By Tony Restell, Founding Director of Top-Consultant.com
So how bad have things got in the consulting recruitment space? In a nutshell I’d say they’ve been pretty atrocious of late – but I’d add that there are now an increasing number of reasons for optimism on the hiring front, which should hopefully spell good news for consulting candidates as we move into the second half of 2009.
In the 15-odd years I’ve been involved in the consulting industry, I’ve never seen hiring intentions as bleak as they’ve been in the last six months. It’s the paralysis more than anything that’s been devastating for those on the lookout for a new consulting job.
In the dot-com crunch earlier this decade, consulting firms were slow to appreciate that growth in demand for their services was faltering – and so aggressive hiring continued for a few months longer than it ought to have done. That was followed by a swift period of redress when mass culling of staff
brought consulting headcount back into line with the prevailing level of client demand. That made for some gruesome headlines at the time, but in reality hiring activity was only subdued for a short period while this rebalancing was taking place.
Fast-forward to the current crisis and what we’ve seen is a hesitancy to embark on recruitment that has dragged on and on for the best part of a year now. In fact, I can think of one big firm that initiated a recruitment freeze 18 months ago, more or less as soon as the Northern Rock collapse took place. Many firms – perhaps even the majority of the larger brands – have had some form of recruitment freeze or recruitment squeeze in place for much of the last nine to 12 months.
This has all stemmed from a fundamental lack of visibility as to the volumes of work that the firms might have in the months ahead. All the while, firms have seen order books shrinking and clients pushing out decision dates for potential new pieces of work. As a result there
has been a reluctance to hire resources who might ultimately be left sitting on the bench for several months. This has created the paralysis in recruitment that I referred to earlier. In many firms there’s been a desire to hire but not the conviction that hiring campaigns could yet be embarked upon. Where an ongoing shortage of client work has been pretty much certain – most notably in strategy consulting – I’ve heard of numerous firms that have essentially written off the prospects of any further recruitment in 2009. So things have been pretty bleak – and nowhere more so than in those strategy practices.
This is so far reading like a pretty gloomy assessment of where we’re at. It’s more accurately a pretty gloomy assessment of where we’ve been in the period since last autumn. For now we are starting to see definite signs that things have turned a corner (in the consulting market that is, rather than the broader economy).