have high visibility in the Congress, the White House, or industry.

Even when heavy weighting is not placed on key personnel, many Requests for Proposals specify years and types of experience required for certain positions and/or labor categories. Responding effectively to these personnel requirements can make the difference between winning and losing.

Our discussion of resumes will address: (1) the art of resumes, (2) resume styles, (3) solutions to problems, and (4) corporate information systems.

1. The Art of Resumes

As everyone who has ever searched for a job knows, writing a resume is a unique art form. Many of the books written for job seekers will provide good ideas for proposal managers and resume editors. Some of the general themes are: keep it focused on the specific position sought, emphasize accomplishments, use a business-like style and avoid hype, keep it well-organized and easy to read, use a format that conveys quality and discipline, and make certain that it is well-edited and carefully prepared.

Like an individual resume for job seekers, the purpose of resumes in a proposal is to win a job--the competitive project. Using this analogy, the government reviewer becomes the "employer," and the resumes must sell the notion that the individuals proposed were "born" for their position on the project. This may sound a bit extreme, but most employers (including government reviewers) can detect quickly a square peg being proposed for a round hole. Each resume must fit the proposed position.

Resumes have perhaps 60 seconds to convince the reader that the candidate is worth considering. For individual job seekers, a resume that is not clearly and instantly responsive will be relegated to the big "NO" stack of rejects. For proposals, the government reviewers will be tempted to say "yuck" and place a low score on the evaluation criteria for personnel.

Resumes & Roles

Resumes in a proposal are even more challenging than individual resumes, however. Each resume must fit the proposed role. To illustrate:

A project manager whose resume focuses only on technical expertise is deficient. Experience in management, supervision, technical leadership, customer relations, quality assurance, scheduling, budget control, report preparation, and interpersonal communication are also important. A project manager plays a role that usually serves as a bridge between operational management and technical execution.

An applications programmer who is proposed as a systems programmer is not cast in an appropriate role, unless the resume explains in detail how the individual has gained in-depth experience with the operating system(s) applicable to the customer's computing environment. In addition to experience, seminars, training, and academic courses in systems programming could also help support the role of placement as a systems programmer.

A technical expert cast in the role of trainer is not appropriate, unless the resume explains experience (or educational preparation) in user support, instruction, materials development skills, oral communication skills, and training evaluation.

The Team Concept

Unlike individual job seekers, a proposal presents a team of personnel. It is appropriate to explain how the team will interact to achieve a high level of quality and reliable performance. For example, in the resume of the technical expert (previous bulleted paragraph), it would be appropriate to discuss how this individual has previously collaborated with an instructional technologist to design courses, or how the technical expert has served as co-trainer with professional trainers.

Staffing a project is a matter of presenting an entire team which has a unique combination of skills, together, to achieve synergy and produce exceptional results. This theme should permeate the individual resumes as well as the proposal section on project organization and management.

Graphics can be used effectively to explain the team concept. Specifics depend on the RFP, but some of the variations include:

  • Task-level staff organization charts which depict how individuals will interact to perform specific work
  • A person-hour matrix by task and position, presenting the hours each labor category will devote to each task or sub-task specified by the RFP
  • Flow charts that explain the interaction of the project team.

Following is an example of a table that describes the team strategy for a Year 2000 (Y2K) Project:

Specialists by Y2K Layer

Y2K Layer


Servers/ Mainframe

Technical Specialists

Independent Testing

Manual Procedures & Agency Forms



Business Process Re-engineering Specialist, Computer System Analyst III





Computer System Analyst III, Database Programmers


Applications Programs



Computer Systems Analyst III, Database Programmers


Software Libraries & Functions



Systems Programmer, Database Programmer


Operating System



Systems Programmer


Hardware & Firmware incl. CMOS



System Engineer, PC Technician


Network & Network Operating System



Network Engineer, Systems Programmer





Computer Programmer III (Mainframe), UNIX Systems Programmer, Computer System Analyst III


External Systems



Computer Programmer III, Computer System Analyst III


Rewriting the Resume

As we have noted, each resume should read as if the individual had been born for the proposed position. This usually means a highly selective approach to including information--perhaps only 30% of an individual's total experience will be presented in the resume for a specific proposal. We're happy than John or Joan has broad, diverse experience, but the proposal resume must primarily provide evidence that John or Joan can perform, beyond a reasonable doubt, the responsibilities in the position description for his or her role in the project.

