Talent Development Centre

Tag Archives: proposals

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to writing proposals and working with RFPs.

Embrace Your Opportunities to Grow

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle

Embrace Your Opportunities to GrowIn my blog posting for this week, I thought I would present some thoughts on the topic of “growing”.  It is a broad topic and it could be easy to come across as “preachy”, and that’s the last thing I want to do. But recent events have given me pause to reflect on specific aspects of this that, I feel, will translate well to independent contractors.  So, here goes…

Eagle’s been in the business of supplying contingent labour to our client base for over 20 years.  Some days it seems that we’ve seen it all.  And that’s the problem: It is easy to get comfortable doing what you’ve been doing until you’ve dug yourself a nice, deep rut.  Our clients go to market from time-to-time through an RFP (Request for Proposal) process and, typically, they are reasonably similar– some small variations, but for the most part they want to know the same things:  our capability in the geographic area that matters to them, our recruitment/sourcing processes, team approach to account management, issue resolution approaches and, of course, pricing.  Although there is opportunity for innovation – Eagle keeps on top of all the latest technology trends, for example – but the basic business of contingent labour remains basically the same.  When these tenders come out, the account and proposal teams and management hunker down and build our best proposal based on what we know to be important to our clients.  We never need to go outside of our own company to build a response or answer our customers’ questions.  It’s what we do.

Flash back to 3 weeks ago and things changed!  One of our clients approached Eagle, requesting us to build a customized, innovative solution to meet the needs of one of their business processes.  They didn’t want a traditional contingent work solution, they wanted something more.  We decided to accept their challenge and build a solution that will be just for them but, in so doing, we found that we no longer had all the answers that we needed in-house to respond to their inquiry.  We reached out to SME’s from the contractor community, people that we’ve worked with time and again over the years, those who knew Eagle well and who we knew equally well would fit into our new solution.  We formulated a partnership to build our proposal together, combining their technical/business strengths with our own.  This was new, it was exciting, and it was a heck of a lot of work.  But what a wonderful experience for all involved!!

Our team knew these consultants well, but I feel that we’ve come to know them at another level entirely.  The level of understanding we now have of each other and the trust that we’ve built through this process was more than worth the effort.  We’ve put the final touches on our proposal and it is in to our client for their review.  I believe we have a very strong proposal but, even if our solution isn’t selected, we’ve received good value from this process.  Each member of the team has learned new things, we’ve all grown professionally and we’ve got each other to lean on in the future for other opportunities.  These are people that I would jump at the chance to work with again.

So, back to the topic of growth… it is worth prying yourself out of your comfortable rut and taking a chance building something new. You learn through your failures but, even should there be failure, there are often rewards that you couldn’t have foreseen to offset your investment.  If our consultant partners are reading this (they’ll know who they are), I want to thank them not just for their hard work, expertise and time invested (and there was a lot) but for their comradery and the sense of team that they helped to foster in such a short burst of time.  I have grown professionally through their involvement — what a great lesson and a great reward.  Winning the business will just be icing on the cake!!

Have you had an opportunity to try something new that was more professionally rewarding than you’d expected?  Feel free to leave a comment and share with the rest of the readership!!

Why You Should Complete a Skills Matrix and the Secret to Filling One Out

Have you ever been contacted by a Recruiter who had a great IT contract opportunity where you’re perfectly qualified, but when they send you the details, it includes a massive skills matrix to complete? Suddenly, the job application that you thought would only require a quick resume update and email is turning into a daunting, time-consuming project. You think: Is this job even worth it? Why is the Recruiter wasting my time?

Why You Should Complete a Skills Matrix and the Secret to Filling One OutThe last thing the Recruiter wants to do is waste your time. However, they do need your help highlighting your relevant experience and qualifications that make you a great fit for the job. You would be wise to question any Recruiter who claims they can take your resume as-is, update it and complete the matrix for you. While this seems like a great time-saver, you are the only person who can legitimately explain how your experience matches the client’s job requirements. The risks in allowing an agency to take your resume and run with it is: 1) the resume becomes full of fabricated experience that may or may not make sense – not all recruiters may understand the complexity of your skills; or, 2) you and the Recruiter spend a lot more time going back and forth on the details in the 11th hour. The outcome of either scenario is going to be negative. Collaborating with the Recruiter on tailoring your resume and completing the matrix is the best option to increase your chances of winning the contract.

What is a Grid/Matrix?

A matrix, also sometimes referred to as a grid, is client-mandated, and usually required when the staffing agency must submit a proposal to their client in response to an RFP, rather than simply submitting a few resumes to the client. The matrix is a document with a table that the client developed, which often includes mandatory and point-rated requirements in one column, and a space in the other column for the candidate to explain their relevant experience and qualifications. The purpose of the matrix is to demonstrate how the candidate meets all the client’s requirements.

What Makes a Successful Matrix?

The key to submitting a winning matrix to a client is detail. Usually, if a candidate is requested through an RFP process, it means 1) there will be many other applicants, and 2) the client must back-up their selection by clearly demonstrating they chose the candidate who meets all the job requirements. As such, if you want a shot at winning a contract that requires a proposal submission, you must be prepared to show as much evidence of your experience as possible.

What Should You Do If Your IT Contract Requires a Matrix?

If your Recruiter tells you your submission will require you to complete a matrix or grid, try not to run for the hills. Keep in mind that many other candidates will also pass up on the opportunity, so you’re already more competitive by proceeding. Here are a few tips to make the process easier and more efficient for yourself:

  • Don’t Panic! Matrices can look challenging with way too much of a time commitment. They can also be confusing. If you open a matrix and immediately feel the pit in your stomach, then contact your Recruiter. The good ones will walk you through the process, explain the requirements, and help you confirm your chances at winning the contract.
  • Start Right Away. As mentioned, matrices are usually associated with RFPs, which have hard deadlines. When a Recruiter tells you they need your information by a certain day, there is little to no flexibility. Therefore, start working on matching your experience to the requirements as quickly as possible.
  • Build Out Your Resume. Matrices actually provide a major competitive advantage in a job search because the client reveals exactly what they are looking for. Go through the matrix, item by item, and highlight all the relevant experience in your resume. If more detail is needed, tailor your experience in your resume and explain how you meet each requirement. Don’t be concerned if your resume becomes extremely long – the “2 to 5-page resume” advice doesn’t apply to RFP responses as the client is looking for as much detail as possible.
  • Quickly Cross-Reference to Your Resume. Number each contract or project in your resume for cross-referencing purposes. Without writing any content in the matrix, go through each item and refer to the project or contract in your resume where you have the relevant experience. Also include the length of time of each project or contract, to quickly see how well you qualify for this role, or if you’re coming up short against any of the requirements.

The Overall Secret to Completing a Skills Matrix

The best advice for completing a matrix is to focus on your resume. We often see candidates get fixated on that matrix and wanting to write specific explanations, but if those details are not backed-up in your resume, they will mean nothing. Instead, spend your time expanding on your experience in your resume. Even if you think a task is implied or too basic, if it will help prove you meet a requirement in the matrix, write about it in your resume. As long as you meet their deadlines, a good staffing agency will confirm you meet the requirements, polish your resume and develop the matrix to meet the client’s very stringent RFP response criteria. Matrices can be complex and seemingly impossible, but with the right staffing agency they shouldn’t be time-consuming or overwhelming.

Surviving the RFP Process

Melissa Bryanton By Melissa Bryanton,
Proposal Manager at Eagle

Surviving the RFP ProcessA Recruiter has contacted you to discuss a new opportunity they are working on. The Recruiter goes over the qualifications their client is looking for and it sounds like a great match for your skillset. You start to get excited and then you hear the Recruiter say “RFP” and “government client”. If you have gone through the Request for Proposal (RFP) process with a staffing company before, you may understand what you are getting yourself into. If not, you are in for an interesting ride full of red tape and unexpected twists and turns.

