If you have ever asked this question in an interview, you are not alone! But that doesn’t make it a good question. In fact, it will probably get you canned answers, break rapport and you won’t actually learn anything useful. Try asking something about challenges and triumphs instead, and then listen for weaknesses as you define them. Weaknesses and strengths go together and may be mirror images of the same traits. They are certainly dependent on the situation and your personal experience and point of view.
The Financial Times published an article explaining how boutique consulting firms are encroaching on executive search firms’ business. While I think the executive search field has undergone dramatic change, this article avoids the most significant changes and does a mediocre job of proving its thesis.
What the article misses is the increasing professionalization and quality of internal recruiting groups. Given their access to technologies that help them identify and track candidates, as well as corporations hiring top recruiting firm alumni, these groups have become an integral and potent part of many organizations.
Still, there are some interesting insights.
First of all, the article begins with by stating that consulting firms placing candidates is new, but I have seen this for many years and they admit the same in their article. Some consulting firms include search as an unpaid, value-added part of their services. We have been engaged to conduct searches on behalf of our consulting clients, as well.
Nevertheless, most consulting firms won’t get into the search business as the article notes. Executive search companies will continue to get C-Suite searches and third party recruiting will continue. Still, recruiting firms’ ability to win searches is becoming more difficult due to the increasing effectiveness of internal recruiting groups.
Earlier this year, Flycast was engaged to conduct two searches by two separate management consulting firms at almost the exact same time; one for a Senior Manager level consultant and the other for an Associate Consultant with 2-3 years of experience. I turned to my best recruiter and announced, “The Senior Manager search will be tough, but the Associate COnsultants should be easy to recruit.” As the words left my lips, I felt a slight pang in my gut because I had a feeling I knew what was going to happen next. There is no such thing as an “easy search.”
I began seeing how difficult the Associate search was when the meager results from the first week’s recruiting appeared. By the end of the first month we had only one candidate for twice the effort that we would have normally extended. My 20 years of recruiting experience didn’t count for much in estimating the difficulty of this search, but we weren’t about to give up.
By the end of the second month, we had more than enough candidates, including two finalists, one of whom happily accepted an offer with the company. So, what changed in the course of the search that led to our success? Simple; we followed the data.
Many recruiters and recruiting trainers advocate searching for passive candidates using high-quality, low-volume outreach. They suggest a targeted approach, which emphasizes networking in order to recruit the best passive candidates. While that may have worked ten years ago, nowadays, we all have access to the same database of candidates. Yes, relationships and expertise matter, but increased volume will lead to increased yield with minimal, if any, decrease in quality.
In the course of our nightmare search, we were successful because we focused on candidate presentations. We believe that our system provides the best opportunity for management consulting firms to hire great candidates, but we are not so close-minded to think we have all the answers. Please let me know if your experiences disagree with our results. We have had great results, but I would still love to learn from you!
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Earlier this week, Huron announced their intention to acquire Threshold Consulting, Florida-based consultancy offering data warehouse development, management, and OLAP solutions. That makes Huron’s third acquisition this year. They also acquired Vonlay and The Frankel Group earlier this year. Clearly a company on the move!
This year’s consulting activity, which I outlined in an August report, got me thinking about the relative lack of attrition that we have seen in the wake of these transactions. As a recruiter, I remember how excited our team got when we heard the announcements of EDS’s acquisition of AT Kearney, IBM’s acquisition of PwC, and Cap Gemini’s acquisition of Ernst & Young to name a few. Granted, these were larger transactions, but it still seems that consulting firms have gotten better at integrating their new additions.
It would be great to hear an insider’s view, so if you have been involved in one of these transactions, please share your experiences!
A few years back, I heard a lot of complaining about the poor use of corporate career sites. That may have been true at the time, but the sites are definitely bouncing back and many of them can give us great ideas about how to organize our own recruiting efforts.
A couple of interesting trends are the rise of social media and career communities. It’s not all good news, but in this case Accenture offers an example of a career site that addresses the specific needs of experienced management consulting recruits. Here is our review:
The best elements:
Experienced hires are addressed separately from graduates: This eliminates a one size fits all approach, which usually defaults to junior consultants. This approach allows for different sales messages and a forum for addressing the specific concerns of experienced management consultants.
An overview of the recruiting process sets expectations. The site offers a high level overview of the hiring process, which includes a place to find opportunities, how to apply and who your main point of contact will be.
Accenture includes a section called “Your Career Coach,” which provides relevant advice in video and written form to establish a connection with the recruit. Much of this advice is not Accenture specific, which adds to the information’s credulity. It also gives a superficial sense of the company’s culture by allowing the viewer to see non-verbal cues in the videos.
It has a social capability, “Accenture Talent Connection.” I am not a member, so cannot comment on the quality, but the concept is great.
What could be improved:
Content could be more carefully selected. While much of the content is directed at experienced hires, some is awkwardly repurposed from the graduate hire site. Experienced hires do not need to know how to “Prepare for your career while you are studying,” or “Boost your employment chances with internships,” so it’s better to leave this kind of info out.