Most individuals become too attached to their experience (because it represents hard work and accomplishments important to them), and usually a third party needs to prepare the resumes for a proposal. A good editor or rewrite person can usually prepare better resumes that focus on the proposal requirements. However, this needs to be a savvy person who can cast each individual in the appropriate role and clearly present 100% compliance with the requirements of the RFP.

Rewriting the resume usually means that an employee's institutional resume needs to be 8 to 10 pages in length to create an edited proposal resume of two or three pages in length. Again, only the most relevant information will be included in the proposal resume.

Invariably, the resume editor will usually need to gather additional information from many of the proposed individuals. Each time information is gathered, it should be used to update the corporate resume as well as the proposal resume so that the information will be available for future projects.

The Summary

We like to include a summary paragraph at the beginning of a resume which (1) explains the individual's role, (2) establishes the experience and skills of the individual, and (3) identifies how the individual meets the requirements of the RFP. This should serve as a "road map" for the reader, who will be able to substantiate the summary information in the body of the resume, which contains detailed information. An example of a summary is as follows:

Dr. Barrett has nine years of experience as program manager for major aerospace contracts with NASA and the Department of Defense, where he provided the leadership to prototype, test, and manufacture high-altitude, mission-critical communications and sensing devices which often required breakthroughs in miniaturization of components as well as the minimization of power consumption. In these positions, he was responsible for annual budgets of up to $20 million, head counts of up to 108 team members, and up to 20 subcontractors and major suppliers. He was responsible for the contract's liaison with the government's Contracting Officer's Representatives, the interface with agency missions and commands responsible for the contracts, and briefings to government leadership. Dr. Barrett received a commendation from the Secretary of Defense in 1988 for his contributions to satellite-based sensing systems. Previously, he was Associate Director of the Center for Digital Communications Research at UCLA. His doctorate is in electrical engineering, where he was also granted the master's degree in physics. Dr. Barrett's BSEE degree is from Purdue University.

If the government specifies how the resumes are to be organized and does not sanction this type of introductory paragraph/section, then we place the paragraphs in the narrative of the project organization and management.


Some of today's RFPs require the names, titles and phone numbers of current and former supervisors of key personnel proposed (typically for the past 5 or 10 years). Take this requirement very seriously, and verify that the phone numbers are correct. If a former supervisor has "moved," this should be noted and the current phone number provided.

While it can be time consuming, it is a good idea for your personnel office to call references and ask for an evaluation of past performance. The former supervisor may refer you to the personnel office of the former employer, and that reference can be pursued also. Your explanation to references can be that the individual is being considered for a new position--which is true since award of the project to you would create a new position for the proposed individual.

A good corporate practice is for the personnel office to call all references at the time of recruiting/ screening--and to maintain detailed records of comments by former supervisors. If done properly, this would eliminate the need to check references at the time of preparing a proposal. Of course, such information is usually subject to your organization's privacy rules.

Hopefully during the initial recruiting and screening process, your organization also verifies the accuracy of information about educational credentials and certifications. A serious number of job applicants, perhaps one in four, misrepresent their credentials, and you do not want to be placed in a position of proposing personnel with phony qualifications.

Bringing Resumes to Life

For decades, non-fiction writers have used the techniques of fiction to bring technical information to life. Characterization can be applied, gently and sparingly, to resumes and narrative paragraphs about personnel to bring them to life. You want the reader to see the individuals as dynamic persons who are real assets to the project and who will be a pleasure with whom to work. Compare these two paragraphs:

The Olympus Program. Mr. Arbuckle was program manager of the Olympus Program from 1991 to 1993, where he oversaw the development of a super minicomputer system capable of long-range forecasting for weather and crops. Supervised a technical staff of 60 and managed the acquisition/ integration of required hardware and software. Responsible for $7.5 million annual budget. Administered a major subcontracting/acquisition initiative for the hardware and software platform. Responsible for customer interface, project reporting, scheduling, approval of purchases, and project completion.
The Olympus Program. Upon becoming program manager in 1991, Mr. Arbuckle faced a difficult choice: either embrace an unproven computer technology or adhere to the existing program plan which included the risk cost overruns and delayed contract deliverables. He responded by canceling the existing subcontract for information technology hardware/software and recompeting it. The incumbent subcontractor won the recompete by updating its technology, offering a massively parallel computing system, and guaranteeing a firm fixed price with an improved delivery schedule. Mr. Arbuckle provided the leadership to reorient the project staff of 60 to the new technology, launched a quality management program that complies with ISO 9000, kept the project within its $7.5 million annual budget, and in 1993 completed the project three weeks ahead of schedule. He was responsible for teamwork with the government and within the company that was necessary to create a super minicomputer system capable of long-range weather forecasting and the estimating of agricultural markets on a crop-by-crop and country-by-country basis.

