How to screen and interview proposal managers?

Dear Proposal Doctor,

My organization is woefully short of proposal managers and I have been under pressure to hire more. We advertise in the usual places and we get applicants.

The interview process does not seem to be a good predictor of who will be effective and who will be a good fit with our environment. No matter what questions we ask, we don’t seem to find out the right information. Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised; more often, we are not. This means we might be actually turning away the candidates we should be hiring.

What are the right questions to ask? I am wondering how other people screen applicants for this position?

-Immersed in Job Interviews

Dear Immersed,

You are correct. Proposal management is not a textbook subject, so it is difficult to ask “the right” questions. People can claim to have certain skills and attitudes, and they might really believe that they do, without having to prove it on the spot.

There are several different ways to attack the problem. First, if there are specific skills that you require, you can ask the applicant to demonstrate the skills on the spot. Provide a document to format or a formatted document for comment. If you need someone with graphics skills, ask them to render a hand-drawn sketch. You might give the applicant an RFP and ask for a draft schedule or outline. If the applicant gets nervous or balks at this idea, you can be pretty sure you have the wrong person. A truly confident professional loves a challenge like that.

Beware, however. Some human resource departments frown on this kind of approach because it smacks too much of a “test,” and tests can, in theory, handicap some minorities. If you are not allowed to administer a test, and even if you are, I would recommend describing the types of specific proposal challenges that occur in your environment and asking the applicant about a recommended approach.

For example, you could ask the proposal manager for some suggested courses of action when there are conflicting opinions on the technical solution, or when the pricing team is non-responsive to information requests from the technical team. Pick specific scenarios that occur in your organization. Emphasize that there is no one right answer. You will know pretty quickly if the person has the level of sophistication and experience you are looking for. You will also be able to tell something about style and attitude by the way the person responds – and you might get some good ideas in the process.

At the end of the day, it’s still a roll of the dice. I have had people turn on a dime in the heat of the moment and become borderline psychotic. I hope that doesn’t happen to you! And you probably can’t predict that, no matter what questions you ask.

All Best,

Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor