Abdul Roble on the state of recruitment in management consulting

22 September 2017 Consultancy.uk 8 min. read

In May last year, Abdul Roble joined an international executive search firm that specialises in mid to senior level candidates. Leveraging his experience in the professionals services industry, in particular strategy and management consulting, Abdul is tasked with placements at top strategic firms, large and SME consultancies, and with facilitating consulting-exits to corporates and industry players. In discussion with Consultancy.uk, Abdul provides his take on the state of consulting’s recruitment space and on the changing skillset sought for in the industry.

You’ve been in Frankfurt for over six months now. What similarities and differences stand out between The City and Frankfurt?

The differences between the City and Frankfurt are quite striking. There is a quite a large cultural gap. The UK, London and the City are driven by the more of an entrepreneurial attitude of the old British maritime spirit which involves a more adventurous, higher risk/higher reward type attitude – although not to the levels seen in the US. The land-locked Germans on the other hand are a lot more careful about taking any risks. This is definitely a strong cultural difference which is genuinely apparent in everyday life, from the nation’s money saving mentality to the way Germans cross the street (never while the red man is showing). It will be interesting to see how trading in banking will change because of this. 

There’s a dramatic gear shift between Frankfurt and London life. Frankfurt in general is much slower paced compared to London. There is definitely a clear divide between work and leisure time. We have mountains nearby and local events happen almost every weekend. Even leisure is taken very seriously here and Germans also seem to be a lot more active during the weekends. It is, however, important to bear in mind that Frankfurt is also very different to other German cities like Munich, Düsseldorf or Berlin. The similarities in the English and German cultures meanwhile lie chiefly in the mutual love of sports and beer.

Following Brexit, Frankfurt is one of the major cities touted to threaten London’s domination in Europe’s financial services arena. To what extent are you seeing signs of this in the market and in the demand from clients/consultancies?

Many banks and financial services institutions are considering Frankfurt for very good reasons. The European Central Bank (ECB) is here, the Frankfurt Stock Exchange is here and the regulators are here. Many banks were also already here. We are seeing strong hiring plans by large financial services institutions coming into the market. As uncertainty with Brexit increases or drags on, more banks will make their way here. The war for talent in banking will then well and truly be on with there being a much smaller talent pool here. The hiring plans are also reflected in the growth plans of the consultancies for their Financial Services practices.

There is a quite a large cultural gap between London and Frankfurt

At a broader level, what developments and trends are you seeing in the recruitment market for consulting?

All segments of consulting are looking for expertise in digital and technology. Technology is influencing every single sector and this will continue to be a growing theme. The main element separating people in the recruitment and executive search market in consulting specifically is their depth of knowledge. How well they understand the market and their knowledge of what a consultant does day-to-day, what they could do and what it would take for them to become successful in their field. The consultancies don’t work with many people but when they do, they would like to work with people who really understand them and who reflect their core values.

You have been working with many of the top tier strategy and management consulting firms for years now. How have their recruitment strategies developed over time?

They have developed an understanding of how important candidates and potential employees are to them and they are now investing more in the recruitment processes. This means either building in-house teams or working with a small handful of expert headhunters who will go about their jobs cherry picking people for their companies. They don’t want to be seen in the market as their reputation is extremely important to them. This is why they can’t entrust their reputation with any recruiter who could  damage it. The “war for talent” continues but has definitely developed to understand things from a candidate’s point of view a lot more. This involves how candidates are prepared and coached so that they don’t lose out on potentially brilliant colleagues and that they are prepared for the day-to-day life within their company.

Management consulting firms are increasingly expanding into areas outside of traditional consulting. How are they competing with tech giants for digital and marketing/advertising leaders for creative talent?

The main ways companies are differentiating in the hunt for digital and creative companies are through the difference in company culture and types of projects. The Silicon Valley style benefits are becoming more obvious in consulting and in some areas this will continue to grow to attract specific types of talent. The large consultancies are also getting into the advertising space with Deloitte, IBM and Accenture leading the pack with this. Salaries will typically still be a key attractor for any company to use but company culture should not be underestimated.

You highlight company culture as a key differentiator. Based on your discussions with candidates, what cultural aspects do they value highly in the working space?

Well, table football is a great start! That helps with bonding quite a bit. On a serious note though, it’s all about the benefits that companies can provide their employees. This usually comes in the form of flexibility; working from home, parental leave, flexible working hours, a non-tie culture and how appraisals are handles. It’s also about how people are managed. Clear, transparent feedback from superiors and positive working environments are essential to a great company. Management should also be clear in what people need to do to get the next levels. It all comes down to companies and managers just being nicer. It seems like a small thing but it goes a long way. Core company values should also not be underestimated.

Getting into consulting is highly competitive. How can candidates can make themselves attractive to potential consulting employers?

The best way is through a great education. What they look for is a track record of high achievement. Going to a good university and picking a degree which is analytical but flexible like one in engineering or economics can help. The most important thing is to do well in university and ideally about getting into a well-known, established company to get into a good trainee-programme. A PhD programme is also another way to get into consulting, but for experienced hires, I would recommend working for another consultancy in strategy. 

Looking ahead, where do you believe the consulting market is heading next?

The consulting market will continue to grow worldwide. I see a blurring of offerings from three main areas. The MBBs and large strategy players, large consultancies like the Big Four and Accenture and lastly, specialised SME consultancies in areas like operations and automotive. All areas are also taking a closer look at how technology and will be disrupting all industries. All are also looking for new revenue streams and are trying to poach projects from other areas outside of their core focus. McKinsey is moving more into implementation, Accenture is moving more towards strategy and SME’s are diversifying their offerings. Large companies will also continue to buy smaller firms to grow their overall market size as well as their diversity of offering. High investment in growing areas will continue to be a theme. Growth in artificial intelligence and digitalisation will also continue to be a theme in almost all sectors and industries.

Related: Trends and challenges in the management consulting industry.