Interview Guide for Candidates

Interviewing for a new role can be immensely stressful. A lot of the time, the more you want the role, the more stressful it becomes, as you place added pressure on yourself to secure the position. Being stressed or nervous before an interview, however, is normal – you are not alone. In order to take some of the pressure of your shoulders, you can ensure that you are fully prepared for the meeting.

It is the same with any business presentation. You wouldn’t turn up to a client meeting unprepared (I hope not, anyway) and as such you treat your interview the same way. Rather than selling the business, you are selling yourself. Granted, not everyone has conducted client meetings before, so here are some tips to get you through your interview.

Before the Interview

Preparing for an interview takes time. Frantically reading through notes on the train or while you are sat in reception won’t cut it. You will need to research the company extensively to ensure you can confidently communicate what you know about them and to display a real desire to work there. It’s a classic question, ‘what do you know about us?’ or ‘why do you want to work here?’ By reviewing their website and recent news articles, you should be able to answer these questions a lot easier.

Your research shouldn’t stop at the organisation but should extend to who you are meeting. LinkedIn is a powerful tool in this regard and is used by jobseekers and hiring managers everywhere – don’t worry about being seen to have viewed someone’s profile, it is almost to be expected.

Know your CV and the job description inside out and bring both with you to the interview. Having to look across the table at your printed CV to understand what the hiring team are referring to will come across as disorganised. Know your career dates and any key achievements stats by heart, so you can quickly roll them out when asked. Being able to articulate how you mirror the job description will go down very well and through asking searching questions, you will demonstrate real enthusiasm for the role.

During the Interview

Make a good first impression! Ensure you are well presented and dressed smartly. Try on your interview outfit a couple of days before the meeting to check that it still fits – we’ve had an unfortunate situation where a candidate had to attend his interview in casual attire as his suit no longer fit him! Plan your journey beforehand and if possible, do a dry run so you know exactly where you are going. Try to arrive approximately 15 minutes early, as this will allow you time to compose yourself before the meeting.

Smile and make eye contact with everyone you meet. Be personable and attentive throughout. From start to finish, your body language will be scrutinised, so be open! Crossed arms and defensive postures will not serve you well. When answering questions, maintain eye contact with the interviewer, or if it is a panel interview, address each person. I’ve had an interview where I have asked a question and the candidate stared at my colleague while answering. Safe to say, that didn’t go down well with either of us.

If you are offered a drink at the start of the interview, take it, even if you aren’t thirsty. You will be speaking for nearly an hour, so your mouth will likely get dry which could affect your concentration. As well as this, taking a drink will allow you extra time to think of an answer when asked a challenging question.

When answering questions, be sure to be concise and to the point. Waffling will come across as disorganised and displays a lack of focus. Answer the question that you have been asked (like with any bid) and provide examples and evidence to back up your response. Don’t spend time talking about skills or experience that they haven’t asked about. They may well come to these later, at which point you will be repeating yourself. Or, they don’t want to know about those skills as they aren’t relevant to the role. You are likely to be asked about why you are looking to leave your current role. Be constructive in your response and do not criticise your current or previous employers. Instead, do your best to flip it round and talk about the opportunity on offer, how it excites you and what you can bring.

At the end of each interview, you are likely to be given time to ask questions yourself. Ensure you have a list of these prepared, to the point that you have more than you think you need. The interviewer may cover a lot of the topics, so you don’t want to be left with nothing to say. Asking questions about the role, the team and company culture will display real interest. Remember, this is an interview. It’s a two way meeting and you should treat it as such. Explore the opportunity and ask questions to find out what you need to know to assess if the role and company is right for you.

More guidance on interview questions can be found here:

After the Interview

As the interview draws to a close, ask about next steps. This will provide you with a feel for timescales and how committed they are to hiring. As well as this, don’t be afraid to ask if they have any concerns about you as a candidate. Knowing this will allow you to allay these fears at the next meeting, or if you have time, at the close of the first meeting.

If you have more questions following the interview – either you forgot to ask or you ran out of time – you can provide these in an email via your recruitment consultant. This will again display interest in the role and the organisation as a whole. Conversations related to salary and benefits are typically easier to go through your recruitment consultant as well. They can remain objective in the negotiation process and can handle any queries diplomatically.

