Getting ahead of the recruitment curve—3 tips for consulting firms

written by
Fraser Moore
Aug 7, 2023
minutes read

We’ve been hearing a lot in recent months about the war for talent, and how instead of this being a temporary market condition, it’s increasingly becoming a new normal.  

If estimates are to be believed, the global talent shortage could be as much as 85 million people by 2030. That will make the kind of talent that consulting firms love to hire—technically adept, highly productive, keenly innovative, embracing new challenges—very hot property indeed.

One of the primary success factors for a growing consulting firm is its ability to attract and retain the best talent.  As clients demand more specialized expertise, innovative solutions, and demonstrable value for money, consulting firms must find ways to stay ahead of the recruitment curve to find the best candidates.  

So, what can you do about it?

For me, there are three key tenets to consider when formulating a talent attraction and recruitment strategy. These will give you the confidence that you’ll have the right people available when you need them to meet the growing demand from your clients for your services.

1: Cultivate a strong employer brand identity and stand out from the crowd

Building a successful company brand helps to position your firm in the market and drive new opportunities into the sales funnel—and it’s also at the heart of how your business presents itself in the eyes of the talent market.  

The relationship with employees is an intimate one (your people are an essential part of its DNA), and prospective talent is increasingly looking at different factors when considering the kind of organization they want to work for, as well as the kind of purposeful work it does alongside delivery of its core services.  

Not everyone enjoys killing themselves working 80 hours a week for the Big Four, and while consulting is undoubtedly a challenging sector to work in, how firms prevent employee burn-out and support mental health initiatives is a key consideration.  

A large proportion of the talent market you’ll want to tap into will be passive seekers, so allowing them to engage with your brand over a period of time establishes an important connection prior to engaging with them through a recruitment process.  

But what do you need to think about to develop a stand-out employee brand?

Showcase your company culture  

Ensuring you have a healthy organizational culture is underpinned by hiring the right talent for your business. You can showcase your firm's unique culture, values, and achievements through an engaging website, strong social media presence, and positive employee testimonials.  

A strong employer brand is a reflection of its culture. It isn’t something that can be imposed, but instead carefully and intentionally nurtured and protected. As the saying goes, one bad apple…

Demonstrate your company’s purpose

Be proud of the work you do. Highlighting successful projects, case studies, and client testimonials to demonstrate your company's purpose isn’t just marketing speak—it has real impact and credibility for its customers. Prospective employees are more likely to be drawn to a consulting firm with a track record of delivering outstanding results.

Candidates are also increasingly looking at a company’s reputation and its policies, such as diversity and inclusion; flexible/hybrid working; social, sustainability and environmental impact; corporate social responsibility and community contribution; in addition to the more traditional workplace culture and values. Having a clear and compelling position on these hot topics is a must in today’s market.

Leverage your employee experiences

There is no one better than your current crop of employees to highlight (through marketing, website, social channels) how your business helps them to maximize their potential.  

This helps prospective employees to imagine what it would be like to work in your business, and alongside leveraging employee advocacy for recommendations and referrals to foster trust in your brand, these can be key factors in influencing their decision to join.

Develop a compelling EVP

Craft a clear and compelling Employee Value Proposition that highlights why the best talent should choose your consulting firm. It’s important that your EVP attracts ambitious and driven candidates, isn’t purely remuneration driven, and showcases a challenging and rewarding role. This should incorporate engagement opportunities; continuous learning and development; personal growth and progression; and mentoring and coaching at all levels.  

A competitive remuneration package is obviously also an important factor, so do your research into relevant industry standards and salary benchmarks, and ensure your firm offers an enticing blend of competitive salary, performance-based incentives, and attractive benefits, as well as flexible working arrangements referenced above.

2: Streamline your recruitment process and be in “ready to go” mode

Many consulting firms struggle to avoid the peaks and troughs of consulting engagements as they switch modes between winning work and delivering what they have won. This can have a profound impact on business growth and make it really challenging to make hiring decisions as they grapple with fluctuations in consultant utilization and capacity.  So how can consulting firms ensure that they have access to the right resources at the right time?  

In today's highly competitive consulting job market, the best candidates will not hang around while you try and execute a lengthy and cumbersome recruitment process. It is essential to develop effective people strategies to prime your consultancy for growth and streamline your recruitment process to avoid delays, ensuring efficient, proactive, and positive communication with candidates to maintain their engagement and interest in your firm.  

Nobody wants to waste anyone else’s time, so finding ways to engage with candidates ahead of actually wanting to hire them can help facilitate and expedite the process.

“Always on” recruitment

One way to address these challenges is to adopt a continuous recruitment strategy. Whether you have an internal recruitment team or leverage 3rd party agencies, it is fundamental that they have a really deep understanding of the type of candidates that you are looking for.  

As well as be able to articulate the role, experience, skills and competencies required, it’s important to consider your ideal candidate profile that aligns to the culture and values of your organization. Once this is established, your recruiter can be proactively scanning the market for the type of candidate you would love to bring into your business.  

A softer introductory approach allows the candidate to become familiar with your brand while allowing you to build a relationship with them well ahead of when you might actually want to hire them.  

