- You’ve thought about your life and career goals and therefore what sort of job you will be seeking.
- Next, you’ve updated and honed your LinkedIn profile and CV
- Finally, you’ve produced a personal marketing plan.
So how do you land a great consulting job?
In our comprehensive guide we consider in turn the five main channels for finding a consultancy job:
- Direct approaches
- Applying to advertisements
- Placing your CV online
- Working with recruitment firms
This will be of course strongly influenced by the sort of job you are seeking. Indeed, this will make the difference between a highly targeted set of approaches to a small number of employers and a broader campaign.
For a more general search, particularly if you are very active in the job market, the primary aim is to increase your access to as large a range of relevant roles as possible. You can then decide whether to apply.
It may be stating the obvious but be under no illusion that it is primarily, at the first stage, a numbers game. This should not be at the expense of quality. However, by deploying a wide funnel you can then be as selective as you wish.
This stage will be time-consuming. If you are currently in a job you may not be able to cover all the bases all the time. Ensure you give yourself a structure and try to devote time to it. Perhaps little and often. Don’t let things drift.
If you are not currently working then as you have no doubt realised, the job search is a full-time job.
There are five main routes:
A Prism survey confirmed the old adage: it’s not what you know but who you know. This isn’t the “old boy network” of yesteryear! Simply that if you are more of a known quantity to an employer because they know you, or are recommended to you, or an existing employee speaks highly of you then the risky business of hiring becomes much easier. It’s also cheaper than using an agency or having to advertise a role.
In the survey, 77% cited their own network as the main channel for identifying job opportunities. I regularly speak to candidates who have built an entire career on approaching or being approached for jobs by people they know or used to work with: their network.
It doesn’t have to involve mysterious handshakes or turning up at conferences (remember them!) and handing out business cards. Nor does it mean lots of polite small talk. It can be as simple as “I used to work with Jo/Joe, I wonder where she/he is now?” or “XYZ looks like an interesting company and I see Jo/Joe works there too”. LinkedIn is perfect for this of course. It is another reason for keeping your LinkedIn profile up to date and optimised.
You then call/email/InMail (LinkedIn) Jo/Joe and ask if they are aware of any hiring.
Ask them explicitly whether you should send them your CV or is there someone else they recommend you approach? This gives them a bit of wiggle room if for any reason they are unsure about the fit! It also enables them to claim any introduction fee if their employer has a referral scheme.
Be aware that, unless they are the actual hiring manager, their influence might in fact be a bit limited. So cut them a bit of slack if the CV goes into a black hole or they are not overly responsive. You might not get a job but you don’t want to lose a contact or a friend too.
2. Direct approaches
While this may overlap with networking, your marketing plan or applying to job advertisements this category is a discrete and important activity in itself. It usually involves a speculative approach to an employer of interest.
This will involve research: why is the employer of interest to you? Why might you be of interest to them? Who is the best person to approach?
The approach itself should be to the most senior person with whom there is some element of engagement. Perhaps background or contacts in common, within your area of expertise. Ideally with someone a couple of levels more senior than you (if you can determine that). You also need a route in. This could be someone else (see above), a LinkedIn message, or an email address.
They are under no obligation to respond. Be clear on that! When people may be getting literally hundreds of emails a day it is not rude to ignore an unsolicited enquiry. If you get no reply follow up a week later with a VERY gentle chase. Surprise yourself with how nice you can be even though you are secretly a bit miffed. Again bear in mind you have approached them, unsolicited, asking a favour.
If you get no response a second time consider other routes into that employer. It’s not bad form to consider multiple avenues initially but could get a bit confusing. It could also look desperate and possibly irritate them when and if you’re found out.
I would not recommend a speculative approach to HR, recruitment or via “careers” on their website (unless for a specific job: see below). Typically:
a) they see a very large volume of CVs
b) they are very focused on filling active vacant roles and are measured on that
c) part of their role is to prevent line and hiring managers spending time looking at CVs so they won’t be in a hurry to forward your details.
Speculative CVs, no matter how good the candidate, do not feature high on their priorities.
3. Placing your CV online
There are many sites where you can upload your CV, often (but not always) job boards.
The primary purpose might be to make applying for a job easier for you but you can also allow recruiters to access your CV for which they will have paid a fee. This may be either as part of their advertisement purchase or as a separate package.