Any independent contractor that has undergone the rigorous process of having their profile presented in a formal proposal knows that this is no easy task. A good professional staffing company should have a Proposal Team to help guide their Recruiting colleagues, and in turn, their candidates through the RFP process. Here are a few words of friendly advice from the Eagle Proposal Team if you are interested in entering the world of government contracts and are asked to prepare your resume for a proposal:

  • The long haul – the RFP process will be lengthy for you, the candidate, and for the Recruiter. Pulling together the proposal will take a lot of time and effort on both sides. Then you will wait, and wait, and wait some more for the client to evaluate all of the proposals and finally award a contract. This often takes months rather than weeks. Try to be patient and trust that your Recruiter will provide updates as soon as they receive any news from the client.
  • Form an alliance – Remember that the Recruiter is on your side and will do everything they can to help you win. So when they ask you to be more specific when describing your experience, or re-write parts of your resume, it is because they believe you are the right fit for the role and they want you to get the job!
  • Ask questions – If the job qualifications do not make sense to you, ask your Recruiter for clarification. If the Recruiter also finds the requirements confusing, they can have questions submitted to the client to get a better understanding of the qualifications.
  • Mandatory = Must Have. No Exceptions – Understand that if a qualification is referred to as Mandatory that it must be met. Government clients use Mandatory Requirements to quickly disqualify candidates during the evaluation process. The Recruiter will work with you to draw out the specific details the client will be looking for in your resume. The Proposal Team will conduct a second-level review of your resume and identify any areas where the resume requires more specific detail.
  • Honesty is key – Most RFPs include Point-Rated Criteria in addition to the Mandatory Requirements. Be honest with your Recruiter when comparing your experience to the Rated Criteria and assigning yourself a score. Again, any experience claimed has to be validated and will be reviewed by the Recruiter and the Proposal Team before your resume is submitted as part of the proposal.
  • Less is more (sometimes) – Now that you have been asked to edit, re-write and add to your resume and make everything as detailed as possible, here is a curve ball – a 40 to 50 page resume does not benefit you or the people reviewing it. If you have several projects that you worked on concurrently, keep the stronger ones that closely match the requirements. If the role you are being proposed for only calls for a maximum of five years within the last ten years, drop any projects that are more than ten years old. Cut your resume down as much as possible while leaving in the relevant detail and projects that demonstrate how you meet the client requirements.

The government RFP process is unique and demanding. Always remember that your Recruiter and their Proposal Team are there to support you throughout the process. Buddy up with your Recruiter and settle in because it’s going to be a long race to the finish line!

5 Techniques to Write Your Best Resume Ever!

Jennifer Farrell By Jennifer Farrell,
Proposal Team Lead at Eagle

Let’s be real, it’s easy to find resume templates.  It’s simple to locate profile header generators and programs that automate resume content.  While it might be tempting to use these tools to craft your resume, staffing agencies aren’t looking for catchy buzz words and superficial jargon. What we are looking for is an authentic version of you – on paper.

  1. Start off with Personal Contact Details.

It is surprising how many people submit their resume without their basic contact information. In the header include your name, email address and phone number. In the footer, number your pages.

  1. Catchy Profiles generate Interest.

Write your profile in the 3rd person. Your sentences should be short and summarize the number of years of experience you have, along with your education and any formal training that is relevant. The key here is short sentences.  The recommendation for overall length is one or two small paragraphs maximum. Remember, the profile needs to highlight your unique experience at a very high level.

Example:  Mr. John Doe is a Senior Project Manager with over 20 years of experience managing high profile projects for the public and private sector.  He gained his PMP at the Project Management Institute (1994) and was ITIL Certified in 1999. Etc.

