OUR SIX TOP CV WRITING RULES FOR BIDS, TENDERS AND PROPOSALS!
I’ve worked as a Bid Writer in the engineering, construction and maintenance industries for ten years. These are my top six tips for writing really good CVs, and they are key to Bright Circle’s Bid Writer training program.
Understand the context of the CVs: they are not a boring nice-to-have. They are evidence of capability
If you’re the bid writer working on CVs for a bid or tender, it’s important to understand how they relate to the overall messaging of the submission. CVs provide evidence of our nominated team’s capability and experience. CVs are often palmed off on juniors or seen as unimportant. Because they are repetitive and formulaic, they might seem like a boring and menial task. But this doesn’t mean that CVs are unimportant. The CVs provide evidence for the Methodology, Capability and Past Experience sections of the bid. They also justify the pricing (the hourly rate for individuals). They are the detailed evidence of how we will do it, who will do it, and how much that will cost. It’s true that the client may not scrutinise them, especially if the client knows you and your team well (tick!). However, if it’s neck and neck between our submission and a competitor’s, and the evaluators go searching for small differentiators, the CVs may be crucial. CVs are also key evidence of a win theme or key message such as ‘We have the right team with the right experience to deliver our solution’. “Do you really?”, an assessor might ask, “Which relevant projects have your key people worked on? Does the proposed Design Manager have the right experience? Have they worked at this level of seniority before?” CVs are a crucial justification for our capability - our ability to deliver the solution and manage the risks. CVs are also a crucial justification for our price (not necessarily the cheapest - you have to pay for the best people!). While being a CV writer is a great opportunity to learn the basics of bid writing, it doesn’t mean CVs are not important. They can be the difference between winning and losing a bid.
Formatting: ensure correct CV template setup and apply styles
Templates, styles and formatting - if these are set up and applied correctly, they will be your friends in your darkest hour (which is hopefully not at 4am!). If you don’t know how to use styles, then you need to learn now, as this is a key skill for any technical writer and editor. Before you start working on the CVs, check that the basic styles have been set up in your template. Check the company brand style guide for print submissions to make sure that the font choice, colours and logos are correct. It helps to double check that you are using the correct template before you start - the Bid Manager may want to make changes to it, and this easier to manage when you are setting up the template, rather than when you have written half the CVs! As you work on the CVs, make sure to apply styles religiously. This will save you a lot of heartache in the long term, and is crucial to achieving a uniform appearance between all the CVs. This is especially important on a large joint venture or alliance bid, where one of the key messages might be ‘We are one team’. The CVs need to be consistent in style and format otherwise they don’t look like ‘We are one team’. They look like ‘We are a hodge-podge’. Keep your eye out for a future blog post on top formatting and template tips!
Check the org chart! Check the org chart! Check the org chart!
The organisation chart is a moving feast. Nominees will be swapped in and out depending on changing availability. Teams will be expanded, contracted, deleted and brought back to life depending how the solution is progressing. For example, for a road or rail design and construct tender, if it’s discovered that drainage and flooding will be a bigger issue than originally thought, then this area might change from a single role to a whole team, and the head of this team becomes a key role. The org chart might also change in response to the developing price build up. For example, too many hours by too many senior staff may mean a price that is too high to be competitive. If we are trying to keep our pricing competitive, then cutting senior staff or expensive consultants is an option. This means CVs might be in… then out… then in again. So never delete your draft CVs as they are often needed to match a last minute org chart change.
Make sure the CVs are compliant
Requirements for CVs are always stated in the bid documents, and these should guide you from the beginning. Sometimes the requirements are fairly simple e.g. two page maximum, 12 point font and no projects older than ten years. Sometimes they are more complicated e.g. a Project Manager needs to have five years’ experience, a Senior Project Manager needs to have ten years’ experience. Minimum requirements for roles are often missed by the SMEs working on nominating the team. This is where a CV Writer can provide a vital sanity check. You’ll be surprised how often you pick up that the role requires a minimum of eight years’ experience, but the nominee has only seven (“Hm, they graduated uni in 2013, it’s now 2020…”). As the CV writer, you are the final sanity check for compliance. Any compliance errors you pick up could make a huge difference!
Use a stylesheet to define usage and style, especially when working in a team of writers
A stylesheet is a list of terms and rules. Using a stylesheet helps you maintain consistency in language, usage, spelling and style between CVs. It’s especially helpful if you are collaborating with another writer. Classic style and usage issues include qualifications (B.Eng, BEng, or Bachelor of Engineering?), heading styles (Sentence case or Title Case?) and my favourite bugbear: onsite, on-site and on site. Pick one, write it on your stylesheet to set the agreed usage, and share with your team.
Proofread in hard copy - look for shapes before you look at words
Here’s my top proofreading tip. If you have 60 final CVs, start with a sample of five or eight. Print the CVs out in hard copy. Lay the CVs side by side in a row, and without reading anything, run your eye over the ‘shapes’ in the CVs. Compare them with each other. Look for things like: are all the photos uniform? Are all the heading styles uniform within and between CVs? Check things like column width - are they uniform, or has your formatting broken anywhere? Check that the font is the same size throughout. Sometimes the Normal or Paragraph style breaks. Run your eye down bullet lists: if your bullet list style (see 5. Use a stylesheet, above) states that each bullet point starts with a capital letter, and only the last point has a full stop, then you want to look for lists where each point ends on a semi-colon, or where each point starts on a capital letter. This is easier if you compare the shapes of several bullet point lists side by side. If you see a recurring issue in your sample of five or eight, this is probably an issue through all 60 CVs. Go and fix it!