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The Consultancy Growth Network

How to rise to the recruitment challenge

“You can’t get the staff these days!” is an all too familiar phrase and a topic that The Consultancy Growth Network’s members explored during our webinar, ‘Why is it so hard to hire great people into your consultancy?’

Caroline Boston, Managing Director of New Minds, a talent consultancy specialising in working with high growth consulting businesses, gave some great advice to our members at one of our events recently on what businesses need in place to hire talented consultants to grow their firm successfully.

Desperately seeking unicorns

To kick things off, Caroline unpicked why hiring great people in consulting can be so difficult. She shared the experiences of some of her clients who had engaged her to help them turn their recruitment fortunes (or lack of) around. Their challenges included the disproportionate amount of management time spent recruiting new team members, the disappointment when, at the end of a long process, someone rejected their offer, and the most common challenge of all: the belief that the perfect ‘unicorn’ candidate they were looking for simply didn’t exist.

Caroline explained why it is so important to get recruitment right, quoting Professor David Maister, the author of ‘Managing the Professional Services Firm’: “The ability to attract, develop, retain and deploy staff will be the single biggest determinant of a professional services firm’s competitive success.”

Your ability to recruit and retain people will be very closely linked to your ability to articulate a vision for your business

Caroline Boston

The fundamentals to successful hiring

Picture1 | The Consultancy Growth Network

During the session, Caroline took our members through each of the three key elements to a successful hire, explaining why the candidate experience is so important and why managing the entire recruitment process, end to end, is so crucial. 

Put simply, Caroline said to achieve success, you need to establish what you need, why people would want to work for you and how you’re going to make hiring decisions. “Your ability to recruit and retain people will be very closely linked to your ability to articulate a vision for your business, something that people want to be part of, something that becomes a common purpose for everyone in the team. Without those shared goals to work towards and to celebrate, my view is that it’s almost impossible to build a high performing team.” 

The opportunity to join a firm that’s on a growth journey and to have a personal impact on that journey is probably one of the main reasons consultants leave large firms and join somewhere smaller.

Caroline Boston

Before you recruit, you need clarity about both the roles that you’re hiring and where this fits within your organisation structure, so Caroline recommends that you take a structured approach, firstly thinking about the role itself, answering the following questions:

  • What is the essence of the job that needs to be done?
  • What do you expect the person to do in this role?
  • What responsibilities are they taking on?
  • What outcomes do you expect them to drive?

As part of this, you need to think about how you’re going to measure this and what you are prepared to pay someone to fill that role. The next step is to build the person specification, as Caroline said, “to fulfil this role, what experience, skills, behaviours does someone need to bring, and I would urge you not to make that a long wish list, but to think about the things that are genuinely essential for success in the role.”

In summary, you must design the job description and person specification documents at the very outset of the hiring process and before you start to then write an advert for the role.

When it comes to employee value proposition, think about why someone would want to work for you and articulate what makes you attractive to candidates. Caroline believes smaller consultancies, by their very nature, are in a great position to attract talent because of their agility by comparison to larger organisations: “I think the opportunity to join a firm that’s on a growth journey and to have a personal impact on that journey is probably one of the main reasons that consultants leave large firms and join somewhere smaller.”

This is also relevant when it comes to the recruitment process itself. “My experience of larger consulting firms, in particular, is that recruitment processes there can be lengthy, they’re quite admin heavy and quite remote, managed by somebody who’s not necessarily very close to the role that they’re recruiting for, so this feels like a massive opportunity for small companies to stand out at this point,” she said.

As part of the recruitment process, Caroline also highlighted that you need a good system for storing and managing applications, something that’s GDPR compliant, robust assessment and selection exercises that will enable you to identify high performing candidates, and that you should be assessing your online presence and the impression you are making. “Make sure that you have a great career page on your website,” she said, “because that career page will be the first thing that candidates go to check when they see an advert or get approached about a role, so that’s your chance to sell yourself to them.” 

So before you embark on any recruitment, ask yourself these three fundamental questions:

  • In what ways are you different from your competitors and the firms you’re hiring from?
  • Can you demonstrate that you thought about your employee value proposition and that you want to create a great working experience for your team?
  • Do you think actively about candidate experience and the fact that you’re selling this opportunity when you’re recruiting?

If you can nail down your assessment criteria, your core offering to employees, and put the necessary tools and communications in place, then you’re in a strong position to attract and retain talent.

​Caroline is one of The Consultancy Growth Network’s specialist advisors. She is available to answer questions from members about recruitment, resourcing and talent management via our online Slack community, at our online events and via telephone and email. You can find out more about Caroline on LinkedIn and more about New Minds via their website.

Article | People and talent

Written by

Ali El Moghraby

Head of Marketing

The Consultancy Growth Network