  1. Structure your Projects in Reverse.

Hiring manager reviewing resumesOrganize your projects in reverse.  As a contractor with multiple projects, this tip will make updating your resume easier.  Start with the most recent experience (at the beginning of your resume), and work your way backwards numbering your projects in reverse. For example, the first project from 1998 would be Project 1 and your most recent project (that just wrapped up in May 2014) would be Project 32.

  1. Include more detail than you think you should.

Key Words: Throw away the belief that your resume needs to be short and sweet. This is just simply not true. Your resume needs to be long and detailed.  When we upload your resume into our database and run a key word search, your resume will jump to the top of the list if you have enough of the key words we are looking for.

Technology Environments: Always include the technologies you used and dig deep to list them all. If you used MS Office Suite in your last Finance and Accounting position, include Excel, PowerPoint, Visio, etc. and list everything down to Windows 2008. This is the best way to get a lot of hits in our database.

Project Description: Give us lots of details. How many people were on the team? What was the overall project budget/value? What was the business need driving the project forward? What were the challenges? List the critical success factors.  Did you deliver the project on time? Was the project within budget?

Project Deliverables: What were your specific tasks? How did you contribute? What soft skills did you use? Were you responsible for more than you signed up for?  Was your contract extended? Try to answer the Journalism questions: Who? What? Where? Why? When? How?

  1. Education/Certification and Training – they all need dates too!

Close your resume with your professional qualifications and provide the dates you graduated along with the Institution. No need to provide the city and province unless your education was gained outside of Canada.  Include any specific and relevant courses completed.

These five techniques will help bring your resume from good to great, but they are by no means exhaustive. We’d love to hear from you – what do you include in your resume to bring it from good to great? Please leave us a comment below and share your expertise!

Changes with Federal Government Security Clearances

David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Vice-President, Government Services at Eagle

Working with the Feds requires an understanding of complex contract vehicles, understanding RFPs, SOWs, working with Proposal Teams and Recruiters in filling out matrices, longer than private sector time to close cycles, understanding bureaucracy and perhaps most uniquely Federal Government Security Clearance.

Security fingerprintIt goes without saying that in this day and age Security is of utmost critical importance for every organization and certainly with the Feds who deal with real cyber threats daily that are of National Security importance and may have adverse effects on Public Safety. It’s for this reason that Security will not get any easier, is not going away and in fact may be more onerous and complex for all of us in the years to come.

Currently in order to do business with Feds, Independent Contractors (ICs) have to be cleared generally at one of 3 basic levels: Reliability, Secret or Top Secret (and while there are a myriad of other levels and differences these are the most common with Secret being the most common of the three). Today the vast majority of ICs who hold Security Clearance with Feds do so at a personal level, in other words they are screened and cleared personally as John Q. Public.  This is a Personal Security Clearance (PSC).

Earlier this spring the Canadian Industrial Security Directorate (CISD) introduced to Industry Representative Associations like the National Association of Computer Consulting Businesses (NACCB) that effective immediately, Independents who are incorporated must additionally clear their incorporation or business entities under the Private Sector Organization Screening (PSOS) in addition to their PSC to qualify for government contracts. A PSOS means that their John Q Public Inc. must be cleared.  This clearance will require information on the structure and ownership of their incorporation, appointing a Chief Security Officer (CSO), Personal Screening for CSOs, a signed Security Agreement and signed CSO Attestation Forms.

As you may guess it will take some time and effort on the part of ICs, the agencies who work with them and CISD.  Currently there is a huge backlog of regular Security applications, renewals and duplications. The PSOS requirement will be added to this workload with already limited dedicated resources at CISD.

In the industry consultation with the Feds, they have made it clear that this requirement has been in place since 2012, however, it has not been enforced until now. The Feds have agreed it is likely a substantial undertaking and they will be absolutely reasonable in implementing it through a transition period they anticipate will happen over the next couple of years.

There is no doubt this will be a bit of a challenge but ICs should begin the process right away to avoid any disruption to your business. The bottom line is that in order to win business and be awarded contracts you will have to hold a PSOS.

So what is the good news in all this? What there is good news?! Yep. I believe there are some definite benefits in all this.

