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  Activity in management consultancy recruitment in North America is slowly but assuredly gathering pace.
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We are delighted to report that the consultancy industry is once again promoting a more diverse range of positions on Top-Consultant, from a wider range of consultancy firms than we have seen for some time. Click here for Top-Consultant's US recruitment pages. Though there remains a preponderance of demand in outsourcing and IT-related consulting recruitment and while top 'rainmakers' remain in short supply, there is an undoubted growth in other functional areas such as strategy and HR consulting.

Though the total recruitment market may experience only modest growth in the short-term, the inevitable dynamic change from a candidate-rich to a relatively candidate-poor environment will mean that the proportion of recruitment conducted through online channels will remain in the ascendancy. The Internet has made the job posting and job hunting processes in many ways more convenient and efficient enabling companies to expand geographical reach, identify suitable candidates, and to recruit them more quickly and at a lower cost per hire than ever before.

But it is this very upturn in the market that will present the greatest challenges to the online recruiter. As quality candidates become more elusive, the winners in the battle for talent are likely to be those firms that have absorbed the lessons of the downturn in how to best use the host of online resources at their disposal. The findings of the Top-Consultant 2004 Recruitment Channel Survey have been closely borne out by my own experiences on the ground in the US market.

What We Might Not Have Expected
Lessons can be drawn from what has not happened over the last 3 years. It might have been expected that consultancy-specialist agency recruiters – especially those that focus on contingency recruitment, rather than search – would not have survived the explosion of information available to candidates direct from consultancy firms as well as they have. Though times have been tough, recruiters have not been cut out of the triangular relationship between themselves, candidates and consultancy firms to the extent that many predicted. At the same time, the share of applications made through corporate websites has not grown at the rate expected by many industry commentators. Though investment in corporate career websites has helped companies focus their recruiting efforts around their own web pages (also channelling candidate applications from third parties through their sites in many cases) and there are now some excellent examples, corporate websites have not become the predominant, efficient and welcoming recruitment centres that many corporate recruiters desired them to be. The reasons for this state of affairs are both apparent and subtle and while I direct you to the full survey for a full analysis, there are some straightforward conclusions to be drawn.

The Human Aspect of Recruitment
Candidates do not by any means always speak favourably of their experiences of making applications through many corporate websites – which is surprising given the high-regard in which they are generally, and deservedly, held. Though traffic to these sites is often significant, in the worst cases only a very small number of visitors actually complete applications. Potential candidates are put off by having to complete lengthy application forms when resumes can be adapted to cover the same ground and allow at least some expression of personality. Furthermore, candidates' subsequent experiences through the recruitment process are often marked by a dearth of meaningful feedback and human contact. Recruitment agencies, at their best, do well to fill this gap and can often soothe candidate's nerves and help them through the process to offer stage, when candidates may otherwise lost patience long before. Anecdotal candidate evidence points not only to the breadth of market knowledge and professionalism of the top agencies (which are mostly considerable and quickly appreciated by candidates new to the consulting industry) but also to the fact that they offer a human interface with candidates at an earlier and informal stage than the corporate recruiters are able to do. The message is that we subjugate the human aspects of recruiting to the procedural requirements of online mechanisms at our peril; candidates' first impressions of a company culture are cemented through their recruitment experiences and the importance of fine-tuning the balance between corporate objectives and a sensitivity for the individual can not be over-stressed.

A Wider Choice of Channels
We can also conclude that corporate recruiters are not always particularly open to new channels. The most cursory of surfs around consultancy job boards suggests that, in the main, smaller consultancies and recruiters are more adept at identifying potentially useful channels than many of their larger 'name' counterparts. The growth in niche job-boards – especially prevalent amongst technology-oriented consulting disciplines – has largely been fuelled by smaller consulting firms and agencies. Indeed, some well-known consultancy firms even forego the opportunity of trialing specialist online services by negotiating exclusive contracts with mass-market job boards that can never hope to service the variety of positions that they hope to fill. Despite a small number of cases where larger firms prefer to utilise these boards through retained agencies that advertise their positions for them on a 'company confidential' basis (for example where political sensitivity precludes the use of their own 'branded' adverts), many large-firm HR departments are certainly missing opportunities. That said, there is a growing appreciation among other larger firms that agencies, in specific areas, can be used as an effective and pragmatic extension of their own marketing efforts, moving more quickly to test new channels and attracting excellent candidates that might otherwise have been missed.

Make the Changes Now
As confidence in the market continues to grow, we are experiencing a general drift of experienced-hire consultants away from larger firms; a phenomenon that has also been experienced in diverse European consultancy recruitment markets as they too have started to recover. Though not relating to firms to which I have alluded, the following excerpt from Consultants News is illustrative.

Resumes Flooding From McKinsey, CGE&Y;, Booz Allen, A.T. Kearney
Executive recruiters are getting inundated with resumes from top-level consultants looking to leave some of the profession's largest firms. "We're getting a ton of resumes from McKinsey, senior-level healthcare professionals within CGE&Y;, and within Booz Allen Hamilton's commercial practice," according to a managing partner of an executive recruiting firm that places partner-level consultants.

It may well be argued that a significant number of these consultants might well have moved sooner had the market been more robust. It is certainly true that in a tight market, many consultants in 'name' firms are wise to keep their heads down and amass the excellent experience and training their firms are rightly renowned for. But evidence from both consultants and recruiters alike suggests that many of these consultants are pursuing long-held cultural preferences. They are actually keen to work in smaller firms where they can make 'more of a difference' and, interestingly, they will be better valued for themselves. Moreover, the welcoming recruitment processes (both online and face-to-face) these consultants encounter as they approach smaller firms often rapidly reinforce their preconceptions – often in spite of the actual corporate cultures that in fact prevail.

As we move from a candidate-rich to increasingly, relatively candidate-poor market in the US, recruiters are wise to read the signs and adapt their recruitment practices to better represent their true cultural values. We will all do little wrong if we properly value the human aspects of recruitment (especially online) and secure access to the broadest range of candidates using a variety of recruitment channels.


Bryan Hickson writes for Top-Consultant.com. To contact him to discuss the market in general or to inquire about advertising solutions (and free introductory offers) please email [email protected] or call +44 207 667 6880.
 
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