In Summary

Preparation is key to a good interview. The more you know about the company, the role, who you are meeting, and of course yourself, will give you a better chance of success. You will also be able to answer challenging questions more effectively, allowing your personality to shine through. There is no guarantee that even if you have all the right skills that you will secure the role. Team fit is very important, particularly if you are looking to join a small team. So, prepare, research, be personable but most importantly, be yourself!

Author: Ben Hannon

How to Hire a Bid Manager

Hiring can be a tricky business. Someone has either left your team and needs replacing, or you are in the positive situation of expanding the business. Hiring the right person for your team is critical and when you are looking for a new Bid Manager to join your team, there are number of aspects you must consider.

This hiring guide will provide you with an overview of just some of the points to consider when selecting the next member of your team.

Know what you need

It’s important to have a clear understanding of what you need from the outset. Take the time to assess the skills of your existing team, think about what you have and what you need.

Do you need a Bid Manager or a Proposal Manager? What’s the difference? It’s one of the biggest questions in our industry and a common reason for new starters not working out – get it wrong and you’ve placed a square peg in a round hole. Here’s a guide to the difference between the two.

If you are expanding your bid team, think about what skills will complement the existing talent in your team. If you are replacing someone who has left, think about what was most important about their role, bearing in mind you probably won’t find a like-for-like replacement. Have a list of ‘must haves’ and ‘must not haves’ – this will help in your selection process. In addition to what you need now, be sure to think about what you will need in 12 months’ time – perhaps more commercial or technical skills? Use the opportunity to future-proof your team.

Take the time to create a job description

This is a critical but often overlooked element of the hiring process. Much like you would want to see a well-written CV, candidates will react well to a detailed job description. The more information they have will ensure they know what they are applying for. This will result in more relevant applications. If you don’t know where to start, our website has a selection of job descriptions for you to review. Take a look at common bid team job descriptions.

Quirky internal naming conventions are fine for people that are in-house but you could miss out on applications because jobseekers won’t click on your advert, or you won’t be captured in their job board alert system. Keep it simple for external adverts. You can always reveal your internal job title at interview stage.

Money talks
Ensure your salary range is competitive compared to the market. Make sure it is sufficient to attract the best talent, if that’s what you are seeking. Don’t judge this purely against what competing organisations are offering – they may be struggling to hire themselves! The Salary Benchmarking section on our website can help with this. Take a look at bid team salary benchmarks (note that these are for UK teams).

If someone has left your team and secured a big pay rise in the process, consider that you may have been underpaying them. Be aware that you might not secure the same calibre of candidate with your offered salary – they left because they felt they were worth more.

Also, if you hired someone on £X in 2012, inflation and time dictates that you won’t find your desired candidate for the same money. You must either move with the times to remain competitive, or adjust your expectations as to who you can hire.

The interview process

Map this out at the very start. Think about what you need to know from candidates in order to make a decision. Do you need someone that can write content? If so, it would be wise to incorporate a written assessment to judge their skills.

Be open about what you can offer. If you can’t offer progression with the role, don’t say you can. It will only result in you needing to look for another candidate in the near future once the truth is out. To combat this, let the candidates ask you some tough questions too. It’s an ‘inter’-view after all.

It is always useful to get a second opinion, so think about who else you can get involved to meet with candidates. This has to be someone whose opinion you trust, otherwise there is no point. On the flip side, don’t involve the whole company as this will be overbearing for candidates – not to mention the logistical nightmare of coordinating diaries…

Know your decision criteria and process prior to arranging the first interview. Chopping and changing will lead to frustration and you may realise after 3 months of recruiting that you have already rejected the ideal candidate.

Don’t make the interview process overly long – you will miss out on candidates to companies that have a more efficient selection process. 3 stages should be enough to make a decision. Any more than this could cause unnecessary delays and put a drain on your resource. Time is money after all and too many cooks and opinions will often lead to stalemate.