Make social more prominent. While Accenture offers social recruiting capability, this part of the site is not front and center. The blog does not include an icon to share on LinkedIn. It’s a relatively minor point, but if the blog can be shared easily on Facebook and Digg, it should also be sharable on the largest professional network, as well.
Finally, the look and feel could use an upgrade. It’s not bad, but could be refreshed by using more imagery, especially photos of Accenture consultants and could be organized a little more clearly.
Overall, Accenture does a good job. The site gets a B+ because the site provides allows experience consulting recruits to get a good sense of the company and what they can expect without having to try and pull this information from a site focused on students only.
I recently sat down with one of my management consulting firm clients, who began describing his firm by telling me what a great entrepreneurial culture they had. I nodded politely waiting for more, but the conversation shifted to a description of qualifications and responsibilities for an open position with his firm. I brought the discussion back to the topic of the firm’s entrepreneurial culture, but had some difficulty figuring out how I would represent this to an experienced consulting candidate. Finally, he told me the story of a consultant who was promoted within a year of hire based on his outstanding performance. This made the younger employee a peer of consultants many years his senior; an opportunity he never would have had with his previous employer. Now, that got my attention.
Almost every management consulting client who I have ever worked with describes their firm’s culture in glowing terms. It makes sense. Everyone wants to work with great people in a place that treats their employees as valued team members. But simply describing a firm’s culture is not enough. In order to be effective, a firm must describe itself in terms that are memorable, substantiated, consistent and repeatable. Uniqueness is also helpful, but not essential. Let’s look at each point in turn:
1) Memorable. People tie memories to emotions and generally remember only a few feelings and concepts. So choose one or two specific areas to emphasize, and work on the clarity and emotional content of your message. What your message says is less important than how you convey it. Focus on distilling your message rather than creating a long list of what makes your consulting firm special.
Examples of memorable messages include: deep industry focus, high-level client access, rapid advancement tracks, above-market compensation, recognized thought leadership, differentiated sales messages, a reliable sales platform, rapid expansion, interesting project work, deep client relationships, as well as unusual benefits such as stock options, paid sabbaticals, low travel, or charitable involvement.
2) Substantiated. Simply stating the benefits of joining your firm does not make your claims believable. You need to convey proof through your actions, true stories, and social proof. Your time is better spent considering how to demonstrate your claims, rather than considering how many great attributes your firm has.
You can substantiate claims about your company by highlighting your firm’s recognition or awards, thought leadership, success stories relayed verbally or on a website, depth of discussion on a topic, preparedness, and demonstrations of positive traits such as punctuality or preparedness.
3) Consistent and repeatable. A memorable, substantiated message must also be easily repeatable in order to make a strong impression on candidates and to enhance a company’s employment brand. A few simple bullet points discussed repeatedly in staff meetings or sent in reminder emails before an interview day will help you convey your intended message so that you can ensure that your organization is perceived in the way you would like. Consistency and repeatability also help you qualify candidates because they help you both understand how aligned your values are.
4) Uniqueness (possibly) – Uniqueness is a great attribute to have, so it is worth a mention, but it is not a critical selling point. There are many similarities among consulting firms and so differences between firms in a specific area are usually subtle. Memorable firms do not need to promote uniqueness, but they must communicate powerfully, consistently, and truthfully in order to be most effective.
The best experienced management consultants will have multiple career options, and will have the capacity to effectively evaluate your message. Identify your strongest messages by brainstorming a list of all the positive traits, refining them to one or two standouts, and providing as much verifiable evidence for your claims as possible.
A knowledgeable recruiter may offer essential guidance based on his understanding of what will resonate most powerfully in the market for consulting talent.
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When you want to win an NBA championship, are you more likely to try to recruit LeBron from the Miami Heat or search Akron, Ohio high schools for potential Rookies of the Year? This is the kind of question that HR executives must answer and then deliver on in order to function at their best. A BCG study tells us that recruiting has the highest business impact of any HR function.
John Sullivan, a recognized authority on human resources topics, explains that this fact can be difficult to discuss due to corporate politics. As a result, the business impact of recruiting that the BCG study reveals has been muted in most corporations. While the lack of attention to recruiting impact may be true in a broader sense, the management consulting field does a much better job of tracking and understanding how recruiting affects their businesses.
Most of my clients track interview-to-hire and time-to-hire statistics. They certainly calculate the margins generated by their billable hires, and many understand the hidden costs of hiring. Despite these strengths, management consulting firms can still learn about HR resource allocation fromJohn’s article.
