There are probably two main reasons why you might be
contemplating moving into consultancy. The first is if you have a desire to
work independently, choose your own hours and experience new and diverse
challenges. The other is as a temporary measure to gain new skills to jack up
your career. Regardless of the reasons, consultancy work is likely to provide
experience and learning way beyond anything you will pick up on a training
Where do I start?
Principally, you need to have a firm understanding of why
you want to make the move into consulting. Is it to widen your experience or to
capitalise on particular expertise? Are you keen to vary your work or do you
want to consolidate existing knowledge and experience? Carry out research,
attend specialist events and talk to as many consultants as you can to work
How do I know if it
is right for me?
A consultant’s job is to effect significant business change,
and in today’s fast-paced business environments that usually means within short
time frames. As well as bringing new insight, you will need to be at ease with
making multiple decisions on the hoof and be able to quickly take stock of
ambiguous, sometimes difficult, situations and turn them around. Your clients
will expect to see the results of your solutions in measurable terms.
"Good consultants constantly think about the commercial
needs of their clients as well as the day-to-day practicalities. So if you
don’t have an interest in shaping or developing companies, then you’re not
suited to a career in consultancy," says Parimel
Patel, European talent acquisition specialist at Capital Consulting.
considerations are there?
To prosper as a consultant, you have to be able to market
your knowledge and skills. Even if you have highly sought after expertise and a
solid record of achievement, if you can’t back it up with a persuasive story
about your ability to deliver, you will risk losing work to rivals. Use your
network to drum up as much work as possible.
How should I manage
Fully understand the company you are working for. Study its
financial reports and business strategy to pinpoint its needs and where support
is lacking. Having a handle on organisational culture will inform you of how to
operate smartly within the company framework. For the relationship to succeed,
you need to establish that the company is strongly committed to the project.
Clarify goals and put down clear benchmarks for each stage. Agree on how frequently
you will communicate and start out with some short-term, achievable goals to
boost the morale of those involved.
What if I want to
start my own consultancy?
Managing and growing a business demands a certain kind of
flair as well as business management skills. Regular invoicing, payment
chasing, staying abreast of self-employment regulations and professional
indemnity insurance are just a few of the things you will have to become
familiar with. If you lack experience, consider attending seminars or a short
course to brush up your knowledge of running a business. It is highly likely at
some stage you will experience difficulties with cash flow and have to shoulder
a few hard knocks. So it is important to have a rainy day fund equal to at
least three months’ salary to see you through leaner times.
What if I want to
work with other consultants?
If your preferred route is to join an existing consultancy,
it will be seeking proof of your analytical skills, desire to learn,
self-motivation as well as your track record in implementation. "You need
to have something extra to offer that a company can’t easily get for itself and
be able to demonstrate the value of your work," says Patel.
What else do I need
To remain effective, you need to ensure your knowledge and
expertise is current so keep up-to-date with the latest management and HR
thinking by attending key seminars and conferences. Smart consultants will also
invest in extra training when necessary.
If you have chosen a period of consultancy to boost your
career path, ensure it is going to equip you with skills and experience that
can be leveraged in the future. Finally, if your intention is to return to an
in-house HR role, don’t leave it too long before moving back - four or five
years should be the maximum.
Where can I get more
– How to Succeed as an
Independent Consultant, Timothy RV Foster, Kogan
Page, £13.99, ISBN 0749438665
– Value-based Human
resource Strategy: Developing Your HR Consultancy Role, Tony Grundy &
Laura Brown, Butterworth Heinemann, £21.99, ISBN 0750657693
– Be A Successful
Consultant, Susan Nash, How To Books, £12.99, ISBN 185703807X
Institute of Management
If you only do five
1 Present a professional image
2 Learn how to analyse situations
3 Clarify goals and establish ground-rules
4 Build trust
5 Ensure your knowledge and expertise is up-to-date
Expert’s view: Parimal Patel on becoming an HR consultant
Parimal Patel is the European
talent acquisition specialist at Capital Consulting for Dun & Bradstreet.
He moved into talent acquisition consulting following a career in investment
banking and in-house HR roles at Goldman Sachs and Barclays Global.
Should you join a
company or set up on your own?
To set up on your own you must be an established expert in
your field and confident that there’s a gap in the market for what you can
offer. Question yourself and your business model to be sure that this is what
you really want to do. Make sure that there is a genuine opportunity for you
and not just a gap in the market because no one wants to buy that particular
What key advice would
you offer any would-be consultant?
There are a huge variety of options, so be clear about what
it is that you want to achieve. Make sure that any role you consider will allow
you to gain the knowledge and experiences that you want to develop at this
stage of your career before you take the plunge.
What’s your personal
strategy for attracting business?
This means identifying the needs of the companies in the
sectors that you want to target. What are they doing wrong?
What could they be
doing better and how can you help?
You also need to gain the attention of the people that have
the power to buy your services. This can be achieved by demonstrating the
benefits that will result if they change their business approach with your
What HR skills are
presently most in demand?
The majority of organisations have either been too
conservative in their recruitment or made too many redundancies in recent
times. With the employment market now buoyant, a key priority for HR is talent
acquisition, to re-build the workforce.
Compensation and benefits, to ensure existing employees are
adequately compensated and less prone to leave the organisation are also
Lastly, organisational development is key
to ensure employees are coping with change brought about by the rapid growth
that many organisations are now going through.