Reference checking

You’ve made your decision and found your ideal candidate. You have offered them the position and they have accepted. This is great news but you’re not over the finish line just yet. A full reference check is vital and will give you peace of mind that you have made the right decision. You will need to obtain consent from your chosen candidate to contact their referees and you must only ask employment-related questions. More information on reference checking and a sample list of questions can be found here

First day and beyond

You’ve finally made it. Your new Bid Manager has walked through the door and is ready to get stuck in. Be sure to stay close to them during their first month. Ensure that they are settling in, developing the relationships they need and are enjoying their work. Provide feedback on their performance, so they know if there is anything they can improve, or anything that will help them settle in. Be sure to get their feedback too – it’s important to know if you can be doing anything better too.

Development plans are often overlooked. In the 2015 Salary Survey, 48% of respondents had no personal development plan in place and only 25% had attended a training course in the previous year. You should be putting in place a development plan for your new employee from day one. This is not just about employee satisfaction but also about future-proofing your team with skills they might not have.

In summary

Hiring is not an exact science and gut feeling will come into it at some stage, particularly if you are going to be working with this person on a daily basis. You will need to strike a balance between skills and attitude. That being said, much like any bid, the better you plan at the outset, the better chance you have reaching a successful conclusion.

Learn more

Visit to learn more about the services Ben and the team can offer.

If you’d like to learn more about the state of the bid industry, including the challenges they face, please download our 2016/2017 survey report

Author: Ben Hannon

Career planning for bid professionals – top tips from Bid Solutions

It’s that time of year when a lot of people decide they want a change. This can mean a variety of different things to any one person but for a large number it means new employment. It is crucial, however, that you make the right move for your career, rather than change for the sake of change itself. To help, Ben Hannon and the team from Bid Solutions have shared a selection of things to consider when planning your career.

1. List your goals
Understanding what you want to achieve in the long term will help you decide what you need to do in the short term. This list does not need to be set in stone, it will more than likely change several times as you react to the environment around you, both personally and professionally.

2. Think about your likes and dislikes
What type of environment allows you to flourish? What are your strong points? Do you even like your strong points?

Being happy at work is crucial to being successful and will provide you with the motivation to carry on when the going gets tough. For bid professionals, there are a variety of skills that are all crucial when pulling together a submission, so pinpoint where you fit in. If you aren’t sure what the bid lifecycle looks like, you can read more here:

3. Look into professional development
There are a number of courses available to improve your skills and further your career. Off-the-shelf courses that promote bid best practice are useful for all bid professionals and will give you a solid base upon which to build. Further to that, you can look more specifically at the roles you wish to undertake. Perhaps you need to develop your writing skills for executive summaries, or maybe you need to use a creative software package to enhance the look and feel of your submissions? There is no limit to what you can learn, so be sure to explore all available opportunities.

You can find more information about bid training on the Bid Solutions website.

In addition to training courses, there are a number networking events you can attend to share ideas and understand how other organisations / industries approach bidding. The more you know, the better chance you have of success.

4. Keep your CV updated
Sometimes you can find yourself in the situation of unexpectedly having to find a new job. Having a CV ready to go will help you save time with your job search. It is recommended to have a base CV that provides an overview of your career and key bids that you have been involved with. Depending on the position you are applying for, be sure to tailor your CV so that your relevant skills are unmissable e.g. if you are applying for a bid writer role, make it obvious that you have written bids before.

5. Review your progress
Rome wasn’t built in a day, so be aware that achieving your goals will take time. Set time aside to review where you are in your overall plan. Are you on track? If not, what can you do to get yourself back on track? Professional development could be the answer, as mentioned previously. For bid professionals in permanent employment, it is recommended to review your progress on an annual basis. For interim bid professionals, review your progress either once every 6 months or at the end of each major contract. Most importantly on this point, don’t forget to celebrate how far you have come!

It is important to remember that career planning is not an exact science and these are just a number of points to consider. There will be many bumps in the road along the way and you will have to react to whatever life throws at you. However, the better prepared you are, the better chance you have of success.

As we say in our office, hope is not a strategy.

Here’s what other bid professionals had to say about their careers

Download our report on the state of bid management to find out what your peers around the world think of their careers. Download the report

Author: Ben Hannon

Massive congratulations to WSP ׀ Parsons Brinckerhoff, winners of the 2016 UK APMP People Development award, sponsored by Bid Solutions. Read how they did it…

wsp parsons brinckerhoff
In 2014 WSP acquired Parsons Brinckerhoff and its UK proposals team doubled in size. Their challenge was to integrate people who worked to different processes, procedures and practice.

