A survey by Prism indicated that at any one time nearly 90% of management consultants are either actively or passively job hunting i.e. receptive to an approach. This figure is borne out by LinkedIn research.
Prism’s experience is that this remains true in both high-growth and recessionary markets.
There is an expectation that passive candidates, in particular, will be selective in their job search strategy. But often candidates apply to advertisements or respond to approaches without careful preparation.
There is a wealth of information on how to get a job including pre-interview preparation, CV preparation, job applications, and interview technique. However, it is the planning before that is often overlooked.
It is understandably easy to be reactive about a job you see advertised or are approached about (Great salary! Great company! Great role!). For the best career, you need to be both strategic (longer-term) and tactical (a structured job search with planning beforehand).
Whether you are receptive to a speculative approach, or ready to embark on an active job search, there are two important initial steps that will greatly improve your success:
- Consider your career and job search goals
- Develop a marketing plan to sell yourself to potential employers
Your career and job search strategy
Where do you want to be in 5, 10, 15 years’ time?
This matters regardless of whether you are a passive or active job seeker.
I call this the “life, the universe and everything” question. Start with a blank sheet of paper! It brings in your personal circumstances especially aspects like location, work/life balance, family as well as more obvious career stuff. A realistic end goal (even if the goal is high level and could take your career in different directions) is essential as every other decision should be linked to that.
In our busy lives and jobs, it is difficult to find time to consider the bigger picture. Also, in these changeable times with reducing job security, it is easy to query or even dismiss the value of thinking long-term.
But, career planning is essential and helps protect you from ill-considered job moves that risk undermining your real potential.
Why do you want a job move?
Regardless of whether you are a passive job seeker or out of work, it is important to be clear about what you are trying to achieve from a job move. This is crucial to your job search strategy.
It is tempting to look for a change if you feel you are in a rut without really examining your objectives. Are you seeking more money for example? Career advancement? Better work-life balance? It may be a combination of several different factors. It is helpful to weigh up the relative importance of these reasons in advance.
It’s axiomatic that the best time for a job move is when things are going well. You can judge opportunities on their merits, not because there’s a push factor. The worst time is when you hate your job/employer or are out of work. It is much more difficult to be objective and many roles can look great because you don’t want to believe they are not.
But it is still essential to keep in mind what an ideal role looks like.
My advice is always “if you were currently perfectly happy in a job, how would this role and company sound?”. Clearly, you may have to be pragmatic if you need a job, but it’s a useful reality check.
What aspects of a new job are important to you?
This will flow from the above two points. For example, an increase in salary may be your top priority. However, many other aspects are equally or more important. The size and type of organisation, culture with the firm, the sector, clients, type of work, career progression potential etc., all of which are relevant.
Being able to articulate to executive recruitment consultants and to potential employers what you want to achieve from your next job move will help you to answer typical interview questions such as:
- Why are you interested in this role?
- What do you want from your next job move?
- Why are you interested in working for XYZ Ltd?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
How flexible are you?
There is likely to be a requirement for some element of compromise with every job. However, it is helpful to have a clear idea of what you are prepared to be flexible on and to what extent. There may be some factors, for example, location or time spent away from home, which are non-negotiable and it is important to identify these from the outset.
The advantages of pre-application assessment of your goals are clear:
- Your skillset and career will be enhanced by each job on your CV
- You will save time by focusing only on jobs that meet your objectives
- You will perform better at interview
- The temptation to take the first (perhaps sub-optimal) job you are offered will be reduced
- As part of a structured plan, you’ll avoid the disastrous temptation of the counteroffer on your resignation
As part of reviewing your goals, you may decide to contact a trusted recruiter to talk through your aspirations and discuss what is possible with your skillset and experience in the current market. A good recruiter may be able to provide advice on salary expectations, skills required, timescale and can suggest other routes to explore for your search.
Preparing a personal marketing plan
People can be very thorough, informed and logical when researching and developing a market for their employer but less so with a rather more important product: themselves.
Many are employed in a bit of a niche. That can be a good thing because you can leverage (i.e. be paid more for/operate in a more senior role) your expertise. It particularly applies to management consultants who of course earn money for their employer because of this depth of knowledge.
However, it could mean the core market for these skills is perhaps no more than a couple of dozen potential employers. In some cases, the primary potential targets may be a handful of firms.
So a good general sense of the things that are important to you in your role and career isn’t enough. You can’t just wait for management consulting jobs to turn up. You now need to evaluate specific targets.
Identify and approach potential employers
This will involve using your great market knowledge to consider all angles depending on your overall aims including:
- suppliers to your current employer
- buyers of services from your current employer
This will enable you to draw up a list of target potential employers.
For each target fully research and decide the best way in. If you have contacts with the firm, then that’s perfect. Possibly as sources of intelligence but ideally as influencers and people who will recommend you.
Alternatively, do you know people who used to work for the firm or otherwise appear well-connected with the employer?
Other options are speculative approaches to someone you might identify as a relevant decision-maker:
- Use LinkedIn and see if you can find points in common or otherwise an angle rather than just “got a job?”
- You can consider in-house recruiters. But be aware that they may be inundated with applicants and may be tactical. For example, they may only match you against active internal job specs.
Develop and review your network of contacts to enable you to hear of opportunities. Use LinkedIn to the full. Attend industry events or relevant networking events to expand your professional circle. Our survey suggested 77% of respondents viewed their own network as the most successful route for job searching.
Recruitment and Search firms
Last but not least, consider management consultancy recruitment agencies and search firms. On the plus side, a good recruiter will know their client inside out and be very well-positioned to help lubricate the process and coach you. They may indeed be highly valued by a decision-maker in the employer and viewed as a source of good talent and good screening.
On the flip side, they charge your potential employer a fee. This means that they are generally used by an employer seeking something specific or who needs a round peg for a round hole. So not so good if you are looking for a career change or some other sideways move.
Also be careful to gauge the nature of their relationship with a stated employer and whether there is a specific vacancy before giving your agreement to representing you. It is not unknown for agencies to overstate this, which may blow your chances if the employer is frightened by the thought of a big bill. Be wary of phrases like “I’ll check with my client”. This often means they’ll send your CV so be crystal clear with the recruiter whether you do or do not want them to send a CV. If in doubt at all confirm in writing/email either way.
If there are only, for example, six employers on your “primary list” having one blocked by a disingenuous recruitment agency is a disaster so be cautious.
Making the job search strategy structured by analysing your goals and formulating a marketing plan in this fashion doesn’t mean being blind to other great options. However, it will optimise your job search. It will also allow you to consider how a specific job would add value to your CV, career and skillset.
By reviewing available jobs (both with the organisations you have identified and more generally) to see how closely they meet your search criteria will help ensure your next role is the best you can get in the market and with the employer best suited to your skills, experience and career goals.
Once you have examined your motives for a job move and have a clear idea of what is important in your next role, you can be in full control of your job search going forward.
A note of caution: ideally the “approaches” phase of the marketing plan would be done in a market where people are receptive and not distracted e.g. August or Christmas.
Looking for more information?
We have information and guides website to help with your job search including: