How To Be an Effective Recruiting Consultant

I was in the middle of writing a paper on the intricacies of multi-site recruitment process alignment when I received an email from a very experienced professional recruiter in North Carolina, asking me for advice on how to become a consultant in the recruitment arena. It got me thinking about how important the basics of effective consultancy in this field really are. Twenty years ago, the maxim, “Those who can’t do, teach, and those who can’t teach, become consultants,” had a measure of truth behind it. But nowadays, the major consultancies take their staff right out of the universities and business schools and teach them consultancy as a profession. As compared with earlier days, the majority of modern-day consultants have very little real business experience! In order to assist the modern global organization, we consultants must be able to engage in five major areas within the organization:

  1. Strategy
  2. Process and operations
  3. Systems
  4. Deliverables
  5. Implementation

This article gives an overview of these five areas, and hopefully will provide others of you out there with some basic direction if your goal is to become a consultant, as is the case with my friend in North Carolina. Strategy Most recruitment is event driven. This is a byproduct of the recruitment function’s traditional subservience in the HR management hierarchy. It also frequently results from the inability or reluctance of recruiters to elevate their status in most organizations. But in organizations where we see the value of the recruitment department recognized at board level, we start to see the alignment of recruitment strategy with the organization’s strategy. In order to deliver a cohesive and proactive recruitment strategy as a consultant, it is essential that you first move away from the event-driven mindset and into a complete understanding of the organization’s current and future staffing needs. This requires recruitment managers to have a much more equal relationship with HR management and to be involved in other aspects of manpower planning, such as internal mobility and succession planning. The consultant must be able to engage in all levels within the organization and its hierarchy. It also requires an ability to understand not just the process of recruitment, but also broader issues within the organization and its industry. Once we have a firm understanding of where the organization wants to go, we can start building a comprehensive recruitment strategy. The development of this strategy starts by taking a close look at the following components of recruitment:

  • Branding. We must define a talent brand consistently throughout the organization and across all job types.
  • Mapping. This is competitive intelligence. What are the organization’s competitors doing? Where are the potential new recruits? What are the acquisition channels?
  • Organization. Examine the structure of the recruiting department, staffing volumes, hierarchy, reporting levels, etc.
  • Budget. Develop benchmarks for cost per hire, cost of non-hire, and volume metrics. Understand advertising, staff and systems expenses.
  • Structure. This is where we focus on questions of outsourcing, systems, operations, and process responsibilities.

This is actually as far as most traditional consultants will go. For them, advising on the points above and providing strategic consulting is the end game. But in my opinion, strategy only provides a road map. We still need to navigate to our destination! Process and Operations We often hear people say, “‘So-and-so’ is very process-driven.” By that they mean the person they’re referring to is inflexible and obstructive to change. But we need to turn this around. As consultants, we need to focus on processes. We must redesign them to maximize efficiency and to provide ourselves with an ongoing directory of change. This is especially important for multi-site, global organizations, particularly when we start looking at implementing hiring and HR systems. A major issue for North American companies with several European operations, for example, is managing non-aligned recruitment processes. In a recent exercise, my firm looked at a U.S.-headquartered, London Times 100 manufacturer with activities in nine European countries, all engaged in high-volume recruitment. When we analyzed the recruitment processes of each location in Europe, we found 11 different ways of recruiting, with even the regional offices within two of the countries being substantially non-aligned. Amazingly, all locations were using the same hiring system managed by the same outsourced supplier. The point is, our analysis must look at the “as-is” situation before we even begin to contemplate re-engineering existing systems or implementing new ones. Otherwise, we can end up with a disastrous situation like the one described above. The best way to analyze process and operations is to produce an overall view by tracking activities against functions. We can use the following chart as a guide: Activity path ——————————————> Candidate

Operations Support


HR Service

Hiring Manager

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Hiring System

HR/Payroll Systems

Using an analysis like this one enables us to identify both roadblocks as well as duplicated activity. It gives us a good starting point to build our “future” design. Systems By now, we have (hopefully) defined a long-term recruitment strategy and analyzed all of the organization’s processes. We are now, as consultants, able to specify our systems recommendations. If we’ve followed these steps in sequence, the choice and implementation of a recruitment or HR system now becomes much easier. (I cannot emphasize enough the importance of system following process, and not vice versa. Too many organizations believe they will achieve behavioral change simply by implementing a hiring system. They hope the new system will create automatic process alignment. It won’t ó unless you replace all your people or start from scratch!) At this stage of the game, we are now also able to develop a completely integrated systems strategy that encompasses the hiring system, employee referral program, workforce and succession planning, and the Internet, as well as the corporate ERP and IT systems. This is because we have mapped out and understood all essential processes and operations activities within the organization. Deliverables Our strategy has been defined. We have redesigned our processes and have installed integrated systems. Now our recruiters can deliver a proactive, cost-effective service to the organization. We have identified all of our channels and know where we can get our candidates; our planning has been optimized against all current and future internal and external requirements; and our systems can manage the workflow. But most importantly, we are now able to deliver meaningful metrics to corporate. At this stage, recruitment is no longer a bottom-line expense, but is now able to demonstrate to hiring managers and the board its true value to the business. With meaningful metrics, we can prove the contribution of the recruitment function to management. Implementation The final result of any endeavor must be the delivery of goods and/or services, which is exactly what my friend from North Carolina has been focusing on for the last 20 years. So ultimately, implementation consultancy must be about how we can more effectively achieve (and measure) deliverables. We can create a performance improvement matrix by using nine variables:

Goals Design Management
Organization Organization goals Organization Design Organization Management
Process Process Goals Process Design Process Management
People Job Goals Job Design Job Management

The definition and interpretation of the above, as well as the skills required to implement change, are where the true consultant can add significant value to an organization. And while the steps I’ve outlined in this article represent a broad overview of how the consulting process can work, a recruiting consultant will also need to draw heavily on their intuition, experience, skills, and existing knowledge ó with a large measure of commonsense thrown in ó to be truly successful.

Andrew Ellis is a recognized authority on using the Internet as a resourcing tool. He has worked in over 30 countries in senior HR, resourcing and operations management positions with world-class companies such as Nortel Networks, IMPAC, SunGard and Algorithmics. Andrew now heads the Human Capital Management consultancy, and writes and lectures extensively on resourcing and recruitment topics.


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