Several years ago, my friend “Mike” was desperately trying to find a new career, when a miracle seemed to land in his lap. “John,” a Fortune 50 vice president, expressed interest in Mike’s system.
Mike eagerly began developing a proposal, meeting John for lunch (I never asked who paid) and walking around with dollar signs dancing before his eyes. And we, his friends, were awed by the Big Name of his future client.
One day Mike called John to schedule another lunch meeting. A stranger answered.
“John? He just left. New job in another state. He liked you a lot but I’m afraid our needs have changed now.”
Mike’s heart sank to his knees. Then he called Sallie, a lawyer friend. “Charge the company for your R&D costs,” she advised. “Bring over your memos and I’ll give you a hand.”
You probably guessed where this story is going. No memos. Not a trace of evidence that he and John had ever discussed a proposal.
Companies often ask prospective employees for proposals and work products. Here are a few ways to avoid Mike’s experiences.
1. Ask at the outset, “Who will be the decision-maker? Who will sign off on this project? Who has hiring authority?”
“Harry” was reluctant to pose these questions. He was excited when a long job search seemed to be coming to a close. He had established terrific rapport with “Jed,” who would be his boss after he got the job. A mere formality, he was assured.
As always, I encouraged Harry to follow his instincts. No guideline works 100% of the time.
So after a pleasant dinner meeting with Jed, Harry apologetically asked who had the power to say yes. It turned out Harry couldn’t be hired until Jed’s boss returned from an overseas trip – six weeks from now, maybe longer. Harry began to pursue competing options aggressively and landed a different position well before the traveling decision-maker returned stateside.
2. Before investing more than an hour or two (and sometimes a minute or two), establish that your target client has allocated funds for whatever project you’re proposing.
“If we like your idea, we’ll find the money,” might as well be, “We’re bored and we’re looking at a lot of ideas.” Enough said.
3. Find ways to repackage your work product for future benefits.
Before you create a sample or demo, make sure you will own the rights to any product you create, unless you are hired or your work product is purchased directly. There is no excuse for accepting any other option.
Proposal rejected? You may have a product that you can sell on your own – or at least use to demonstrate your skills in future proposals. If you’re participating in a short-term project to showcase your abilities, make sure your work gets credited for your resume or portfolio.
4. Ask if you can submit samples of previous work rather than create new, customized proposals. After you’ve been in business awhile, you will probably work this way all the time.
For my own editing and writing clients, I offer lots of online samples – everything from press releases to published articles. I encourage new clients to hire me for a very small, low-risk project.
In my experience, successful businesses are comfortable working this way. They’ve budgeted funds for testing new resources and realize most will add some value. They’ve learned (through trial and error) how to reduce risk and anyway, they accept a reasonable cost of doing business. And it’s easy to give them a good product because they know how to ask for what they want.
5. Prepare for the best outcome – and be ready for surprises.
When you’re new to a business venture or career change, learn how the game is played. Ask experienced players how you can protect yourself from wasted effort. For instance, in some environments it is appropriate to ask if you’re competing against an internal candidate – a sign that you may be a token interviewee. And you may create an elaborate consulting proposal, only to learn your client will choose only resources who operate from a certain geographic base.
Finally, sometimes you have to set aside all these guidelines. Someone hands you the opportunity of a lifetime – if you’re willing to jump through some hoops and compete energetically against great odds. You may decide to limit your risk or skip the option altogether. Or you may decide to go for the gold now and live with the outcome. Here the only rule is information – then intuition.
For my job search guide, visit http://www.MidlifeCareerStrategy.com/searchbk.html