This article has been repurposed from here and made even more relevant for active procurements right now.
Below, I answer common questions regarding the interview phase, including "Will they ask me clarifying questions about my proposal?" and "Is the interview the last stage in the RFP evaluation?"
It usually doesn't feel real until the interview date is set. Then, the clock starts ticking to get a few things in order. These are the standard considerations - formulated in question format - after receiving an interview date with a public agency:
- Could you identify the participants' names, titles, and associations with this procurement?
- Are you able to share the questions in advance?
- Will there be time allotted to asking [AGENCY X] questions?
- Is there anything you would like us to prepare? This could include a Powerpoint presentation, videos, etc.
The interview is not a guaranteed step in the chain of events. Bench contracts with larger agencies, for instance, will not likely lead to an interview.
So what are some general trends with interviews in the Fall 2022 procurement world?
RFP-inspired roundtable interviews happen via Zoom (usually) with a host and at least 2-3 others participating. Each are told to prepare a question and given time for follow up, if necessary.
Don't expect an icebreaker or chitchat, and don't bet on introductions beyond the participants' names and titles. You might have to add your intros in at the beginning of answering the first question. [This actually happened with a SoCal agency who jumped right into the "What makes you different?" question once the video feed was established]
This orderly Q&A format works best with ample (but concise) examples, anecdotes, and lessons learned, versus scripted statements about the greatness of your company, etc. Agencies want to hear about themselves, their pains, and how these will be solved. "Winning" at this phase is more about the purchaser seeing you (the vendor) as a likely face around City Hall, City Council, etc.
You can also bet on questions pertaining to contract management. Questions concerning how you manage a budget, timeline, contracts across several years, etc., are all on the table.
The simple rule for contract questions? Know the terms and use those specific terms in your answer(s). "We use this process for contracts with 3-year terms..." is better than "We have several contracts of varying term lengths."
Throughout my career, I've personally attended and led more than 100+ RFP interviews, and have helped businesses through 900 more (at least). Everyone has their own twist to preparation, including reading the RFP multiple times in the morning before the date/time.
I like to give preparation for the interview roughly three half-days. Time is divided into:
- Agency pulse finding (.5 days)
- Common questions I'll likely encounter (.5 days)
- Time for improving answers (.5 days)
Having a cluttered desk, mind, attendee list, too many differentiators you'd like them to know, or too much stimulation (people getting up from their chairs for introductions, etc.) should be avoided. Unless the RFP is related to staffing services, you only need two people maximum for an RFP interview.
Those two people slated for the interview should be driving the success of those prep days, making sure common questions are exhausted. Too much interference shifts the burden onto people not attending.
Some people outside of the C-suite feel lost or worried without a presentation to read, and some have terrible anxiety... If the format is conversational, then I would recommend prepping conversationally with multiple "trainers." Regardless of prep, you absolutely need people who can think on their feet and extinguish small fires with grace. Assume that competitors will have graceful C-suite people interviewing who have years of practice.
What (Probably) Won't Happen
There is a very low chance that the public agency interviewing you will ask about your proposal submission by page number or reference individual sections.
They will also be weary around definite dates, definite next steps, and may even tense up whenever these topics are spoken into existence. It's much better to communicate passion around next steps more broadly.
If you're in a marketing or visual media niche, or if you handle communications for public agencies in any capacity, them holding a webinar on branding guidelines would be best practice. Even so, they are unlikely to commit to such a webinar during the interview in fear of giving you notice that there will be a next phase at all.
In my eyes, the official last stage is whatever it took to get that first payment/reimbursement. Whether that's sending a catalog of concepts pre-Task Order or formalizing a list of goals in a Contract Vision Document, it really depends.
The interview is the merely the second dance in a lot of cases.
When you start to see the interview as a piece of the larger pie that entices the purchaser towards the 1st invoice, you'll start to approach it differently. In this way, your answers in the interview and during any follow-ups have the power to accelerate the award, especially when keywords like timeline, schedule, dates, etc. are used to get people thinking about alternative timelines other than their own.
Any Interview Prep Tools or Software?
The market is extremely segmented (which usually invites SaaS and other service add-ons), but currently, no tools outside of expertise and proper positioning / speaker readiness should be used.
So, no. Stick to the preparation section above and iterate after a few mock practices. That's the recommendation.