If you were in the government, which program manager would you prefer to have on your agency's team? The second version of the "Olympus" paragraph demonstrates Mr. Arbuckle's character--a take-charge style, a willingness to solve problems, leadership qualities, a sense of teamwork, and a commitment to fulfilling the requirements of the contract.

2. Resume Styles

The style of resumes vary widely and will depend on the RFP, the government agency, and your own organization. In our newsletter on Pre-Solicitation Marketing (November 1996), we pointed out that you should gather intelligence before the RFP is issued, and one of your agendas should be to find out the style of resume that is customary within the agency for the type of project you are bidding. Following are several examples.

Functional Resume, organized by areas of expertise with each topic combining both experience and associated education/training/certification. This format places a great deal of emphasis on the functional skills and experience of the individual, making it easy for government reviewers to match RFP requirements for specific types of experience with the resume. To illustrate, the resume of a Statistician might include functional topics on survey design, sampling, multi-variate analysis, linear regression, nonparametric statistics, and statistical software experience. The organization of the overall resume might be as follows:

  • Summary
  • Functional Experience & Skills
  • Employment Chronology (brief listing of employers, positions, and dates)
  • Education
  • Training and Certification
  • Recognition

Program Resume, organized by government program. This is similar to the functional resume, but the information is organized by program. For example, an individual might have had three different positions under two contracts in support of one program (Aegis, cancer research, etc.). Some individuals may be former government employees where they also gained program experience. The program resume is particularly helpful in organizing the experience of individuals who have played a variety of roles in support of one or several major government programs, for an emphasis becomes broad knowledge/understanding of the program. The organization of the resume might be as follows:

  • Summary
  • Program Experience
  • Employment Chronology (brief listing of employers, positions, and dates)
  • Education
  • Training and Certification
  • Recognition

Historical Resume, organized by employer (in reverse chronology). This is the "classic resume" which many job seekers use, and its emphasis is on experience and responsibilities by job or employer. A typical presentation of the overall resume would be:

  • Summary
  • Education
  • Employment History (full details of position, experience, accomplishments as well as employer, position and dates)
  • Additional Qualifications (Training and Certification)
  • Recognition

Academic Resume. The curriculum vitae is still used in many academic and research circles. The organization is as follows:

  • Education
  • Career History
  • Research Experience
  • Professional Activities (Memberships and Participation on Committees, etc.)
  • Publications (Journal Articles, Books, Papers Delivered)

Hybrid Resume. There are many variations to the above resume styles. References may be inserted either in Employment Chronology/History or as a separate section. In some proposals, educational credentials should be presented first.

(3) Solutions to Problems

Of course, preparing resumes can be difficult. We will address a few of the problems encountered by proposal managers.

Weak Educational Credentials. A few truly outstanding technical people have virtually no academic credentials. They learned by doing while a technology was in its infancy and "grew up" with that technology. Following is one example of an attempt to address this type of problem:

Educational Qualifications

Ms. Jones became qualified to perform the duties of Webmaster through 12 years of self-study and experience gained while administering Internet sites for ComPlex Engineering Services and Defense Research Corporation. In 1984, she implemented a UNIX-based e-mail server and FTP site for ComPlex, where she administered network security, e-mail names and passwords, and FTP files available for upload/download. Between 1986 and 1989, Ms. Jones completed three courses in UNIX programming and attended two ARPNet workshops. In 1991, based on the expertise she had gained, Ms. Jones taught a course titled "Introduction to the Internet" for Defense Research Corporation employees and subsequently wrote a user guide on the same subject. In 1993, she became an early user of HTML code, and she designed, implemented and administered the corporation's World Wide Web site. Based on the quality of the site, XYZ Agency awarded a contract for the design/development of its WWW site, and Ms. Jones has 18 months experience in serving as Webmaster for the XYZ Agency. In 1996, she received a letter of commendation from that agency for her outstanding services. During her career, Ms. Jones has completed a total of 32 hours of college credit courses and attended numerous seminars and workshops on the Internet and WWW.

