Stories about Software


Get Hired without Process or Competition? Its Not as Hard as You Think

Some years back, I was eating lunch in a town-favorite, super casual hot dog place.  Wait, let me zoom out a bit.

I was doing an onsite consulting gig, as I was wont to do back then.  So, I was really busy, and on a brief lunch break.  My main goals, in priority order were:

  1. Zone out for 30 minutes and read random things on my phone.
  2. Eat a hot dog.

But then an email came in.  My phone buzzed, I glanced at it, sighed, and got out my laptop.

Helping When You Don’t Always Feel Like It

The email came from a person at the unique intersection of friend, colleague, and theoretical potential prospect.  His company had gotten an RFP for some application development work, and some firms had responded.

He was wondering if I could read through them and offer some thoughts.  You know, in an informal capacity.

Why me?  Well, I’ve written, contributed to, and reviewed more app dev proposals than I can count.

To be fair, I think all he was looking for was me to scan through them, and maybe offer a quick word or two about each.  Perhaps pick one that sounded the most promising.

But, anyone who follows this blog probably knows better.  Nobody will ever accuse me of that kind of brevity, in any situation.

With my laptop out, I read through each proposal.  I typed notes as I read, keeping an eye out for gotcha language, hand-waving, questionable provisions, good signs, and things warranting further clarification.

Taking the notes occupied my entire lunch break.  Synthesizing, summarizing, and making recommendations was how I spent dinner that night.

I sent the doc I’d written, called it a night, and got ready to work in the morning, feeling good that I’d done someone a favor.

Thanks and Then Silence until Non-Silence

The next day, I received a hearty thanks over email.  It was a nice note, and really all I expected or had reason to expect.  He asked for a quick glance, and I wrote a novella.

Then, I went back to my gig and lived my life.  I didn’t really think much about it at all.  Life was sufficiently busy that I didn’t even take the prospecting 101 step of following up with a “how did the RFP go” email to see if there was anything else I can do.

C’est la vie.

But some months later, my phone rang.  After some delays, they’d picked a vendor based on my recommendations and wondered if I could donate some time (billable, now) to reviewing the contract, negotiating, and helping frame the engagement.

I agreed.  Just like that, paid consulting work.

They didn’t issue an RFP for people to come negotiate or review RFPs.  There were no other candidates in the running for this work, no interviews, no nothing.  Just, “hey, Erik, can you help us — we’re happy to pay you.”

Building on Small Wins

It was a quick thing, if memory serves.  I want to say that it was less than a day, and all went well.

And then, it was the same sort of thing.  Mutual thanks, a day well spent, and life goes on.

And so it went for months, at least until the phone rang again.  This time, they were looking for a larger scope of advisory help managing the vendor relationship process.  And, once again, there was no RFP for this work, no competitors, and no interviews.  The only difference was that this was enough work to prompt me to put together a proposal with options and talk payment terms.

I’ve now engaged with this client several times over the years, each time with increasing scope and increasing trust.  I have to say, not a bad outcome for anyone.  And certainly worth sacrificing a half hour of zone-out phone time and eating a cold hot dog.

You Can Find Work without Interviews, Purchasing Departments or Competition

Why did I just treat you to this Dan-Brown-meets-conference-call-minutes vignette?  Well, because I just realized tonight that it rather simply illustrates the answer to a question/objection that readers pose to me all the time.

Erik, you talk about just getting work/job offers with no process and with no competition.  How is that possible for you?  And, even if it is possible for you, it can’t be possible for me.

My answer to that question often seems flippant to folks I talk to: just start helping people.  Forget about your skills, passions, preferences, etc.  Listen to other people, hear about their problems and pains, and see what you can do for them.

Now, did this story require me to have experience with RFPs and proposals?  Sure, of course.  But it didn’t require me to be a certified RFP expert or to have at least “12 years of proposal.”  It just required enough knowledge for me to be in a position to help.

Oh, and it required the willingness.  Instead of a lunch break, I helped someone for free, knowing full well that I might never realize a return on this social investment.  I’ve done a lot of favors over the years that haven’t gone anywhere.

Again, c’est la vie.

But I wanted to share this anecdote because it’s perhaps the purest, simplest example I can think of for how to bypass normal channels and just get to work: lead by helping, build on small wins, deliver on your commitments, and repeat.

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4 years ago

Part of the problem of course is getting to know people who have problems you can solve. If your whole network is other developers and recruiters you probably won’t find that many leads.

Erik Dietrich
Erik Dietrich
4 years ago
Reply to  Nils

Not for app dev anyway. You’d probably need to switch to offerings with a lower price point, especially for other developers.