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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
retention.
  
   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 recruits


   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
situations.
  
   2. Foster an open
and honest dialogue about
what the firm can and
can’t offer


   Alongside
 
 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
firm.
  
   3. Don’t use
academic achievements as
a proxy of learning
ability


   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
‘crystallised
intelligence’. 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 style).
  
   4. Not all recruits
are the same


   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 well.
  
   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
consultants.
  
   6. Offer
opportunities for
secondments and career
breaks


   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
project-to-project 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.