I don’t get to read this site often (too busy) but coming back to it I see there are a number of consistent themes and thought I might share my insight into some of these (hey, it’s Christmas, I’m feeling generous and it’s quiet in the office).
To give you an idea of where I’m coming from, I’ve worked in recruitment for 15 years, 10 years as a recruiter for various Consulting companies. This has included a niche ERP firm, Acn (I’ll give that employers name but for anonymity won’t reveal the rest), the “Advisory” practice of a Big 4 firm and 2 other major global full-service consulting companies. All of my employers have good and bad points. I've liked them all and have no axe to grind. I’ve recruited for Strats to SAP to SOX and everything in between. I started in recruitment agencies (I was young, forgive me!) so can shed some light on those as well from both sides – agent and client. Let’s start there:
First, don’t use them unless you have to! Network instead. It’s part of your job as a consultant so use it to find a job. Ask around amongst friends, colleagues, anyone about other possible employers and approach through them. You should get a more honest view of the potential employer and they should get a bonus to refer you in. If you really can’t find someone who works there then apply direct. Most firms advertise most roles on their website or just pick the phone up to the recruitment function. We like direct approaches (provided you have some relevant experience) as it shows you’re serious and we don’t have to pay agency fees!
If you do use agencies then again, ask around. There are several sharks/cowboys in the market (and I include some major brands in that category) but there are also lots of good ones. Just always remember that they are sales organisations who are motivated by making money. Very few genuinely care about your career. When you find a good one build a relationship with them and try and understand who they work with and which disciplines they cover. Don’t assume they are really close to their clients – many just have a contact and fire CV’s fairly randomly. You can check this out though by seeing how much they really know about the client they are representing to you. Don’t let them send your CV until you’re happy that they really know and work closely with their client. Agencies can only operate if you use them. They’re like gossip magazines. We all complain about them but they are only there because we keep buying them.
If you send a CV to an agency and don’t get a response – they can’t make money from you so you’re not suitable to their clients. I agree they should tell you and offer advise etc but they don’t because they don’t make money from it. Also, when you weren’t looking for a job, how many times did you take or return their calls? What goes around comes around.
I like to think most of my colleagues are professional and add value to the process but I know there are some more “administrative” recruiters out there. However, they are there for a reason. They are there to support the policies and processes of that business and by screening down the thousands of CV’s we get based on basic criteria. Sure we may ask what seem like dumb questions but we ask them for a reason. Just remember, even the worst recruiter is still a gate-keeper and decides whether the Hiring Manager sees your CV (or in most cases) whether you get another interview. So be nice, answer their questions and take them seriously. Also, there is a lot more than just your experience that decides if you are going to be successful with a firm and that’s what recruiters are looking for. Call it “cultural fit”, “profile”, “soft skills” whatever you like but they are equally as important as your experience in deciding whether you are right for and employer (and whether the employer is right for you!). If you’re rejected for any of these reasons it means you probably won’t like the culture, won’t progress, won’t be happy and this place isn’t the right employer for you. Accept it and find the right one (or sit on this site and moan as some people seem to).
Policies (minimum academic requirements etc)
The Big 4 and the big Strat houses have pretty strict criteria on these things. Whether you agree with it or not they work for them and they’ve been pretty successful so you can’t argue with it. Find out what the criteria are before you apply and target those firms that you fit. There are lots of consultancies that are more flexible about these things so approach them.
Again, mostly in the Big 4 or Strat houses, if you’re applying as an experienced hire you have to fit in to their career model and therefore you’re competing for promotion with their grad intake as they’ve progressed through the ranks. Most of these firms have pretty aggressive promotion expectations and if you haven’t advanced quickly elsewhere why would you suddenly start to with them? In places like Acn you’re expected to make Partner in 10-15 years from joining as a Grad (you do the math to work out the age range). Therefore if you’re way behind that profile, the chances are you won’t fit the model/culture. It’s not about age (legally we can’t discriminate on this) but it is about ambition, drive, motivation and achievement. It’s about how far you’ve progressed against your length of work experience.
