You’ve suffered through the recent years in consulting. Career progression has been slow, pay rises have been meagre. But all the time the market was still fragile, so what could you do? That’s been the message you’d hear most often when talking to frustrated management consultants these last few years. But now at last the market has really taken a turn for the better. So is now the time for you to consider your career options – and what do you need to do to make the most of the resurgent market?
A resurgent market
The consulting market is once again flirting with a 10% growth rate. Having shrunk in the immediate aftermath of the Lehman collapse, consulting posted a couple of years of mediocre growth (by consulting standards at any rate). 4% and then 5% annual growth rates were never going to set the pulse racing on the back of such a vicious market contraction. But now we’ve had two further years of 7% and then 8% revenue growth, with every expectation that the current year will see a further acceleration. It’s starting to feel like a market that’s back in the realms of double digit growth again, back to the upbeat sector it was during the dotcom boom years.
One area that certainly has a feel-good factor is digital consulting. More than a quarter of consulting in the UK is now digital according to the latest market report from the MCA. This is the largest and the fastest growing part of the consulting industry. It’s also an area that all the best-known consulting brands are trying to make their own. So if this is your area of expertise, expect your skills to be highly prized in the year ahead. But it’s not just digital consulting that’s thriving. Across broad swathes of the consulting market, clients are engaging firms with renewed vigour – and that’s creating a clamour for new consulting hires to be made.
Considering your career options?
Is a career move now the right option for you? To be frank, everyone’s situation is different. The key thing in my opinion is whether your career progression has lost its momentum. Promotions and pay rises have been subdued everywhere these last years. The question is whether, now that the market is rebounding, you can feel your company still views you as a high achiever and someone they’ll reward with a stellar new package. If the answer is yes, there are many good reasons to stay put. But you have to see the reward today, promises of jam tomorrow don’t count!
For many consultants though, the reality is that the business is now doing a lot better – but this either hasn’t translated into accelerated promotions and rewards for staff yet, or is only benefitting a small number of staff (you excluded). If you’re in this camp – consultants who’ve been performing and been valued within your project teams, but yet to see the market rebound benefitting you – then you may well be someone who would see a big upside from making a move. It’s pretty common to move up a level when you are poached by another firm, so in any sector where demand has rebounded then switching employers is a proven way to get the promotion and rise that’s been eluding you where you currently work.
What do you need to do?
The hiring market has evolved since the last time you changed jobs. There are several key things to be aware of – and to address.
The first thing I would stress is the importance of targeting your job search. If I think back to the market as it was pre-Lehman, consulting brands were hiring practice-wide. Practices had targets for the headcount growth they wanted to achieve and they weren’t worried about the exact make-up of that headcount. The business was growing so fast – and clients were in such need of their consulting services – that firms were confident they could place new hires onto billable projects within weeks (or even days!) of them being employed.
That market dynamic doesn’t exist anymore. I would characterise hiring today as being “just in time”. Consultancies have very specific vacancies they are looking to fill, based on a detailed analysis of the projects they are winning and the resourcing shortfalls that they can therefore see the business is likely to face. Being “good enough” for a particular consultancy is no longer enough. You have to be a strong match for the particular roles the consultancy is looking to fill or your candidacy will probably not be considered.
This, I think, is the change that is the hardest for consultants to come to terms with. When translated to your job search, it means you have to be on the lookout for roles where you can offer that perfect match – and you then have to tailor each and every application to demonstrate that perfect match.
Alongside this I would stress a couple of other major changes. The second change to note is that a lot of hiring is now happening through consulting firms directly approaching candidates rather than necessarily advertising every role. This means it is more important today to have your LinkedIn profile in order – and to have keyword optimised in it too. But this is also having an interesting impact on job board advertising – we’re noticing that the roles consultancies are now advertising are the ones that are particularly pressing, or the ones that they’re struggling to fill via the direct approach route. So where you do see a job advert for which you’re a strong match, there’s a greater probability of you being called to interview today than there would have been when you last changed jobs. So definitely keep your eyes peeled on the consulting jobs board.
Lastly you need to assume that your online presence is going to be looked at alongside your CV/resumé when you next apply for a role. Is your LinkedIn profile consistent with your CV? What is your online persona like? Are you well connected with influencers in your sector? What do your social media interactions and updates tell the recruiter about you? All these kinds of considerations are now playing a part in the interview selection process, where previously your CV alone would have won you your spurs.
Not since 2007 have we seen a more favourable hiring market. For some there’ll be no need to move to accelerate your career progression. For others it’ll be the only way not to have another lost year on the promotion track. Take a hard look at how things are looking for you in your practice and act accordingly… and if a career move looks to be necessary, make sure you take account of just how much the market has moved on since you last changed jobs. Hopefully, the above will help – and good luck!
Are you a recruiter wanting to attract digital talent to your business? Reach out the Top-Consultant team and find out how we can help on +44 (0)207 667 6880. Candidates can check out the latest openings here.
About the Author
Tony Restell is the co-Founder of Top-Consultant.com and the Founder of Socia