The management team recognised the need to define a common language for business and invest in its people to improve skills. A dual purpose programme was designed to integrate teams whilst improving proposal quality.

Step 1: Best Practice Training

A leading training provider worked with them to develop a course based on APMP theory. Six successful months of training followed: four UK locations, 50 newly-integrated staff and an average feedback score of 96%.

Step 2: A Competition to Promote Ongoing Best Practice

The impact on bid quality was immediate and showed in bid reviews, but sustaining this required a continued focus and application of best practice.

With a brief to showcase new skills and an incentive of £250, the ‘2016 Best Practice Competition’ was launched.  This was the opportunity to apply and showcase the valuable techniques learned during the training.

Step 3: Integration of Process & Governance

To further support people in making good business decisions, they reviewed process and governance. They took the best from both legacy organisations and introduced improvements that reflected APMP best practice.

The Outcome: A Refreshed Perception

The combined team’s ability to qualify with rationality, influence the impact of a document and develop content has resulted in a renewed respect from technical teams for a professional proposal function.

The Evidence

APMP accreditation has been the backbone of this upskilling initiative and their objective is for all proposals staff, including new starters, to achieve Foundation level.

  • From 18 to 41 people CF APMP in 12 months
  • 13 people progressing to Practitioner, four achieved this during 2016
  • Attendance at eight Foundation courses
  • Hosted two APMP events
  • Inclusion of APMP Practitioner accreditation in a financial incentive scheme to reward professional achievement

Overall win rate increase – increase in win rate of 39% in 12 months.

Their best score yet – 100/100 for quality recently recorded on a bid (combined quality/financial score of 99.55/100).

And here is some of the feedback received…

“The final decision was made in the board room. Your competitors were the recommended consultant. Based on the compelling document and your evident thirst for this project, we selected WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff over them.” Skanska

“If you asked me yesterday to write an introduction to why I’m a relevant Project Manager, it would be very different to the one I’ll write tomorrow. Tomorrow, it will be relevant and benefit rich!” Andy Poole, Following 5 Ways to Improve training

“The submission is extremely compelling.” Darrell Wilson, BDP

The feedback speaks for itself. The focus on people development has empowered WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff to produce powerful proposals, inspired careers and shaped an expert team to deliver the vision to BID LESS, WIN MORE.

I think you will agree with me when I say very worthy and impressive winners. Congratulations from all the team at Bid Solutions!


APMP UK Conference Next Week

Only a week away from the APMP UK conference in Wokefield Park, Reading.

This year the conference is focusing on wide-ranging audiences – how to identify opportunities, influence our customers and achieve true engagement that secures business where everyone wins.

Tickets are still available by clicking here and the Bid Solutions Team will be available throughout the conference to discuss how we can help you and your team find the right people, tools and provide training and consulting solutions that significantly increase your chances of winning new business, whilst delivering a legacy of improved proposal quality.

We are also sponsoring the People Development Award again this year, which is designed to recognise an organisation that has furthered the capability and/or impact of their bid teams to the success of the business. This year’s nominees are EE, Goodman Masson Ltd and WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff and we look forward to announcing the winner.

APMP UK announces shortlist for 2016 People Development Award

The shortlist for the 2016 People Development Award, proudly sponsored by Bid Solutions, includes:

• EE
• Goodman Masson
• WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff

We would like to offer our congratulations to the nominees and look forward to announcing the winner on the 19th October at the Annual APMP UK Awards Dinner. This year has seen a high number of submissions and it has been a very challenging job for the judges to sift down to these final nominations.

If you are interested in attending the conference, please visit:

‘Ask the Expert’ Launched – Free, Impartial Advice from Recognised Industry Professionals

Bid Solutions is delighted to announce the launch of its ‘Ask the Expert’ service.

With so many different approaches to bidding and a growing recognition of our profession globally, we understand just how hard it can be to get an objective opinion on best practice or industry-specific challenges. Having personally worked with some of the best people in our profession for over 20 years (and having benefitted from their counsel on many occasions), I’m pleased that we can now extend this fantastic service to our wider network.

