In this regular column, Devex’s career expert, Kate Warren, answers members’ questions about navigating a career in global development. Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have been approached by two different organizations working on a bid on a USAID project and they have both sent their letter of commitment.
Can I serve on the proposal as key personnel for the two different organizations, i.e., two different organizations, Firm A and Firm B, bidding for the same USAID project?
“Up for bid”
Dear “Up for bid,”
First of all, the fact that you are being approached by two different organizations means that you must have an impressive resume and reputation. So, congratulations on making it to the stage of your career where the jobs come looking for you!
There aren’t precise rules on this issue for USAID proposals and how you proceed will depend on a few factors.
A letter of commitment is a document a bidding organization will include with their proposal to demonstrate that you are committed and available for the position should they win the project. This is to avoid companies including the CVs of people who are not actually available — or worse, have never even consented to be included.
Often, letters of commitment will include an exclusivity clause whereby you state that you will not be included in any other organization's bid. Sometimes this is required in the request for proposal, but more often it is something the bidding organization wants as they would prefer you not to be on anyone else's bid. If they think you are the right candidate, they want to keep the competitive edge as being the only organization to have you on their team. This is especially the case when key personnel is part of how a proposal is scored and will factor into who wins.
Read more on USAID proposal staffing:
(Some organizations separate these into two letters: a letter of commitment they include in the proposal and a letter of exclusivity they use for their own purposes).
So, first, I would read the letters carefully to see if such an exclusivity clause is included. If there is such a requirement, I would recommend one of the following:
1. Let the bidding organizations know that you are not able to offer exclusivity as you have been approached by another firm. They can then choose to include you, minus the exclusivity clause and knowing you will also be on a competitor's bid, or may decide to no longer include you if you are not able to be exclusive.
How they proceed will depend on how critical they think you are to winning the bid and how many other potential candidates they have that could fill your space.
2. Choose which firm you think has the best chance of winning, and only commit to them. Here are some tips on how to decide between bidding organizations for USAID proposals.
If there is no exclusivity requirement in the letter, I would still caution proceeding with both organizations without being up front about the fact. Not disclosing your inclusion in another bid could be seen as nefarious or dishonest, which could jeopardize your chances of being hired if and when they do win, or them pulling your name from the proposal when they find out.
This is especially the case if you have been privy to sensitive information about their technical approach, budget or other key personnel that they fear you may share with their competitor.
In either case, I would suggest discussing this with your point of contact at each organization. What is best for you is to be included in both bids, increasing your chances of eventually working on the project. What is best for the bidding organization is having you only on their bid, increasing their chances of winning. It may take some negotiating to work out, but the fact that two firms are courting you indicates your leverage in setting the terms that work best for you.
Ultimately, what is best for the mission of USAID is to have the best people working on a project, regardless of the firm. I have seen a loosening of exclusivity requirements in recent years with USAID and their implementers and hope to see that trend continue.
Have you been approached by competing firms to be included on their bid? How did you handle it? Please leave your advice in the comments below.