HR careers: Switching from HR to management consulting

Management consultants help organisations to improve their performance, primarily through the analysis of existing business problems and development of plans for improvement. Organisations call on the services of management consultants for a number of reasons, including gaining external, objective advice and access to specialist expertise.

Due to their exposure to and relationships with numerous organisations, consulting firms are also said to be aware of best practice, which they can bring to the table on client engagements.

There are several reasons why HR professionals should be attracted to making the switch to management consultancy. First, practitioners are experiencing huge changes in HR departments, such as the introduction of shared service models, underpinned by leading edge HR technologies. These changes are taking HR performance to the next level and it is often management consultants who are key influencers in the decision-making and implementation process, articulating the business drivers behind the changes.

Many practitioners are excited to be part of this new HR world; others are fascinated by the business drivers behind the change, so much so that they consider moving into consulting themselves.

HR professionals might also be attracted by the sheer variety of challenging work experience which consulting can deliver, across different sectors, HR disciplines and countries, in a relatively short space of time.

Consulting can offer an accelerated learning opportunity which is appealing. Furthermore, the travel opportunities that it provides are a pull for some, presenting an opportunity to travel both nationally and internationally, and experience different cultures.

HR people are today often working in ever-changing environments which can stand them in good stead for a career in consulting; they can leverage this experience to good effect with clients. Having worked in HR previously, consultants can empathise with their clients and gain credibility for seeing things from the client’s point of view.

For example, a consultant who previously worked in an HR service centre and is now setting one up will be able to draw heavily on that experience. In fact, there are many similarities between the skills displayed by high performing HR practitioners and consultants, such as relationship-building, risk-management, change-handling and strategic contribution.

Consulting projects offer huge variety and time away from projects can also offer the opportunity to work on bids and the development of proposals which build commercial capability. Other equally beneficial activities might include contributing to a strategic white paper or presenting at a management conference.

By building relationships of trust with the client, a consultant can gain access to the client’s inner thoughts and plans, and become a trusted and valued business adviser. Relationship-building skills are important in the consulting organisation itself, helping consultants build their personal eminence and to get involved in the projects they want to work on.

So what is the next step for an HR practitioner considering consulting as a career?

  • Networking and speaking to those who have made the change
  • Working on projects within your organisation will help to build valuable skills and may bring you into contact with consultants
  • Think about the transferable skills that you can bring from HR
  • Work through some project case studies to prepare for the selection process

A useful reference point would also be the Management Consultancies Association, which is the representative body for UK management consulting firms.

It truly is hard to think of a career that offers the opportunity to make a real difference to such a variety of organisations and to continually be learning along the way. Put simply, the work opportunities on offer are unparalleled and at times quite exhilarating.

Nadir Rizvi is a management consultant within IBM Global Business Services. He made the switch from HR practitioner to consulting two years ago having previously worked in HR in the utilities and technology sectors.

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