First and foremost you and your business will be fully registered with CISD and can continue to compete for contracts with the Feds. In addition you and your business will be able to hold your own Security without having a sponsoring entity hold it for you eliminating the need for “duplications”’ every time you bid or are awarded a contract. Finally and maybe most significantly, fully clearing and registering your Business entity is another strong indicator that you are running a business as an independent contractor which provides further evidence that you are not an employee in the eyes of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

A Proposal Writer’s Perspective on Resume Blunders

Jennifer Farrell By Jennifer Farrell,
Proposal Team Lead at Eagle

Ask anyone in the staffing industry about the worst resume they’ve seen and you’ll find yourself listening to a very entertaining story about embedded personal pictures, lists of “interesting” hobbies, and the use of proprietary graphics. You’ll laugh right along with them until that awkward moment when they mention a technique you use on your own resume. Suddenly it’s not so funny.

Hiring manager explaining to applicant that his resume is terrible.With thousands of resumes pouring in every month, we really have seen it all. Following these techniques will guarantee your resume hits the “terrible” pile:

  1. Insert a table into your document.
    Put all of your experience into the table with multiple rows and cells. Then lock the table. This is a nightmare for staffing agencies because while we don’t change the content, we do reformat your resume using our own template so the client knows exactly where to look on every resume they receive from us. Imagine how much work goes into cutting and pasting all of the content from a table into a clean document. And of course, all the cutting and pasting means there is also plenty of opportunities to make mistakes.
  2. Overlap all of the months and years of your project experience. 
    Or, better yet, include the start date of each of your projects and choose a date that falls in the middle of the month (ex: June 15, 2010 to May 28, 2012). This is an excellent way to ensure you will receive personalized attention from Recruiters – we are guaranteed to call you back and ask you to remove all of the overlaps. Many of our clients have specific requirements so when we are proving to our client that you’ve been a Project Manager for 10 years, it’s hard when we have to try to count days instead of months. Government contractors know exactly what I’m talking about!
  3. Embed a personal picture or a graphic. 
    There really is no time throughout your career that this is a good idea. We don’t choose to interview people based on their appearance. When we look at your resume, we are interested in your skills, professional experience, education/training and certifications. All of the pictures and graphics that are used to carefully decorate your resume will get stripped out during the reformatting process if they have not already been stripped out by the system where you uploaded your resume.
  4. List all of your hobbies. 
    Especially the ones that have absolutely nothing to do with your professional experience. The key here is to ask: is this relevant to the role? If the answer is no then it’s better not to include them. Don’t get us wrong, we find your hobbies highly entertaining! 20 years ago when you were trying to get a job in a Pub and your favourite hobby was Beer Pong, it made sense to put it on your resume. However, at this stage of your career, your professional experience is what matters.
  5. PDF your resume. 
    While a PDF of your resume ensures that it does not get altered, it also causes headaches when agencies put the resume into their format (see number 1 above). If you are hesitant to provide a Word copy, keep one available and offer it up when you are serious about a particular job. Asking to review the formatted version before it is submitted to a client will ensure that no unauthorized changes have been made.
  6. Don’t include any detail, about your professional experience, at all. 
    This is my personal favourite. Without details it is impossible to figure out if you are a good fit for a contract. I know that we were all taught “resumes should not exceed one or two pages” but this was when we were teenagers looking for part-time jobs or new grads with no experience looking for our first job. This is even more important to the Independent Contractor. Clients want to know the details about all relevant experience.
  7. Copy/paste all of your experience into every single project you’ve ever had. 
    This is a big red flag for industry professionals. We see thousands of role descriptions in a year. We know that every role is different, as is every client, every environment, and every deliverable. Customization is key if you want your resume to stand out from the crowd. The more you write about the role and the project, from your own experience, the higher your chances your resume will be selected to move onto the next round of qualification.

What has your experience taught you? What other resume blunders should contractors avoid? Leave a comment!