The Ever-Interesting world of RFP Writing: A Recruiter's Perspective

I think it’s a fairly well-known fact that the market for RFP Writers is, at best, and especially at the moment, a tricky place to navigate for any recruiter and their clients. There are a number of factors that have caused this to be the case, and in this short blog we’re going to have a brief look into the two main issues and what hiring managers can do when they have a gap in their RFP teams.

So, let’s start at the top……

What is RFP Writing?

Wikipedia’s definition of an RFP is as follows: A request for proposal (RFP) is a document that solicits proposal, often made through a bidding process, by an agency or company interested in procurement of a commodity, service, or valuable asset, to potential suppliers to submit business proposals. It is submitted early in the procurement cycle, either at the preliminary study, or procurement stage.

What this means very simply in terms of asset management is that a client or potential client will enquire about certain products or services for a potential investment opportunity to the sales team. The RFP team will the collect data from various data points regarding that particular product or service and present it in the form of an understandable and digestible document that the sales team will then present to the client.

There are slight nuances around the presentation and format of this data that will be picked up by the marketing team but, in essence, the purpose is to prepare a document that outlines the information surrounding a client request.

Hence RFP: Request For Proposal (information).

Salary

This is the big one, and by far the most common issue we face as recruiters when taking on a new RFP role. Client expectation vs candidate availability is a long way out of sync, more so than any other area we recruit for as a business. The biggest request we get for an RFP Writer is ‘1-3 years’ experience within a similar position. Budget: £30-40k.’ In layman’s terms, this is saying ‘for a year’s experience we will pay £30k; for 3 years’ experience we will pay £40k.’

Sounds simple.

But unfortunately, it’s not as straightforward as that. Entry-level positions into any area of asset management now start at between £28-32k, so straightaway you can see a problem forming. Then, and most crucially, there is a serious misbalance in the industry pay for RFP Writers in terms of their experience. That’s because a few years ago certain firms started paying vast sums of money to attract the best writers around and this seriously inflated the market as competitors had to up their salaries or risk losing people, thus incurring significant additional hiring costs to replace them. This unnatural inflation has, over time, started to fall back into alignment and, interestingly, is actually less of an issue the bigger you go in terms of salary/experience (but we’ll get to that in a bit). What this means is that an RFP Writer with 1 years’ solid, direct RFP Writing experience (from within asset manager and with nothing else by way of industry experience) will be marketing themselves at £40k minimum. And believe me, someone will hire them!

Candidate Quality

This doesn’t necessarily refer to the candidate’s ability to do the job, but rather their motivation to do it. It’s no secret that most RFP Writers with more than a few years’ experience don’t want to move into a like-for-like position; they want to transition into either Investment Writing, or become more of a Product Specialist.

Then there are those that are what you could call career RFP Writers. These are the senior and experienced writers that have 8+ years of direct writing experience. As a client, if you’ve got £75-80k to play with then great, you might get lucky and snap one up. But on the whole, these people are only looking to move into a management position, where they can run a team and don’t have to get involved as much in the day-to-day actual writing of the RFP’s. Due to this, a client has to bear in mind that there are candidates at all levels that will happily move. However, their motivations are (usually) purely monetary, which can then pose a different problem for you and your client: longevity. After all, what’s to stop them moving on from your client to go somewhere else after a year for more money? The candidates willing to do this do tend to be widely known in the market so are often avoided for this very reason.

In these two areas alone, we’ve already begun to see what a minefield this area of the market can be.

But fear not client! It’s not all doom and gloom!

The above are broad generalisations and, as with anything, there are always exceptions to the rule. There are candidates in the market that don’t fall into these stereotypes, and whilst they are few in number, they do exist. You just need to know where to look (hint hint… ask me). Secondly, there are alternatives to looking at like-for-like RFP experience. These alternatives are being listened to more and more, and I’m pleased to say, they have been successful in many cases.

So here is my free advice to any firm looking for an alternative hire option for their RFP Team:

  1. Hire low. Graduates are a cost-effective option for this type of role. They can be taught the ins and outs of the position, and you could even open it up to those who graduated in disciplines outside of finance, English Language being the obvious example. They’ll come to the table as a blank slate that can be moulded into the company way of doing things from the outset.
  2.  Look at people from a fund data provider, maybe those in research or reporting. They’ll have a grasp of the industry and have office experience that a graduate wouldn’t, but without breaking the bank. Also, they’ll want to move into your business from that data provider side. A good few I know actually specifically want to be RFP Writers, so you’ll get someone who both wants to do the job and will do it for a decent length of time.
  3. If asset management experience is essential (i.e. the business can’t facilitate a period of training) then take someone from a marketing, sales support, or client operations background. Again, there are people that are out there in this space that would transition, and they’ll likely be a cheaper option than the equivalent experience within RFP Writing.

Hopefully this has shed some light on the joys of the RFP Writer market and what you can do to avoid certain common pitfalls when going to market with a vacancy.

For more advice on recruitment in the RFP market – or the asset management market generally – feel free to pop a message directly to samb@adidemconsulting.co.uk to arrange an informal chat around your hiring needs.

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