Of course, not every resume has the potential of Ms. Jones. Which brings up another point: If a resume is too difficult to overhaul, you are probably proposing the wrong person for the job!

Insufficient Program Experience. In some cases, your senior personnel may be great people but lack significant experience with the agency or program for which the proposal is being written. Several work-arounds are:

  • Identify a subcontractor who can supply the necessary experience
  • Establish a panel of distinguished advisors (consultants) who assist the project director or program manager with strategic planning and reviews
  • Explain specifically how past experience is relevant to the program/RFP (and possibly that this experience will bring new perspectives and innovations to the customer agency)
  • Consider a technical approach which applies participatory process consulting which involves stakeholders (usually client personnel) in shaping the project's deliverables.

For the first two tactics, you will insert resumes from the subcontractor or consultants to bolster the required experience. For relating past experience to the agency's requirements, the resumes will need to explain the relevance of the personnel--perhaps supported in the technical proposal by an abbreviated compliance matrix for personnel and a rationale for why the backgrounds of personnel will lead to the best solution.

Contingent Hires. One of the more awkward situations in many proposals is a heavy reliance on contingent hires--personnel who are not yet employees of your organization but who will work for the project if you win the award. While this sometimes is the only practical solution for certain proposals, it requires special attention when preparing resumes.

At minimum, the resumes of contingent hires should be as robust as those of in-house personnel, and the format should be exactly the same. In the proposal or even the resume, it may also be appropriate to state why and how each individual was selected for the contingent position. Such explanations should demonstrate that you have been diligent is searching for the best and most appropriate individuals for each position.

For one or two of the most important key personnel in the proposal, you may want to consider hiring them as part-time employees (if this would not be a conflict of interest with their current employer). Even hiring them for two days a month until contract award means that you can honestly list them as employees. Titles like Senior Technical Advisor, Science Officer, Research Scientist, and Strategic Planning Advisor come to mind for these positions. Of course, you would use at least some of this time for input into the proposal and/or service on the read team and (hopefully) oral presentations to the agency.

In situations where the resumes of several dozen contingent hires will be in the proposal, you may also want to consider additional initiatives. For example, you may want to conduct a Saturday workshop for all contingent hires, where you share the Statement of Work of the RFP, and a group dynamics specialist (trainer or participatory process consultant) conducts a strategy session for technical approach and technical problem solving. Several members of the proposal development team should be present to take notes and develop useful ideas/information for the proposal. The agenda for a one-day workshop might look like:

  • Registration & Continental Breakfast
  • Welcome -- Introductory Remarks by Senior Official
  • Goals and Procedures for Workshop - by Group Dynamics Specialist
  • Problem & Issues Exercise: Review RFP and Identify Key Technical/Operational Issues
  • Brainstorming Session
  • Lunch
  • Breakout Session -- in Functional Groups
  • Breakout Report to Full Workshop
  • Discussion: What Are the Best Practices that We Should Consider?
  • Improve Your Resume, Based on an Expanded Understanding of the RFP
  • Closing Remarks

Note that the conclusion of the workshop is an excellent time to gain input for a revised resume, since the participants will now have a much better understanding of the requirements of the RFP. This is such a useful approach to obtaining quality input for resumes (and the technical proposal) that you may want to replicate the workshop for in-house personnel as well.

For contingent hires, the agenda is all "input." You won't be revealing your internal strategy for the proposal, since this is hardly a secure group. However, the workshop can be an asset. Not only will you have an opportunity to gain good ideas from prospective project personnel, but you will also be able to state in resumes and the proposal that contingent hires participated in a broad review of the requirements of the RFP and contributed suggestions to the technical solution. Voila, contingent hires have now become a real part of the project team--and proposal team.

If you do a first-class job of the above workshop, you will give the participants a very rewarding day for their efforts, and they as well as you will learn/benefit from it. It is also a good way of communicating your commitment to quality and demonstrating that your organization pays more than lip service to "empowering employees."

Of course, certain contingent hires may not be willing to attend a public workshop, especially individuals who are now working for competitors or the incumbent contractor. Key personnel for the proposal who are skittish about public identification may be excused from the workshop if necessary, and they can provide their suggestions privately.