The panel is comprised of 15 experts and is actively expanding to cover more industries and disciplines. Our current range of expertise includes: Apprenticeship Programmes; Benchmarking; Cost Modelling & Pricing Deal Management; Public Sector Bidding; Leadership & Coaching; Innovation; Proposal Management; Business Transformation; Proposal Training; Organisational Design; Professional Development; Content & Knowledge Management; and Microsoft Word.

The industries currently covered include: Construction; Professional Services; Financial Services; Aerospace; IT; Defence; and Telecoms.

Got a burning questions or struggling with a particular challenge? Simply find the relevant expert and submit your question at

Our experts have already offered up some fantastic advice and you can benefit by following the links below:

·         De-risking cost escalation & exchange rate fluctuations

·         Bid Consultancy Advice

·         Automated Bid Tracking Software

·         Incorporating original thinking in tender responses

·         Direct award options for unique services

·         Team motivation and engagement in times of change

·         Post Brexit Procurement Regime

·         APMP Training

·         Word Templates

As recognised thought leaders, our experts will be regularly sharing new ideas on best practice and discussing industry trends. Follow all their updates on our website and LinkedIn feeds.

Research findings – “Gender in Work Winning”

This week saw the publication of startling new research into gender disparities in the bid / proposal profession. The study, led by Krista Takkala of Strategic Proposals and supported by Bid Solutions and the APMP UK, makes for some very challenging reading.

Although the data is primarily UK-based, respondents elsewhere suggested that there are concerns to be addressed worldwide.

Following the salary surveys published by Bid Solutions, it should come as no surprise to the profession that there are gender disparities. What does shock however is the scale of the problem; fundamentally affecting women and their career advancement. It clearly isn’t just affecting salaries, the research suggests there is widespread discrimination across all roles and all industries.

The report offers some excellent ideas and suggestions for tackling these problems head-on and is available to download here.

I know Krista would welcome further suggestions as to how to tackle the important issues raised. The full results and findings will also be debated at this year’s APMP UK conference in October. Full details of the conference can be found here.

Value vs Absorption – how to price?

Value vs Absorption, a great article written by one of our experts, Peter Bryans.

There are so many pricing theories, strategies, approaches and so on throughout textbooks and the internet. To distil what is simple from what can be overly convoluted and complex – there are only two ways to set a price:

  1. Value Pricing; or 
  2. Absorption Pricing 

Value pricing is linked to the principles of what your customers are prepared to pay, Absorption is linked to the principles of mathematics on recovering the costs to meet your customer’s demand whilst making a profit.


Quite simply value pricing is predicated on what the customer wants to pay (or is believed to want to pay) whilst absorption is what the customer needs to pay so that costs are recovered and the supplier makes money.

Excluding luxury goods, does your customer ever want to pay more than you need them to?

To secure a sale, value pricing will be preferred on the viewpoint that work can only be won if the competition is beaten. On this basis, the price ‘is what it is’ and it is for the business to reverse-engineer profit, risk mitigation, cost recovery and a solution to fit within the set-price. The problem comes when price is too low for a business to work within or if milestone payments govern when and how much is paid; this can lead to problems with cashflow if you are spending money, to service a customer, at a rate greater than you are being paid over time.

To maximise the chances of being able to deliver to time, cost and quality and to yield a profit from a customer Absorption pricing will be preferred. The main problem can be that the calculated price is well above the competition.


Pro’s and Con’s

There are a variety of upsides and downsides to adopting value or absorption pricing:


If a company is small with a low cost-base that is easy to comprehend and manage then value pricing is all that is needed and, indeed, recommended. That said, cash flow should always be considered in parallel.

If a company is larger or has a cost-base that is complex and needs active management then absorption pricing is the sensible approach – provided costs and prices are moderated and scrutinised before being issued to customers.


Value Pricing – in more detail

Value pricing is named on the basis of the value perceived by the customer. We have all been customers and have our own perception of value, therefore the price we are prepared to pay before we’re told what it is – for a product or professional service. If we regularly go to the cinema, we ‘value’ it at £7.50 – £12 a ticket. If we go to a very nice and posh cinema we may increase that value perception to £20. If we went to a brand new cinema and they asked for £475 per ticket – would we accept it, graciously? Maybe we would if we had money to spare and it happened to be the world’s first fully-immersive 4D experience. Realistically, we won’t accept such a high price – we would simply leave, go to another cinema, tell our friends and family and never return.