They don’t have to be 2 pages but keep them as succinct as possible. Show your academics, your date of birth, previous employers (with dates), client/project experience (if you can’t use the client name give the industry and client size) and include your responsibilities on the project and the duration of your involvement. Don’t include “Personal Statements” – they just make us laugh as everyone is a “motivated, high achieving , team player” etc etc. I once saw one person who had “great attention to deteil” (sic)! Covering letters, keep them brief and to the point and cover anything not on the CV.
Read the job specs. Make sure you have the key skills. You don’t have to meet absolutely every criteria but you should have the core skills stated in the spec. I once had an application for a SAP Consultant job which started: “I’ve no idea what SAP is but I’d love to work in it”. That’s an extreme example but I do sometimes question the basic reading skills of some applicants when I see their CV compared to the role they’ve applied for! Also, whilst I believe you should always get a response to an application, I sometimes feel some people don’t even merit my time in hitting the reject button!
“Why do you want to work here?”
Have a good answer to this question. Genuinely and honestly. Don’t just tell us what you think we want to hear or tell us how great we are. Tell us why we are good for you and you are good for us. Do your research beforehand to find out the answers to those questions. It will also make it more likely you are applying to the right places and therefore saving everybody time.
No Consulting Experience
The more senior you are the more important previous consulting skills are. There’s lots more than functional experience to working in consulting. There’s business development, client management, project billing, resource management etc etc. If you’ve got deep technical/functional skills that’s great but it’s half the picture. I see a lot about “transferable skills” on this site. They’re great but consultancies clients pay their rates for the finished article, not to train up people. If you do have deep technical or functional skills then find the consultancies that value these most. That tends to be the niche players in that market.
Having an MBA does not make you a Strat consultant! In fact, unless you are graduating from one of the top business schools it probably hasn’t helped you at all unless you also have relevant experience (for which we would have hired you anyway). If you only have an MBA then apply through the MBA scheme not the experienced hire scheme and most of that is run through the business schools anyway. Also, have a good answer for “why did you do your MBA?” or “what value has your MBA added to your CV?” If you pause or hesitate we know the real answer is “about £20k to my salary” and that’s not a good answer.
Contractors vs Consultants
Contracting is not consulting. Contracting is selling yourself. Consulting is selling and delivering solutions. If you’ve gone contracting you’ve made your choice and don’t complain once you’re bored of this, your skill is no longer “hot” or you fancy re-training into another area. We know you’re looking for re-training/updating of skills and you’re more than likely to go off and sell that again once you’ve got it. We’re not stupid. One post I saw here was a contractor complaining they didn’t get responses for perm jobs and then when someone suggested their day rate was low they admitted that’s why they wanted to get into consulting, to understand how to sell at higher rates. No doubt to then go and cash in on this once they’d learnt it!
Apply through the grad scheme. You won’t be considered as an experienced hire unless you have at least 2 years relevant/valuable experience.
Language skills are important. I live in a country where I don’t speak and write the language fluently. I wouldn’t dream of applying for a job where I was expected to operate in that language until I was fluent. Also, get a visa. With a few minor exceptions of extremely rare skills the law and Home Office requirements make it expensive and complicated for us to sponsor visas, especially since the EU expanded and more skills are available there.
Well I think that about covers most of the consistent gripes I see on this site. The other thing I’d point out about this site is the major contributors seem to be the most cynical, negative contributors to it. Could there be a correlation between the fact they seem to spend a lot of time on this site rather than working and are generally moaning about poor salary reviews, appraisals etc? If you’re unhappy with your employer, find another one. If you’re unhappy with consulting go contracting or into banking for more money or into the Public Sector for work life balance. If you’re unhappy with what you do full stop, find something you love and go and try that.
Anyway, happy hunting, I hope this has helped. Sorry it has gone on so long, but hopefully it will also help me in the long run as well! I doubt I’ll get to look at this site again as every recruiter I know is expecting a very busy New Year so if you’re thinking of moving, that’s the time to do it.