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  February 2013   :  
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Huntswood: The state of the market - Q1 2013
Richard Stewart, managing director of Mindbench, offers six suggestions on how consulting firms can select, retain and motivate the best consulting candidates.
Going for growth in 2013: how build a strong consulting bench
   Some consulting firms
have been taking
advantage of the
economic environment to
strengthen their
businesses through
mergers and
acquisitions. While
firms may add specific
new capabilities through
acquisitions, it will
typically be through
hiring that most
consulting firms will
choose to build on their
core capabilities. As
the market and
opportunities for
candidates improve,
retention will become a
more pressing challenge
and firms will give
greater focus and
investment towards their
talent acquisition and
   Having specialised in
management consultancy
for 10 years, Mindbench
understands the
strategies that
different consulting
firms use to attract,
select and retain the
best candidates. We have
distilled six
suggestions on how
consulting firms can
select, retain and
motivate the best
consulting candidates:
   1. Take time to
get to know your
candidates and new

   It is important to
get to know the
personality and “soft
skills” of a new recruit
and for them to get to
know your firm and
evaluate whether or not
they fit. This is often
difficult to do through
a standard formal
interview process.
   We have seen some
strategy firms begin
with an “informal”
dinner before any
interviews are decided
upon. This has built
trust and interest,
which helps sustain
candidates through what
can be a long process.
Other firms have had a
dinner at the end of the
process, and this has
also paid dividends. It
also provides a useful
way for consulting firms
to see how candidates
handle more informal
   2. Foster an open
and honest dialogue
about what the firm can
 and can’t offer

understanding the
motivations of
candidates is a need to
be honest about what the
consultancy can offer.
   When hires don’t work
out it is typically
either because the
candidate is
underperforming or there
is a mismatch between
the candidate’s
underlying motivations
and aspirations and what
the consulting firm can
realistically deliver.
Some simple issues
around transport and
work flexibility need to
be fully explored.
Consulting firms need to
fairly represent (and
communicate via their
recruitment agents) the
travel flexibility which
is required from the
candidate. Sometimes
firms will
over-emphasise a
particular type of work
they do to get
candidates excited; this
can be
counter-productive if it
transpires that the
candidate does not enjoy
the main work of the
   3. Don’t use
academic achievements as
a proxy of learning

   Academic achievements
are a poor proxy for
learning ability. This
is because exams are
often effectively
‘memory tests’ for past
thinking and problem
solving, and so are what
we would call
Consulting firms often
use case studies to show
a candidate’s problem
solving ability (‘fluid
intelligence’) and we
recommend that clients
use some form of
aptitude testing to show
a candidate’s learning
capability (and
preferred learning
   4. Not all
recruits are the

   Too often, large
firms fail to identify
the potential stars from
their recruits and don’t
give them the support
and mentoring to
progress quickly in the
organisation. Large
management consultancies
hire hundreds of
 graduates. While they
will all contribute,
there is a smaller
number that will really
make a very significant
impact to the business
if they are developed
   5. Be a champion
of diversity and it will
pay dividends

   The ratio of men to
women in consulting
firms at entry level is
broadly equal across the
industry, but it is
widely known that the
percentage of women
falls dramatically after
manager grade. We have
seen some consulting
firms being successful
in requiring less travel
for mothers returning to
work, and providing
support and mentoring to
manager and senior
manager female
   6. Offer
opportunities for
secondments and career

   Many candidates say
that they leave
consulting firms to join
industry because they
want to have line
management experience,
P&L responsibility or to
make a longer term
impact, which they
cannot typically do
within the
matrix consulting
environment. Other
candidates want the
excitement of a
start-up, or to “give
something back” by
working in a charity or
social enterprise. It
has often puzzled me why
consulting firms don’t
offer these
opportunities to their
consultants via their
client networks. While
the loss of a good
consulting resource in
the short term may
result, this would
surely be better than
the alternative of many
consultants leaving
permanently to join
industry. We do see a
few consulting firms
embracing this approach,
however, and actively
encouraging their team
to take these
opportunities. The
approach enriches the
consultants’ experience,
enhances retention and
potentially builds
client relationships
further as well.
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