Some key tips:
- Ensure your profile on the job board is filled out correctly and kept up to date. An incorrect profile may form part of your application to an advertisement. Or it may be all an online CV reviewer sees, unless they choose to open your CV (which is more time consuming and may have a cost attached).
- Use your usual CV but bear in mind that, much like LinkedIn, you can’t tailor it for whoever might see it. Therefore it needs to be optimised and keyword rich for the main focus of your job search.
- Be cautious with what information is on the profile and CV. It is to all intents and purposes publicly available
Some would contend that your profile on LinkedIn is effectively your CV so some of these points apply to LinkedIn. Especially as you can in some cases apply to jobs on LinkedIn using your LinkedIn profile.
4. Applying to advertisements
Candidate feedback on this is unambiguous: the worst part of job hunting is applying to advertisements. It is however unavoidable.
There are very many job boards ( I include LinkedIn and Glassdoor in this category) and often they have the same jobs. This is because the employer may use several sites, the job boards may share (or “scrape”) each other’s advertisements and an employer may brief several agencies who each advertise the role. Some job boards feature their own advertisements from where you can apply. Others will direct you to another advertisement or to the employer or agency’s main site. It can get very confusing and wearing.
Despite my earlier comment about the breadth of opportunities to pick from, you may fairly early into your job search choose to cull some sites. Your selection of job boards will be based on how relevant they seem and how many roles appear to be exclusive. There is a faint risk of missing out on the perfect job but your sanity is probably more important.
i. Managing the application process
There are typically various methods of searching jobs and this varies from site to site. You will need to experiment to find which brings up the most relevant advertisements.
You can also register for job alerts, which can take some of the hard work out of searching job boards. However, these can be a crude tool. Care is needed in setting them up as well as deciding which sites to allow to message you.
Rigour and structure are of key importance to both enable you to cover the ground but also to avoid becoming unproductive. A spreadsheet is an essential tool and you should copy the URL of every job you apply to but consider a physical copy to file away too. If you are invited to an interview a few weeks after applying, the link to the job may no longer work.
In general, it’s fine to apply to multiple jobs with the same agency. You can’t always rely on them sharing information internally. However, you should be more cautious applying to multiple jobs with the same employer. If they ARE coordinated it may raise queries if you are applying to a variety of disparate roles. If they are NOT it may become awkward if you have job processes and interviews in place with more than one area. Should this happen it would be advisable to let them know.
ii. Things to avoid
We’ve already discussed what jobs you might be targeting. It may be worth also mentioning that you shouldn’t be applying to jobs where you don’t meet essential criteria. These are stated because the employer (and recruiter if relevant) has put thought and time into what candidate skills, qualifications and experience are required to be successful in the role.
They may be mistaken. Their requirements may be unreasonable or unrealistic. It may be that you can indeed do the job. But if you don’t meet the criteria don’t apply. It wastes your time, will probably make tailoring your CV (see below) impossible (too many applications), wastes their time and ultimately is demoralising for you.
They will not deviate from that view on receipt of a CV. It is possible they may be flexible if they have a candidate they know (see networking above) but they will not do so based on a CV application from an advertisement.
They will also not deviate if you call them and advise them that you have and ideal profile except that you are missing one of the essential criteria. They may be polite and ask you to send a CV but the result will be the same.
In a similar vein avoid calling to ask them for more detail about the role or “who is it?”. If they had been willing to provide more detail or tell you who their client was, they would have done so.
iii. So what should your application contain?
Exactly what is asked for: no more and no less. If a cover letter or email is not requested, then you don’t need to send one although a very brief note would do no harm. However unless they did ask for one, assume it may not be read so do not attempt to highlight your relevant skills in this cover letter or email.
If you believe you are a good fit for the role then make sure your CV makes that clear and that your skills and experience are easy to read, applying the Seven Second Rule. That may mean tailoring your CV: this is not cheating or fibbing. No CV can contain every detail of someone’s experience: you are simply ensuring that the relevant information is included and clear for the CV reviewer.
Tailoring your CV should take no more than 15 minutes: not all day! Much longer implies you are having to re-engineer the document extensively. This calls into question all the preparatory work you have done as well as whether you really are a good fit for the role. Furthermore, if one of the goals is to balance quality of applications with volume it is also probably unrealistic to spend more time than this.
iv. What next in the application process?