Once the recruiting part of the process starts in earnest, you should already have a cohort of pre-vetted, ideal candidates engaged and interested in joining your firm, giving both parties a greater chance of successful recruitment outcome.

Leverage a pool of trusted associates

Some skill requirements may only be temporary as they are very specialist and only required for one project. A surge in work may also be a temporary peak which won’t be sustained for the months ahead.  These are good reasons to consider leveraging an associate model to plug the skills or capacity gaps on an as needs or temporary basis.  

Of course, hiring associates can be more costly in the short term, but it’s a better strategy than over-hiring and then having to subsequently downsize the team later, or having someone with specialist skills underutilized as the business doesn’t have enough work that needs those skills to keep them busy.  

Building up a pool of trusted associates that the business can leverage as and when needed prevents poor resourcing decisions, project delays as new recruits are sourced, and consultants being overutilized for long periods of time, leading to burn-out and attrition.

Establishing other recruitment channels

In a highly competitive talent market, accessing the best candidates can start by forging strong relationships with universities to get dibs on fresh and upcoming talent. Engaging high performing students early and introducing them to the consulting profession and the great work that your business undertakes with its clients creates opportunities to identify potential future hires and establish your firm as an employer of choice.  

Keep in mind that your current employees are often the best advocates for your consulting firm. By implementing an employee referral program that incentivizes and rewards employees for referring potential candidates, you’ll open up a great recruitment channel. This also has the added benefit of identifying individuals who are more likely to align with the firm's values and culture by engaging directly through consultants already working in the business.

3: Closely manage your resource capacity vs demand and be smart about when you recruit

Data-driven decision-making has become an essential tool for businesses aiming to optimize growth strategies and stay ahead of the competition. Harnessing pipeline and revenue data effectively can help consulting firms can gain valuable insights into their performance, client needs, market trends, and future resourcing requirements.  

When combined with close and careful management of resource utilization, this data can provide invaluable insight when attempting to maintain the delicate balance of consultant resource capacity and client demands in order to optimize revenue generation and maximize profitability. Making hiring decisions too early or too late can have a profound impact on business performance, so getting this process right is critical to sustained growth and success.  

Centralize your data collection to enable real-time analytics

In order to get visibility of future resource demand, centralizing core processes and thereby the collection and presentation of key information enables better, more informed decision making when it comes to resourcing and recruitment decisions.  

Firms that have a centralized CRM + PSA ecosystem are more readily able to capture and analyze information about their sales pipeline, projected revenues, and forecast resource utilization to get an accurate picture of likely future resource demand.  

Implementing real-time data analytics enables a consulting firm to be agile and responsive to shifts in the market, respond quickly to emerging opportunities, and mitigate potential future risks in softer market conditions.

Know how to leverage your data to underpin your decision making

Analyzing past revenue data enables the identification of demand patterns and trends. By examining revenue growth over specific time periods, the impact of different services on revenue, and the contribution of key clients, these insights can guide strategic resourcing decisions, support resource allocation, and help provide insight into potential areas for expansion.  

Coupled with real-time analytics on future revenue projections, resource/skills demand and expected resource utilization, successful firms are able to accurately predict their future resourcing needs against their available capacity to identify the gaps and quickly action recruitment activities, ensuring the right resources are available when they are needed.

Pre-determining your triggers to hire

Activating the hiring process at the wrong time can be detrimental to the firm in a number of ways.  

Firstly, if the firm isn’t clear about the type of candidate it needs for the kind of work that they will deliver, or just don’t have enough upcoming work to keep them busy, then this can lead to low utilization and impact profitability.  

Secondly, it consumes a significant amount of time engaging recruiters, screening and interviewing candidates, taking references etc., including that of the candidates involved in the process. A poorly managed recruitment process can lead to potential reputation damage in the market if candidates feel their time has been wasted.  

It’s important to have a clear view as to the ideal candidate profile that the business is seeking, as well as being certain of the business conditions that need to be true in order to be confident in proceeding with the hiring process.  

Each business will be different, and the triggers may change over time, but setting target metrics around revenue forecast and resource utilization that underpin your hiring decisions will help prevent decision delay in recruiting or being too bold and hiring too far ahead of the demand curve.

Final thoughts  

Attracting the top talent is a crucial component of a consulting firm's success. In such a competitive market, finding any advantage to get ahead of the recruitment curve won’t just be the key to high performance and success, but potentially to survival for some firms as profit margins increasingly come under pressure.

By cultivating a strong employer brand, streamlining the recruitment process, and being able to predict future resource capacity and demand, consulting firms will be able to gain a real edge over their rivals when it comes to building high-performing teams, delivering outstanding results for their clients, and driving their own strategic growth ambitions.

About the author

Fraser Moore, Head of Consulting at CMap, has over 30 years' experience as a business leader in the consulting sector and is passionate about building successful, sustainable, and caring consulting organizations. Having implemented CMap at several businesses in the past 15 years, Fraser strives to help businesses achieve operational success and achieve strategic ambitions. Read more about Fraser's journey here.

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