Attracting Top-Consultants to Professional Services Firms

Marcel Ramin Derakhchan28. May 2018

Lateral hires are an extremely effective method for professional-service organizations to complete and complement their skill set. Potential partners are an excellent source of expertise and client access, making this a great alternative to building these assets internally. The latter usually takes many years and results in you instead having to guard your homegrown talent from your competitors. Unfortunately, the most suitable candidates are in high demand, or the HR team might lack experience in recruiting this highly coveted target group. The following factors can help you find your bearings and onboard new partners successfully.

Phase 1 – requirements

Define which requirements the candidate must meet and which ones are “nice to have”. We recommend the following basic criteria:

  • „T-Shape“
    Of course, the ideal candidate has a great deal of experience and knowledge in many areas, but is an expert in one specific area. This in-depth knowledge will add tremendous value to your company.
  • A clear idea of their role and function
    Having a precise list of required skills will help you argue your business plan successfully in the election committees. Besides specialist knowledge, it is important to specify your expectations in terms of entrepreneurial experience, client access, leadership skills, etc.
  • Buy-in
    Ensure a strong buy in for the hiring initiative from the existing partnership. This prevents turbulences at later stages of the search process.

Phase 2 – search strategies

Successful search strategies are a result of the agile combination of various search fields:

  • Mentor and alumni networks
    Mentor networks can yield useful recommendations for consultants seeking new position. Alumni of competitors are attractive candidates, as loyalty and competition clauses no longer pose an obstacle.
  • Target companies
    What kinds of target companies are the most promising? Evaluate the relative advantages of global players, hidden champions, boutiques and pure plays.
  • International searches
    It can be useful to expand your search to multiple regions or countries. A slight modification of the search profile, i.e. by adding additional languages or specifying a network, will result in finding more potential candidates.
  • Value proposition
    The value proposition is one of the most crucial factors in searching for top-level partners. Why should a successful partner leave his or her “family” to risk failure in another environment? What vision does the hiring organization pursue? What contribution can and should the future partner make? What ultimately motivates your dream candidate to jump ship? Develop a suitable package that goes beyond monetary incentives. Changing company is only attractive if the benefits significantly outweigh the risks.

Phase 3 – selection of candidates

You have a shortlist. Congratulations! Before your first interview, make sure you specify the selection criteria. We recommend the following assessment procedure::

  • Clearly structured interview process
    Following a general introduction, schedule three to four interviews with experienced partners from the relevant environments. Split topics: each partner should focus on a specific aspect. Appoint one interview partner who concentrates primarily on the cultural fit.
    Afterwards, compare impressions.
  • Business plan discussion
    The business plan of the future hire should take up a considerable part of the discussion. Are all expectations in the new business, the ramp-up, the expansion, and the establishment of resources solid and attainable?
  • References
    References are a fundamental part of the decision-making process in addition to a sound psychological assessment. To gain a complete picture, consider requesting references from clients, former colleagues and private contacts.
  • Strict confidentiality
    Treat all information about candidates in your selection phase in strict confidence: meet in neutral locations, do not enter them into distribution lists, use code names for projects and people in all external and internal communication.

Phase 4 – Onboarding

Congratulations, you’ve done it! Your top candidate has signed the contract. Most hires fail because of inadequate onboarding processes. The following steps can considerably reduce uncertainty:

  • Support from internal mentors 
    During the initial stage top managers require constructive feedback from their peers; tell them what is going well, where you see risks and what needs to be improved immediately. Once they’re comfortable in their new role, regular feedback will serve as a boost for their motivation and loyalty. Also, organize introductory meetings for the “new colleague” as soon as possible.
  • Long-term perspective
    Many onboarding programs end after 100 days. This approach fails to account for the fact that “emotional slumps” tend to occur between months seven and eleven. Long onboarding periods can help you counteract these “slumps”. Seek help from an external coach for neutral support.
  • Value the “little things”
    Do not neglect the little things that can have a great emotional impact. Communication devices, assistances, company cars and other perks should be made available as agreed.