George Mason University Proposal Managers’ Roundtable: Fall 2020

by Autumn Thompson

The Main Goals Behind This Year’s Roundtable

The annual fall GMU Proposal Managers’ Roundtable was hosted by Dr. Heidi Lawrence from the GMU English Department as a part of the English 489-509 course Proposal Writing and Development. The event was held on October 14.

The roundtable included six industry proposal writing guest speakers: Rebecca Laird, Neil Levine, Elizabeth Post, John Bowman, Len Miller, and Mary-Kate Kakar.  It was primarily an opportunity for students in English 489/509: Proposal Writing and Development to ask any questions that they might have about the proposal writing industry. Normally, the event would be held in person and everyone would have been sitting around a round table (hence the name) while enjoying refreshments offered by GMU. However, because of this year’s COVID-19 pandemic that made it unsafe to gather indoors, it was instead hosted via Zoom.

Top Takeaways for Students

The students were of both undergraduate and graduate level and consisted of a range of ages and experience levels with the proposal writing genre. To start off, the guests each talked a bit about themselves, and the floor was then opened up to students to ask questions. The following quotes are paraphrased and are each from different speakers.

Q: “Can you tell us about a typical day in your work life?”

  • “The writing skills that I’ve picked up over the years are absolutely critical. It’s one thing to communicate verbally and sell, but to be able to write it down so they understand and can agree with you and you can be persuasive…that’s what ultimately helps you close your deal.”
  • “For me as a consultant, it’s a lot of juggling…with the plates kind of spinning in the air and not letting any of them drop…and having my hands in multiple RFPs at one time.”

Q: “What do you wish you’d known about proposal writing or the proposal world at the beginning of your career?”

  • “I felt really overwhelmed in the beginning…I don’t think that this is quite a field that is advertised to college students, and I certainly didn’t know anything about it when I started. I wish I had kind of buckled down more to realize that I was actually going to really like this and was going to end up really enjoying it…If you really like that excitement of seeing something come together from just being this really great sales document, then this is really a great field to be in.”
  • “One of the things I wish I knew is not to take things too personally. If you’re working in a team environment, it’s not an attack on you, it’s to make the document better so you can all win, and then you all celebrate together.”
  • “One of the things I tell my teams is that if you want to be in the proposal area, you just have to seek out that criticism, because that’s how you win.”

Q: “What kind of info or abilities do you recommend emphasizing on a resume right now?”

  • “…Think about your resume and or your cover letter very much the way you respond to an RFP…When you look at most job recs, they’re going to have some key things that they’re looking for, and so you should set up your response very much from ‘you’ve asked for this, and I have that’”.
  • “Sometimes less is a little bit more. I’ve seen resumes come across to me that are just full of content and I have to be honest, it may not all get read the way you think it will…Just having something that is well-formatted and… responds to what they’re asking for, and maybe even has like a call-out box that has strengths that you want to highlight…that will really emphasize and help a resume appeal.”

Q: “What is the hardest part vs. the easiest part of being in your field?”

  • “I would say the easiest part for me personally is the amount of interaction with people and just processing with that and dealing with that. The other piece of that pie is that for me…I struggle with a lot of once I’m done with my clients, the work still goes on in that…non-illustrative format.”
  • “I think every proposal is kind of like a group project in college…My challenge is often incentivizing or convincing people who have other priorities and 40-hr work weeks to support me.”

Overall, this year’s Proposal Managers’ Roundtable was a success and everyone learned a lot of useful information to take with them into possible future jobs in the world of proposal writing!