I am a bit nervous about posting this and revealing the weaknesses of a friend. So I won’t name names, but do want to share an example of a surprisingly poor description of a management consulting role with a well-respected, global consulting firm. I offer my suggestions for improvement at the end:
Management Consulting Director – Strategy & Transformation (Healthcare)
• Lead key business development activities in the Healthcare industry related to Strategy & Transformation initiatives including targeting key C- level clients, proposing services and closing opportunities
• Drive C-Level growth strategy creation, market development identification and transformation execution
• Oversee highly skilled client and consulting firm’s work teams throughout the project lifecycle by leveraging our approaches and frameworks and helping to ensure timely execution of project deliverables
• Establish client value propositions that tie financial metrics (CFO focus areas) and clinical quality performance measures
• Participate in continual development and publication of thought leadership and service offerings
• Assist partners with practice administration including resource allocation, career development of staff, and other people management decisions
• Eight+ years of management consulting experience in the Healthcare industry providing Strategy & Transformation related advice and services to clients, including strategy planning/deployment, finance and risk management, operations transformation, systems integration and program development
• Bachelor s degree in finance, engineering, operations analysis, medical trachnology or a related field from an accredited college/university; MBA preferred
• Demonstrated ability to assess, improve, and execute post merger integration services across strategy, finance and operations in the Healthcare industry
• Demonstrated knowledge and experience with quality of care and cost of care strategies with payers or providers
• Knowledge of healthcare reform preferable
• Demonstrated experience developing relationships with senior clients in a professional services environment
• Excellent written and verbal communication, facilitation, and presentation skills
• Ability to travel at a significant level
Here is how I would fix this:
1. Start with a description of the consulting firm and all of the great selling points and awards that they have won. At their scale and level of success, they probably have a long list.
2. Follow with a description of the practice, including it’s current stage of growth and overall vision.
3. Make the career case by linking the vision to the growth path for the new hire. Optional: Give an indication of the rewards for success while describing the career case.
4. Describe the context of the responsibilities, not just list them. There is clearly a drive to grow this management consulting group, but what does the platform look like and what are some of the ideas that the practices leaders have for using it to grow the business. If this role depends strictly on the new hires connections, then it must be stated even though such a position won’t be as attractive. Beyond the primary responsibility of selling management consulting engagements, what is the context of the other responsibilities. A paragraph about the job would provide a lot more information to a potential candidate than a generic list.
5. The qualifications hint at the vision for the position. Through the qualifications section, I understand that the role focuses on post merger integration within the health insurance industry. The opportunity is driven by the Affordable Care Act and engagements are not specific functionally, and so I gather that they will be driven by the Director’s individual sales. Knowing about a specific initial project would be very helpful.
6. I would end with an appealing description of the growth potential afforded by the company.
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A few weeks ago, I sat in a meeting with a prospect who was interviewing a few firms to help him hire a team of management consultants. I asked the hiring manager what would make a candidate want to join his firm, and he was surprised to hear a question that no other recruiter had asked him. I was taken aback by his statement because it is hard to imagine conducting an effective search without being able to describe the career case to a potential hire. While this situation represents an extreme case, many consulting firms do not consider how they appear from a candidate’s perspective.
The career case connects the overall direction of the organization to the reason for hiring and subsequently to the growth path for the position. When you take the time to consider and clearly state what your firm has to offer, you will stand apart from consulting firms that concern themselves primarily with their own needs. In addition, you can use this information to screen candidates more effectively. If a candidate’s aspirations do not fit the career case, then no amount of skill or experience can create a good fit. Understanding this element will also help you predict whether or not a candidate will accept an offer, and if he will remain with you after the initial excitement of joining your company wears off.
Recruiters, hiring managers, and other interviewers all must understand and convey the career case to each candidate. A consistent message will impress candidates by transmitting stability and alignment.Hiring managers and other interviewers must understand the career case in order to adjust screening criteria not found in a position description. For example, the candidate with the best interview skills, but who does not fit the career case may not meet your needs as well as a candidate with less impressive interviewing skills, who will be more satisfied with the growth potential that your firm offers.
The answer to the question, “Why would a candidate want to take this position?” may be simple or complex. In the case of a contractor, for example, the response typically focuses on compensation and the nature and length of the project. It may have to do with the prospect of a full-time position or travel considerations, but there does not need to be a strong connection to the business vision. Recruiting an experienced management consultant, by contrast, requires the creation of a tight link between vision and career case in order to help candidates understand the growth path within your firm.
Your ability to clearly articulate the career case will also enhance your company’s employment brand.Your position descriptions, job postings, and discussions about your firm highlight your vision and display compassion for your staff based on your understanding of their needs. Regardless of which stage your search is in, keeping your firm’s career case in mind will help you maintain focus on your needs instead of overreacting to the various hurdles that you may face in your search.
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If you don’t know about Source for Consulting, a leading provider of research about the management consulting market, then be happy you found this post! There is simply no better place to find information on the management consulting field—and no, they are not paying me to say this. A recent webinar sponsored by Source described the immense growth of the US management consulting market over the past two years. It now stands at about $42B, with a growth rate in excess of 5%. This is huge, especially when we consider that the amount of growth in the US market equals the size of the total French consulting market. This means that struggle to recruit management consulting talent will intensify, with the largest pain- point at the mid-levels. If you are interested in more information, check out Fiona Czerniawska’s blog post; to get an even fuller picture, listen to the 30 minute recorded webinar.