How to hire the best management consultants as a “corporate” employer.

For major corporates, be they in industry, commerce, or financial services, there are compelling reasons for hiring management consultants. The pace of change is accelerating and bringing consulting skills in the house can help a business stay ahead of the curve. Good consultants can be relevant across the enterprise, not just in the more traditional strategy or internal consulting teams.

However, while the option of a move “client-side” can indeed sometimes be appealing for a management consultant, the corporate employer should be aware that they are seeking to attract and hire candidates with a very different set of skills, motivators and career needs than the more traditional corporate functions of finance, HR, IT etc. Appealing to the best candidates, hiring the best candidates and keeping them requires a different approach.

Prism Executive Recruitment has considerable experience in this field. Here is our ten-point plan:

1. Do you really need a management consultant?

Management consultants are excited by innovation, change, variety, senior stakeholder management and really “making a difference” to an enterprise. The role being filled needs to offer most of these aspects now and, most importantly, for the foreseeable future. Consultants won’t want a job where in 12 months time it’s just “Business As Usual” (BAU) or change has stalled. Indeed BAU is a term of disdain used bcay many consultants! A frequent complaint from management consultants who have made the move and are now having second thoughts is that they were hired to act as “disruptive” change agents but there isn’t the will or (most importantly) enough executive-level backing and consensus to achieve this change.

2. Where can they go next?

Many management consultants are very ambitious. They accept that their route into corporate life may be via a consulting type role but they will want to be convinced that there is career progression. That could be into a more senior role in the same area or into another corporate function but it needs to be clearly moving the career forward and also positioning them for future growth. Ideally, an employer should be able to point to reassuring examples of other former consultants who have made similar moves into their business.

3. Colleagues

The best management consultants are humble and used to a role interacting with a wide range of people. That said they will also be used to working with and learning from very bright, fast track top performers and will need to be in an environment which has at least a sprinkling of these whom they may come across in their day to day work. Ideally, these may be people who can act as coaches and mentors too, as this will be important once they are on board. This is the norm in their current environment.

4. Management consultant candidate profile

Consider carefully what skills and experience are essential and which are simply icing on the cake. Many consulting skills are transferrable and a key one is the ability to pick things up quickly. Some specific experience, of course, maybe non-negotiable but for example, if an insurance company is hiring, is a deep knowledge of the industry essential and if so, why? Perhaps insights gained in other industries would have value, especially as the business is probably already full of insurance experts!

5. Candidate background

Top fast track MBAs who have gone to McKinsey/Bain/Boston Consulting Group etc. might have a fantastic CV but is that what is needed in this role? Can you attract them, can you afford them and can you keep them? Perhaps a more pragmatic option is called for.

6. Work-life balance

A tricky one. Consultants don’t want to be 9-5 and won’t thrive in such an environment. Consultants also rarely want to be desk-bound. Having said that one of the motivators for an industry move for many is to leave behind unsustainable hours and Monday to Friday travel, especially when families start coming into the picture. The key is for an employer to offer the right balance and flexibility.

7. Attracting management consultants

Whether hiring direct or via a recruiter, considerable care should go into the hooks required to appeal to a potential candidate in the first place. They will be busy, time-poor, probably not actively looking for a role and being pestered by recruiters and head-hunters all the time.

So why should they apply to an advertisement or respond to a voicemail/LinkedIn message/text? The answer is to ensure that the selling points of the role and move are readily discernible in a concise and compelling communication and, crucially, that there is a salary visible. This should be either a range or display the top of what the role can afford. Time pressured consultants will make assumptions about the importance of the role and quality of the employer from this information as well of course as deciding whether or not the salary is enough. Consultants will have heard plenty of horror stories about valuable time wasted in application processes that end up with irreconcilable salary gaps and will be anxious to avoid falling into the same trap.

8. Recruitment process

This is absolutely critical and offers the best scope to differentiate. Consider how to keep it short and punchy while still affording the time to evaluate properly the candidates and to give them in turn, the opportunity to be wowed by impressive senior leaders and stakeholders. Ideally, these should include a former consultant or two. In any event, it is essential that the candidate meets some of the people who will be decision-makers and influencers over their future career. Also, consider the option to have telephone discussions, Skype/other video calls and informal chats over a coffee to increase candidate buy-in and comfort, rather than limited to a traditional interview process.

9. Offer the right salary and package the first time

In some quarters there is a notion that consultants need to accept a reduction in salary in exchange for a better work-life balance and the opportunity for a new career. Unfortunately, consultants don’t see it that way and may indeed feel they need compensation for the risk they may believe they are taking. It is certainly Prism’s experience that upper quartile consultants rarely need to consider a step back in base salary and often have multiple offers to choose from. The good news is that consulting firms’ salaries have not changed much in recent years so the gap between the two worlds is much less than it used to be, but hiring the best consulting talent can require deep pockets.

It is essential that the offer made is the best possible: if an employer does so and then fails to land a great candidate then they will know they did all they could.

However, if they make a lower offer “because we can always go a bit higher if we need to” they may not have the opportunity to do so if the person accepts another offer or feels the relationship has been damaged by an attempt to get them “on the cheap”. Many candidates are very uncomfortable with salary negotiation.

10. Next steps when you have made an offer

A consulting firm will often fight tooth and nail to keep staff so be prepared for spirited attempts to persuade the preferred candidate to stay. Another reason not to cheese-pare with the offer. Once they are on board there needs to be a comprehensive and carefully considered onboarding and induction plan. Consultants are not prima donnas but will in the early days be sensitive to the possibility they’ve made a mistake so a well thought out transition is important. Consider appointing a formal or informal mentor fairly early on to act as a counsel and sounding board for the new hire during this critical period as well, of course, as helping once they are settled in.

A final point on hiring management consultants

Your usual recruiters, whether they are in-house, or external agencies and search firms, may be excellent but will be unlikely to have the expertise to successfully find the best talent for you from within this incredibly complex sector. In these situations, you need well-respected specialist management consultant recruiters who know the market and know how to attract the best candidates to your business.

If you would like to discuss how Prism could help you to find and secure your ideal management consultancy candidate looking for a move into industry, please contact Chris Sale, Managing Director, Prism Executive Recruitment on 0203 143 5926 or [email protected].

You can find more information on our recruitment solutions in our Client Services pages.


Corporate employers should be aware that management consultants have different skills, motivators and career needs than traditional functions. Specialist recruiters who understand this complex market can help attract the right management consultant.
Management consultants are excited by innovation, change, variety, senior stakeholder management and really “making a difference” to an enterprise. Consultants won’t want a job where in 12 months’ time it’s just "business as usual" or change has stalled.
Often a background in a well-known firm can help reassure an employer that the candidate has had sound training and experience as well as providing internal credibility with senior stakeholders. Much consulting experience is transferrable and broad skills may be invaluable in an internal role.
It is crucial to understand management consultants and both their job and career motivations. They will be busy, time-poor, possibly not actively looking for a role. For the best chance of success use a specialist recruiter that really knows this market.

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