What it means to be staffed on a USAID proposal

USAID procures hygiene items for Ebola relief delivery. Photo by: Sarah McElroy / USAID / CC BY-NC

Perhaps one of the more unique aspects of hiring in the international development sector is the process of being staffed on a proposal.

Donors like the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.K. Department for International Development and the European Commission typically fund projects through an open procurement process. They will release a request for proposal — or a request for applications in the case of grants and cooperative agreements — and invite development organizations to submit a bid. Based on predetermined selection criteria, they will choose a winner who will receive the funding and implement the project.

One of the key components of a USAID proposal — and a significant factor when it comes to scoring the proposal to determine the winner — is the people who will actually work on the project.

Most organizations do not already have the exact staff to meet the unique requirements of each project, which call for professionals with a specific set of skills, language ability and country experience. Instead, they must go out and find the best candidates to help bolster their chance of winning the funding.

Particularly if you want to work on projects in program countries, you may be approached by an organization wanting to include you on their bid or find that you need to start marketing yourself to employers at the proposal stage to land a job.

Here are five things you should be aware of when it comes to being included as proposed staff on a USAID proposal.

1. How to spot a proposal position

If you scan the Devex job boards, or those of the organizations working with USAID, you may often see what looks like the same job being advertised by multiple employers. This is your first clue that it is not yet an existing position, but rather one on a proposal.

Not wanting to scare off potential candidates, many employers are not completely explicit in their job postings about the fact that a job is actually for a proposal. They prefer to use language like indicating that it is an opening for an “anticipated” or “forthcoming” project.

2. Key vs. non-key personnel

A USAID RFP may have anywhere from one to five or more positions classified as key personnel. These are the positions deemed most critical to the success of a project like a chief of party or director of finance and administration and require USAID’s approval before an implementer can staff them or replace them with a different candidate.

If you are named as key personnel in the proposal, you can be reasonably assured you will be offered the job if the organization wins. There are instances, however, when USAID will request that a candidate be replaced or when organizations will switch out a candidate after the award.

If the position is not considered key personnel, there is very little obligation from the employer to actually hire you for the job should they win the project.

This is usually the case for what is commonly called short-term technical expertise. Many proposals ask employers to demonstrate they have a roster of consultants with a wide range of technical expertise they can call upon for short-term needs. Many consultants say that they actually receive very little work this way, however.

3. Strict job requirements

Hiring for proposals is a different proposition than hiring for an actual project. For the latter, employers are looking for the best candidate to carry out the job. For the former, they are looking for the best candidate to win the job.

In most cases, the personnel job descriptions and requirements are already determined by USAID. If the implementer wants to submit a competitive proposal, they must stick to them. So if you are an otherwise excellent candidate but lack a required master’s degree or are a few years shy of the minimum years of experience requirement, there is little flexibility for the employer to consider you.

READ: How to overcome strict foreign aid job requirements

4. Letters of commitment and exclusivity

If you are being proposed as key personnel on a USAID proposal, chances are the employer will ask you to sign a letter of commitment or exclusivity, or both.

A letter of commitment is a statement confirming you will be available for the position if and when the organization receives the award, typically within a specific time frame, such as 30 days. Sometimes included in the same letter or as a separate document, a letter of exclusivity confirms your name will not appear on any other organization’s proposal. Since you will likely be privy to sensitive information regarding their proposal, and they will consider you as part of their competitive edge, bidders will want to make sure you are not making the same arrangements with their competitors.

These documents are not legally binding, but do demonstrate good faith that you actually are committed to serving on the project, and not just lending your name to help the organization win only to back out later (though this does still happen).

READ: What to do when asked to sign a letter of exclusivity

5. Salaries and benefits

For USAID proposals, you will be required to submit a 1420 biodata form where you must include your most recent three years work experience and salary. USAID will typically not allow a salary higher than 5-10 percent over your previous year’s salary, so there is little room for negotiation. Benefits and allowances like housing allowance, hazard pay and home leave adhere to USAID and U.S. State Department rates and regulations. You can use this link to view the allowances by location.

However, just because a benefit is allowed doesn’t automatically mean the employer will provide it. Make sure you and the employer are on the same page as to what allowances you will receive before you agree to be included in their bid. If you wait until after the award, there may not be budget set aside and you will have less leverage to negotiate.

Have you been included on a USAID proposal or with another donor like DfiD, World Bank, DFAT, or the European Commission? What was your experience and what questions do you have? Please leave your comments below.

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About the author

  • Kate Warren

    Kate Warren is Executive Vice President and resident talent and careers guru at Devex. With 15 years of global development recruitment experience advising international NGOs, consulting firms, and donor agencies, she has a finger on the pulse of hiring trends across the industry and insider knowledge on what it takes to break in.