You may get an acknowledgment. You might get a further response but unfortunately for many largely poor and inexcusable reasons you may not. If you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks and it was a role you felt was a good bet it is worth attempting to chase the application by email or phone call if you can get a name. The likelihood is that someone relevant has indeed seen your CV and isn’t interested but it is possible they haven’t. The advice would be not to expend too much time and energy on this for that reason. “Don’t call us we’ll call you” is poor practice and unprofessional. Unfortunately it is the default for both many recruitment firm applications and also for employers.
If they are interested the next step will be some contact regarding a discussion. This might range from a quick chat to a full formal interview. In general, a recruitment firm might be the former and an employer the latter but it is best to avoid assumptions. It is worth asking if they could send a job spec or further information. You should also ask what to expect from the next stage and if it’s an interview Prism has much advice to offer.
5. Working with recruitment firms
It is important to keep in mind they charge employers a fee. This means the employer will typically use them to find people they can’t find themselves or don’t have the time and resources to do so. It also means that they expect the recruiter to earn that fee by finding and screening candidates close to the agreed candidate specification. So think “round pegs for round holes” for applications and approaches via this route.
i. How to select a recruiter
Recruitment firms are in two camps albeit with some overlap. Those that have a database of candidates and wish to add to it and those that do not.
The latter will include the major global search firms and some smaller executive recruiters. It will also include agencies that view LinkedIn as their database and those that mainly find candidates through advert responses and through searching CVs of candidates on job boards.
As a result, they may not be geared up to receiving speculative applications from candidates and may be unresponsive.
So yes, any recruiter should treat candidates well, yes they should be generous with advice, yes you might help them make a fee and yes you may be a client one day. But ultimately many recruiters are successful despite ignoring all those points so alas they do so.
Those that more overtly solicit candidates to register may be operating in a niche. This is perhaps where good candidates are in short supply or where there is value in building long-term relationships.
They are likely to be more welcoming of approaches from candidates within their market focus.
If you wish to register with recruiters, in general, it is best to start by approaching a small number of firms and then broaden out. It may be that one or two agencies are able to present you with a manageable number of relevant roles. More commonly, especially if they are small, operating in a specific niche or with a select range of clients they might only contact you more occasionally so you may end up widening the net.
Depending on how they work they may want to speak with you, meet with you or simply need confirmation from you. This would be to discuss the parameters are in your job search e.g. salary/employer/role/location etc.
It is worth emphasising the importance of selecting recruiters with a good reputation, especially for professionalism and integrity. Keep in mind that you are trusting them with confidential information and possibly with determining your next job. A poor recruiter or worse an unprofessional one can do untold damage. For example, sending a CV to an employer without the candidate’s permission is one of the worst practices but still widespread. You should make it very clear that you wish to be contacted before they send your CV to any of their clients.
So before you approach any recruiter whether to apply for a job or to register to do some basic research. Of course, try and get recommendations from colleagues and friends.
ii. Working with a recruiter
Hopefully having selected your chosen recruiter (s) you will have a pleasant experience!
A recruiter may be able to help you get a great job but keep at front of mind the thought that the employer pays the recruiter.
As a result, many recruitment consultants’ income and jobs depend on their meeting key metrics. The most obvious one is fee revenue (i.e. placing a candidate in a job) but others include the number of calls to candidates, the number of CVs sent and the number of interviews arranged. None of these necessarily mean a poor candidate experience but they can certainly make it difficult for a recruitment consultant to be entirely objective when they contact you about a job.
The essential information to gain when contacted by a recruiter about any vacancy is the name of the employer, the job title and some written information. This might ideally be a job spec or role brief. Alternatively, it might be the agency’s advertisement.
Be wary if they can’t give you much information or if they want a decision immediately e.g. during the telephone call. A good recruiter should be well briefed and willing to invest time in ensuring you are too. Also, they will have deadlines and time pressures but will respect your need to give a considered response. This is particularly if you feel you want further information or need to think about it.
Once you have decided you are interested you should also agree with what information they are to represent you with. Will it be your original CV? Do they want the latest version or a tailored version from you? What information will they pass to their client regarding your salary expectations and reason for seeking a move?
Finally, confirm with them the process: will they definitely be approaching their client on your behalf? When might they have feedback? What are the next steps after that? etc.
We have considered the five main routes for finding a great consultancy job: network, direct approach, advertisements, CV online and using a recruiter. You may decide to use all channels or just one or two. Using these tips, together with a lot of your time and hard work, will hopefully give you the best access to the job market and the best possible pipeline of opportunities.
After this, all being well, will be news of interviews and the next stage in your preparation and job hunt journey!