Monday, September 13, 2010

So you’d like to secure a new consulting job this Autumn?

Early in January this year, I made a series of predictions about the consulting industry that would impact those pursuing a career in consultancy this year. One of my strongest assertions was that “Changing jobs is probably your best chance of (securing) a decent pay hike in 2010”. As many readers have discovered for themselves these last months, the major firms have indeed been able to offer only meagre gains in pay – largely as a function of the continued downward pressure that continues to depress consulting daily fee rates. By contrast, consultants being poached by a competitor are finding that firms are willing to up the ante to attract those who can help fill the critical gaps appearing within their businesses.

Given that this assertion has proven to be true – and with the Consultancy Careers Fair now only a couple of weeks away – I thought I would provide updated guidance on the job opportunities out there in the consulting market and the actions that readers like you can take to maximise your chances of making a successful career switch.

Let me firstly comment on the sea change there has been in firms’ approach to hiring, which manifests itself in two key ways that should underpin your whole approach to getting hired this Autumn:

1) The candidate “Fit” being demanded by firms is now 95% rather than the 75% acceptable in boom years. That’s to say, the match between candidate CV and requirements profile must be almost perfect. The implication of this is perhaps counter-intuitive. Rather than applying to more jobs to ensure success, candidates should instead be cutting back on the number of applications made. The time saved should be invested in making utterly compelling applications for the handful of roles where there really is that genuine 95%+ fit between yourself and the employer requirement. These are the only ones worth the investment of your time and your emotional capital.

2) Clients are looking to make hires who will be immediately billable. Firms are very much recruiting for specific roles rather than undertaking generic hiring to achieve the growth of a practice. This is a market where you must sell how billable your skills are, rather than trying to “change career direction” or “reposition” yourself through a career move. As a consequence your efforts should be entirely focused on tracking down openings where you are a very billable prospective candidate, rather than making speculative applications to “the types of firms who employ people like me.” If there isn’t a specific billable opening that a firm is looking to fill, chances are nothing will come of an application in today’s climate – even if historically consultancies would have pounced on an applicant that looked “like a good fit for the firm.”

How to secure job interviews in today’s economic climate

It should be apparent from the above points that one of the secrets to securing a new role in this market is a devotion to tracking down and applying for a (small) selection of consulting roles for which you are genuinely a highly-qualified candidate – and ensuring you have positioned yourself as such.

By way of a checklist when job-hunting, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Are you restricting your applications on job boards to just those couple of roles where there is genuinely a strong fit between your experience profile and that being sought by the employer?

2. Having identified the handful of roles for which you are genuinely an ideal candidate, have you then taken the time to craft a tailored CV for each and every one of those applications? (Cautionary note: each employer is looking for a different balance of skills and experience, so the “one CV fits all” approach inevitably results in your application coming across as far less compelling when it hits the recruiter’s desk).

3. Are you working with some reputable recruitment agencies? It often comes as a surprise to candidates, but across our industry some 50%-60% of hires are still made via recruitment agencies – despite employers’ best efforts to hire direct and avoid the expense of recruitment agency fees. Indeed there is a “hidden market” of open consulting vacancies that you may simply never tap into if you have excluded agencies from your career change strategy.

4. Have you leveraged your personal network? One of the surest ways to make it to the interview rounds is to have had a recommendation from within the firm that you are a candidate the firm really should be interviewing. Networking with your contacts at firms may also uncover openings that have yet to be signed off, meaning you could be interviewed and could secure the role without it ever even going out to the market. Ask yourself – have you truthfully researched in depth which of your contacts could assist with an approach to the various firms you are considering applying to? Again – this comes down to putting your efforts into ensuring the quality rather than the quantity of your applications. (Cautionary note: I have yet to meet a candidate who is doing this with the rigour and thoroughness necessary to uncover all the opportunities in their network – so even if you’re an active networker there’s almost certainly lots of room for improvement).

The above list is not exhaustive, but should be enough to highlight the gulf between the actions of a regular consulting candidate and someone who is focused on uncovering and applying only to roles for which they are ideally suited. Make yourself one of the rarer candidates adopting a targeted approach like this and you’ll be well on your way to securing your next consulting role – and in all likelihood a decent pay hike too.

Tony Restell will be answering your questions live in the Top-Consultant Q&A area at this year’s Consultancy Careers Fair on 24th September. To register for your place do visit the Consultancy Careers Fair website today. Tony’s recent briefing on the state of the consulting hiring market and the practice areas with the greatest hiring demands can be watched on Youtube

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