Why Exam Swots Make Good Bid Writers

It's been a long time since I was last at school, but in some ways it feels like I never left because my job involves developing bids and responding to tenders. Answering RFT questions often feels like you are sitting an exam every day of your life.

I'm often asked about the skills that are most needed in a bid writer, and how to identify aptitude in internal staff who might be good at that kind of work. Probably the most important is an ability to understand what's being asked for in the RFT, and to respond accordingly. Therefore, a good predictor of likely success in such a role is how good someone is (or has been) at exams, particularly in subjects requiring a complex written response.

Getting good exam marks requires the confidence to understand and interpret and unfamiliar questions very quickly and under time pressure; to plan a response that addresses that question; to identify relevant content and ignore stuff that isn’t relevant; and to weave an argument or point of view throughout. Therefore, a member of staff who has a good academic record with high exam scores in complex subjects is highly likely to be suited to the task of responding to tenders. It doesn't really matter what kind of subjects they were good at – it’s their pre-existing aptitude for this kind of work that is important.

I’ve just finished re-reading the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. In it, there is a character called Mma Makutsi, who is famous for having achieved 97% in her final exams at the Botswana Secretarial College. Mma Makutsi is the Assistant Detective to Chief Detective Mma Ramotswe, and together they are a force to be reckoned with. Mma Ramotswe has fantastic intuition, where Mma Makutsi is the person who dots the is and crosses the ts. I am willing to bet that if they weren’t in the detecting game, they would make a great bid team.

Likewise, in your business there is an important role for staff members that aren’t academic and don’t think of themselves as “writers”.These people are often great students of life, are good at reading between the lines and have useful insights customer behaviour. Therefore they make great proposal strategists who are good at seeing the big picture.

You need these big-picture proposal strategists, together with great bid writers who are good at the detail, to form the core of a successful bid team.