Four Misconceptions Consultants Hold About Recruiting

By J. James O’Malley, Managing Director at Stanton Chase, has been developing HR and talent acquisition solutions for global consulting firms (including Huron Consulting Group, Arthur Andersen, Deloitte and Lante) since the mid-90s. Jim has seen firsthand why consultants are frustrated by and don’t “get” recruiting. Based on his experience, he addresses four widely held misconceptions about recruitment below. It’s his intent to dispel these myths that consultants hold about recruiting while, at the same time, ensuring that recruiters who work for firms are free to do their jobs, which is hiring the “best and the brightest”.

Misconception 1: Recruiting is the responsibility of recruiters and HR – Wrong!

Recruiting is everyone’s responsibility...especially consultants. Are business developers responsible for a lack of sales in your firm? Is the marketing department at fault for the lack of a brand? Is accounting to blame for the lack of profitability? No - these are the responsibility of everyone you employ. Consulting is the business of consultants. When firms hire supporting roles to ‘support’ their business, they accept responsibility for the lack of success in all areas...including recruiting. Recruiters need to stop trying to please their consultants and work towards mutual respect and partnership. This is done most effectively when consultants are ACTIVELY involved in the process. What does this entail?

Sharing leads, information and research.

Telling their recruiting team when they have encountered someone in the market that they are interested in pursuing

Providing recruiters with access to their referral networks

Letting recruiters know when they attend conferences where they might encounter candidates and, even better yet,

Sharing the attendee list.

Misconception 2: Recruiters exist solely to alleviate the workload of our managers – Wrong!

I once had a senior partner say, “O’Malley, I can recruit consultants better, faster and cheaper than you. I just don’t have the time to do it. I told him, “Well, now that we have established why I am here, can you step aside and let me do my job!”Recruiters, stop trying to please. You over-commit and under-deliver way too much and too often. Don’t say you can recruit a strategy principal from XYZ firm when you have 20 other requisitions to manage. You are bogged down in meetings most of the time, make do with poor technology and then, when you finally break free and begin conducting interviews in the time that’s left, when will you find the time to actually “recruit”?

You should not be afraid to say “no” for fear of being replaced. You have a valuable skill set to manage the recruiting process - but you need to be realistic and set reasonable expectations with your internal clients. Establish a service level agreement so you and your partners can discuss what each should expect from the other, determine what is reasonable and set goals - not pipe dreams - of what can be accomplished.

Misconception 3: Recruiting is easy because consultants are dying to come work here – Wrong!

Consulting leaders often exhibit a (apologies to Kevin Costner) “We built it, now they will come” attitude assuming that consultants from other firms will line up at HR’s doors every time an opening is posted on a job board or communicated through LinkedIn. The reality is good consultants don’t have to look for a job, the job comes to them. Statistics show that experienced consultants have multiple opportunities presented to them even before they declare themselves active candidates. Finding true passive candidates is enormous challenge. It requires researching and knowing exactly who you are talking to prior to making first contact. All too often, an audit manager from a Big four CPA firm will get a call for the “great opportunity to do ERP implementation work”. Since a recruiter only has a brief moment to capture a consultant’s attention, the “recruiting pitch” must be well-targeted, succinct and compelling.

Think of it this way - the role of the hunter is to do the research, make the pitch and develop the interest in the candidate while at the same time assessing whether the individual is right for the role. The complementary role of the skinner is to move that candidate through the process, ensure he/she is assessed for cultural fit, behavioral traits, has the required technical skills, collect the paperwork, get them through their firms’ systems, make the offer and get them safely on-board. More than likely, recruiters try to do both although they require quite separate and distinct roles, not to mention personality traits - more often than not, a skinner doesn’t want to hunt!

Misconception 4: We have always done it this way so why change? – Wrong!

I am old enough to remember when the big consulting firms exclusively hired on campus. Hiring experienced talent was unheard of. Then, as the demand for consulting services expanded, firms realized they could not develop the consultants fast enough. So, as the business changed, guys like me were brought in to recruit experienced consultants to complement the campus recruitment model. Today, signaling another big change, more firms are hiring partners from outside of the firm. This would have never been considered in the days of my youth. Why the change? Well, new markets and new lines of business develop at breakneck speeds while, in contrast, it takes years to develop subject matter expertise. So, if you do not have that particular industry or subject matter expertise to compete, you need to venture outside and get it. So, what is wrong with this?

Well, along the way, consultants have forgotten how to hire for potential and train and develop talent. Outside of campus recruiting, they take on big risks because they almost exclusively recruit laterally, hiring managers, for instance, from another firm. In reality, however, successful managers at ABC firm usually have little appetite to make a move for the same title, same responsibility and a little more money. The crux of the problem is that when we lateral recruit, we often only manage to trade each other’s under-performers. So, if you need to hire a manager, senior manager or partner from another firm, forget postings and LinkedIn. The superior performers need to hunt. That’s what needs to change.

So, ask yourself whether your recruiters have the skills to do that AND whether you have the employer brand to make your firm distinctive and a more attractive place to work than your competitors. Start hiring for potential again, and build this model for your experienced recruiting efforts so now you have a game changer. If I’m a senior consultant looking to accelerate my career, I’ll be much more interested in entertain the opportunity (and risk) of going to another firm as a manager than as a senior consultant. The firm that is willing to make this change now to react to market conditions will win the war for top consulting talent!