The art with value pricing, therefore, is to understand the market and to set a price that is commensurate with the customer’s perception of value.

Value pricing is orchestrated for new products or services in one of two ways:

  1. From first principles; or
  2. Following a critical review of detailed (perhaps absorption) cost and price calculation

First principles are consumer analysis, market research, professional judgement, and historical trends of current similar products/services. Simply speaking with and asking your customer about their value-view is advisable. By analysing a number of opinions and data sources a logical value price can be set.

When a detailed cost and price has been calculated a value price can be adopted as an over-ride. In other words, a total price can be broken down into sub-components and sold at discrete value-prices, to make up the same overall total. As an example, imagine a customer wanting three houses to be built on the same site; one small, one medium and one large. The prices in order to recover costs may not align to a value-view, but can be over-ridden to align and secure the work:

value-vs-absorption 3

The detailed cost and price is such that there isn’t much difference between small, medium and large as the marginal costs between each is small. However, a value-view would have much greater difference between the sizes.

If the detailed cost and price approach were to be put forward then the customer would not accept the offer and go elsewhere. This is because the small house would be seen as too expensive. If, however, the value-presentation were put forward then the work would be awarded. The contract values are the same either way. The downside here is that cash flow may be negative for a period and therefore you would hold an additional cost of capital for a duration. This could be added to the price, however.

Client budgets can be problematic in that although the customer may agree that the value of a product or service is above the available budget they simply can’t afford what is on offer. In these scenarios companies need to think hard about whether they will continue to try to sell to the customer or innovate to supply something of lesser value at a lower cost, provided the customer’s requirements are still met.

If Value pricing is to be adopted and it is expected to lead to low or insufficient levels of cost recovery then a business decision needs to be made as to how the company can lower costs to deliver and make money.


Absorption Pricing – in more detail

Absorption pricing is found more in large organisations bidding for high cost / high risk work and to tight contractual rules such as firm fixed price (a price that is quoted and does not change for long periods of time, sometimes ten years or more) and engineering & construction contracts such as NEC3 Options A to E.

Subject to whether the customer takes the risk of cost inflation, foreign exchange or delivery risk and what binding contracts may say about punitive charges for late or sub-quality delivery (eg: liquidated damages, service credits, bonds/bank guarantees, etc.) an absorption price model will consist of some or all of the items shown below:

value-vs-absorption 4

A price is modelled / calculated to absorb all the various elements of cost, risk and gross margin and is a function of how accurate each component part has been monetised. Each component will be influenced by the quality-level of the underlying solution (product, service or project plan) and will change as the solution changes. For absorption pricing professional services, there is an additional consideration termed ‘utilisation‘ – this is an adjustment to account for how much a fee-earning “billable” member of staff could bill to a customer on a time basis versus how much time they actually spend as a cost to the supplier: for example if a member of staff costs the company £100 per day and spends a full 5 day week working for a customer but can only bill 3 days per week then the daily price to the customer would need to recover £100 x 5 / 3 = £167 per day, not £100 per day.

Absorption pricing can descend into a catch-all of as much cost and contingency as can be thought of. Whilst absorption pricing is good at alleviating fears of not making money, giving certainty that risks have sufficient contingency set aside and giving hope of yielding bumper profits, it is weak in that it can form and reinforce prices to be far too high, resulting in losing work. It can also become an entrenched way to over-price again and again if left unchecked; the assumption being that the customer is the silly one and in fact it is their loss. Preparing models early and analysing them against the Win Price – seeking to lower content to get to or below the Win Price – will mitigate this.


Which to choose?

Both. By undertaking value and absorption pricing in parallel you can understand how your price is likely to be received by the customer, a ‘dry run’ if you like. You can also comprehend by how much your absorption calculations need to come down by so that the resultant price is the same (or better than) the value price.

Doing both can be hampered by the amount of time available. It is not likely that there will be enough time to look at both a value and an absorption pricing approach. That said, the best idea is to look at both and work to get them to reconcile. A method to do this is to articulate the value price across the “building-blocks” (content) of an absorption price and then track how the detailed absorption price matches each block via gap analysis. Any major differences can be addressed on a case-by-case basis.