There are many variations to the above workshop. One of the more recent innovations is real-time Internet conferencing, whereby participants (after downloading the RFP from the government site or your own FTP server) can engage in brainstorming and technical solutions under the guidance of your carefully-selected moderator. Password protection for signing onto the discussion is a good idea, but you should allow participants to use their aliases (which they should identify to you privately in advance). Again, this is an input session where you will not reveal your internal market intelligence or proposal strategy.

(4) Corporate Information Systems

Resume development and management should be a corporate-level priority. Certainly resume accuracy and thoroughness are an important organizational asset in terms of winning contracts and identifying personnel with needed skills or experience. Organizations have taken various approaches to resume development and management including:

  • Using proprietary proposal management software that includes resume maintenance functions
  • Relying on advanced word processing functions such as macros and paragraph assembly functions
  • Maintaining resume information in database fields
  • Decentralizing resume management with each operating unit maintaining resumes however it thinks best.

Selecting Resume Management Systems

The choice depends on the personnel available to maintain the resume system, the corporate culture, and the organizational approach to managing proposals. In general, we believe that it is a good idea to maintain an organization-wide standard, even if maintenance is delegated.

Each approach has its trade-offs. RFPs sometimes specify unusual formats and organization for resumes, and there is probably no solution that is sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of all government competitions, meaning that non-automated resume assembly may occasionally be required.

The advantage of a structured database is that it can be searched and sorted quickly. Moreover, functional experience, skills, and program experience can become neat, searchable fields. Some permit extensive formatting so that fonts and special typography can be embedded in the fields.

Another option is to use a database in conjunction with database publishing software, such as that available under the Ventura label.

Which solution is "best" tends to degenerate into arguments similar to the Presidential Debates, and many of the decisions are highly subjective. Some of the decisions will probably be based on your organization's world view of database languages, word processing, and publishing software.

It is usually advisable to consider the cost effectiveness and usability of alternatives. How much time and effort does the solution require to maintain? Can your average clerical worker and marketing assistant use it? Is it reliable when you are facing wild proposal deadlines?

Keeping Resumes Up-to-Date

Regardless of the technology applied to resume systems, the truly difficult task is keeping resumes up to date. Our fearless estimate is that at least 50% of the resumes in your average organization are out of date at any given time. Personnel should update their resume every time they undergo a performance review, a promotion, and reassignment to a new project. Little considerations like withholding raises until paperwork (including resume) is complete may do the trick.

Talent Bank of Job Seekers

Many organizations maintain on-line resumes of job applicants, especially for individuals with frequently-needed skills/experience. OCR scanning can make them accessible through key word text searches, and some of the powerful Internet search engines are now available for installation on corporate networks and intranets.

Scanning the resumes of the most promising job candidates has a double benefit: Not only can the resumes be searchable on-line, but they can be transformed into proposal resumes without total rekeying.

Collecting Data about Personnel References

As we have already noted, the best time to collect detailed information from former supervisors is at the time an individual is a job candidate. Especially for key personnel, the name, title and telephone number of the former supervisors will be needed for proposal resumes. Additionally, it is critical to know what these folks are going to say, and this information should be documented when a candidate is processed for hiring.

Reference information is highly sensitive, and your organization will need to establish and honor policies which protects the privacy of employees. Moreover, there is always the possibility that a supervisor can be unfair or dishonest, with the documented remarks being a form of slander.

So the information about personnel references should probably remain in your personnel office. However, based on policies approved by your officers and attorneys, the personnel office might review the names of individuals whose references will appear in proposals. They need to be able to indicate whether there are any red flags and, using approved corporate procedures for such information, discretely inform the proposal manager.


We provide enterprise-level management consulting services for federal agencies and the contractors who support them. Our areas of specialization are Capital Planning and Investment Control, Enterprise Architecture, strategic planning, performance evaluation, and acquisition support including work statements. Our consulting specialty includes experience in many related areas such as CIO program support, earned value management, risk management, the C&A process for security, and customer satisfaction surveys.

Best wishes,

Jim Kendrick
Management Consultant
4101 Denfeld Avenue
Kensington, MD 20895


The P2C2 Group, Inc.
4101 Denfeld Avenue | Kensington, MD 20895
Point of Contact: Jim Kendrick, President
phone: 301-942-7985

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