7 Tips for Hiring Great Consultants

Back in April, I wrote about a consulting firm whose excellent service had earned it rave reviews from a client.

The secret to the firm’s success, it turned out, was pretty simple. Its consultants made sure they understood the client, they committed to the project, they kept their promises, and they followed up. In other words, that firm displayed a genuine commitment to excellence that can be hard to find.

So hard that some of our readers began to wonder how, if you wanted to build a similar consulting firm, you would go about finding the best, brightest, and most committed consultants.

Good question.

When I asked TEC’s HCM analyst Sherry Fox, she identified seven things you can do to start building a smart, committed talent pool for your consulting firm.

Make Your Objectives Crystal Clear

If you want to attract top-notch talent, you have to know what sets your firm apart from the competition. Is it world-class service? Niche technical expertise? Focus on a specific industry or type of company? Who is your ideal customer, and what do you offer that prospects can’t get elsewhere?

More importantly, you need to know what your firm stands for, and be able to articulate it clearly. The more you can paint an attractive and accurate picture of your company and its values, the easier it is for potential employees who share those values to imagine working with you.

Go with Who You Know (or Follow)

There’s a good chance that you already know and follow some likely candidates. Information technology (IT) consultants tend to move in the same professional circles, which makes social media networks the ideal place to start your candidate search. What your peers say and post in professional social media outlets will give you a good idea of whether they share your values.

Online social networks also provide an easy way to start a conversation about job opportunities at your firm, and gauge the interest of the people you want to hire. Even if you can’t lure them away just yet, they probably know, and can recommend, talented up-and-comers who would welcome the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a firm dedicated to providing top-quality service.

Find the Right Recruiter

When you’re ready to broaden your candidate search beyond your professional and social media circles, you’ll want to start working with a recruiter. But not all recruiting agencies are created equal.

Fox recommends seeking out agencies that specialize in IT consultants and independent contractors. Those agencies will be able to understand what type of candidate you’re looking to recruit, and tailor their searches accordingly. You’ll end up with a much more qualified shortlist of candidates to interview. The time savings alone justify the premium you pay for a specialized recruiting agency.

Avoid Job Boards

In a nutshell: you may get lucky searching career sites and job boards, but you’re casting a wide net. The time you spend sorting through stacks of résumés is better spent courting serious candidates that you identify through a more targeted search.

Expect Delays

Consulting relationships can be complex. If you’re trying to bring a seasoned consultant on board, you may find that this individual is caught up in a web of contractual obligations that you’ll need to untangle before he or she can join your firm.

For example, a database consultant Fox mentioned was subcontracted to do some work for a small consulting firm that was itself a subcontractor to a still larger consulting firm (got it?). When the larger firm wanted to hire the database consultant directly, it had to arrange to get him out of his contract with the smaller firm first.

Situations like these are common, and often easy to resolve. But they can take time. As you build your talent pool, prepare to smooth some ruffled feathers, do a bit of fancy legal footwork, and just plain be patient.

Make it Interesting

The conventional wisdom is that if you want to hire the best, you’re going to have to pay for it. And yes, competitive compensation packages should be standard at your firm. So should opportunities to do challenging work. But although those things will help you bring your dream team in the door, it’s the work environment that you create that keeps them there.

John Kohos, president of Montreal-based Guardian Microsystems says that he presents his company “. . . almost as a club with employees (and customers) as ‘members’. It’s an attractive culture for serious people who enjoy what they do. A place where they can laugh together while they ‘own’ the tasks that they do.”

That idea of ownership is worth highlighting. Smart, talented people bring good ideas to the table. Giving them the freedom and the support they need to see them through is another key to building a great talent pool.

Walk the Walk

In the end, the people you hire take their cues from you. At the firm I wrote about back in April, senior management gets deeply involved in client projects.

From understanding the client’s requirements to stepping in to sort out staffing and project management issues, the firm’s managers were 100% committed to delivering top-quality service. And that commitment showed in the client’s interaction with the firm’s other consultants.

In other words, live up to your corporate culture. And if you’ve hired the right people, they’ll live up to it too. Instead of simply making the same promises that other consulting firms make, you’ll be able to deliver on them.

And that pays dividends when your clients start talking about how great it was to work with you.
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