How do you hire a great proposal writer?

Many well-spoken people who give a great interview are ordinary writers. Many, if not most, highly experienced proposal professionals are ordinary writers — it’s the law of averages at work. How do you pick a great writer?

First let me go through some of the stuff we’ve tried over the years that didn’t work. Then I’ll describe how we solved the problem.

You can’t pick a great proposal writer simply by interviewing them. From an interview you can find out whether they are process oriented, what they focus on, and how they approach writing. But you can’t find out what they’ll put on paper if they get the job.

If you ask to see samples, you won’t be able to rely on them. Most proposal copy is written by a collaboration of authors. So how much of what you’re reading is the contribution of the candidate?

You could ask them to write something as part of the interview. The problem with this is that it takes a long time, and what you’ll get will have no context. The writer won’t know much about the company, the customer, or the competitive environment.

If you ask about their win rate, you'll get a number that can't be trusted, even if they're being honest. How much does one person contribute to the win rate? Besides, everyone who quotes a win rate self edits which pursuits they include.

A while back, one of the subscribers to PropLIBRARY asked us if we had an assessment tool they could use to evaluate candidates for a proposal writing job. We were skeptical at first, but then we had a couple of ideas and managed to come up with something.

What we created was a few different options, ranging from an editing exercise to a writing exercise. With each different scenario, we expected the writer to ask questions. In fact, the starting points were designed to trigger questions. But which questions the candidate focuses on tells you a great deal about them.

For example, you should be able to discover if the candidate’s first inclination is to focus on proofreading, the overall message, or the technical details of the offering. Depending on the nature of the position, you’ll probably have a preference, and the assessment tool is designed to help determine whether the candidate is a match for the kind of proposal writer you are looking for.

This will also show in the kinds of changes they make. Instead of giving them a blank page, we made it more like the real world, with some material to start with. Which things they choose to change (and which they don’t), along with what they do to improve it, also tell you a great deal about what they would actually contribute to your proposals.

If you want someone who is going to focus on the editing and make what you’ve written grammatically correct it will show. If you want someone who is going to question the bid strategies it will show. If you want someone who’s going to question why you’re saying it in text and not turning it into a graphic, it will show. If you want someone who can work independently and do it all, that will show too.

Then to make it easier to do the assessment itself, we went through the sample, and marked a couple dozen things that a candidate might change and why. The goal isn’t to see if the candidate “catches everything.” The goal is to see what kinds of things they catch and what kinds of things they don’t.

You will find out more about a person’s writing ability in 20 minutes using this approach than you will if you spend 200 minutes talking to them.

Our proposal specialist assessment tool is only accessible for PropLIBRARY Subscribers. If you are a subscriber, you can download the assessment tool here. But we’ve told you enough about our approach that if you are a “do it yourself” kind of person, you can create your own assessment tool. We’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it’s better to download ours and put it to work immediately, or spend time creating your own.

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Carl is the Founder and President of and PropLIBRARY.

The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.

In addition, the groups Carl moderates on LinkedIn provide a place for tens of thousands of business development and proposal professionals to discuss best practices and network.
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