Why working at a boutique consultancy can be exciting

11 February 2019 Consultancy.uk 7 min. read
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Having previously worked as a management consultant with a focus on transformation & change, Richard Longstreet has decided to apply his industry experience to the recruitment field for his latest venture. Consultancy.uk sat with the head of strategy, transformation and change recruitment at 3Search to discuss the latest developments in the management consulting recruitment scene.

In the professional services world, it is rarely the case that a professional will stay put for long. Just as a consultant has settled into a role with one firm, they will feel a calling to a new challenge or chapter in their career, and uproot to begin the process once again. Richard Longstreet is no exception to this endless cycle.

Having graduated from the University of Durham, Longstreet started his career as an Associate Consultant with staffing and recruitment specialist Michael Page. It was less than a year after he arrived at the multinational executive search and recruitment firm that he was on the move again, however.

“I enjoyed the pace of it, but wasn’t sure it offered the variety I was looking for in a career,” Longstreet reflects. “I went into consulting to get a stronger understanding of how businesses are run, and although I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, I wasn’t sure that consulting was where I wanted to develop my career.”

Why working at a boutique consultancy can be exciting

Another, longer engagement followed, with Longstreet joining Capgemini Consulting. He spent more than two years with the firm, and was promoted from a graduate position to the rank of Consultant at the half-way point of his stay at the French-origin IT giant. During his time in the role, he was aligned to the programme leadership and change capability team, gaining experience in roles in financial services, utilities, and the public sector, as well as at one of the world's leading airports. 

While the second step of his career was more fulfilling in terms of developing his understanding of how a variety of businesses function, however, Longstreet remained unconvinced that the industry was where he wanted to be long-term. In August 2016, this led him to leave the firm in pursuit of a new challenge with 3Search. The move saw him establish a new practice for the boutique recruitment consultancy from London geared towards recruitment in the strategy and transformation space, primarily working with small and mid-size management consultancies.

Boutique life

According to Longstreet, he was well-equipped for the move, stating, “I have a good understanding of the work and skills required (both hard and soft skills), and I speak the lingo! I believe this allows for both clients and candidates to see me as a more trusted recruitment partner because I ‘get it’ – and hopefully my results speak for themselves a bit too.”

At the same time, however, the position suited his longing for consistent development and new challenges. He explained that he was by no means “naïve enough” to think he knew absolutely everything, and that even now the sector is constantly evolving, so for him “it will always remain a learning platform for me to grow alongside the industry.”

While Longstreet’s desire for learning has been sated, having moved to the world of boutique consulting, he also found a way of working which was much more comfortable to commit to in the long-run. According to him, there is a marked difference between life with the likes of 3Search and consulting behemoths such as the Big Four. Among those variations, he cited a greater focus on what candidates can do, as opposed to the focus of large firms on what they have done – and a desire to foster talent with a broad consulting toolkit, as key factors. He also praised the enthusiasm of boutiques to promote learning new skills and experience new sectors, part of a “more entrepreneurial culture” geared towards growing the business.

He explained, “Regarding entrepreneurism, it’s at the heart of being part of a smaller business. Particularly looking at the likes of Elixirr, it’s a core value of who they are. Another point to raise is around progression and career development in smaller consultancies. There are loads of examples of consultants who have flown through the ranks in smaller firms, as they’re not hamstrung by the bureaucracy and process of larger businesses.”

“The ‘land and expand’ model of consulting is slowly disappearing, and partnerships are now the way forward. From my point of view, this way of working is something that smaller firms excel at!”
– Richard Longstreet, Head of Strategy & Transformation, 3Search

Recruitment process

At 3Search, Longstreet now leads the firm’s strategy and transformation recruitment desk, and so has seen what candidates look for in a new employer, first hand. A higher level of flexibility in boutiques also helps such firms bring in a more diverse range of talent. Longstreet suggested that candidates are being drawn to boutiques because they can offer an improved work/life balance. Smaller firms often seem quicker to adopt technologies that enable flexible working and have the mentality and culture to encourage this.

This is one of the major assets that boutiques have at their disposal when it comes to addressing their lack of brand permeation. Longstreet still sees this as an area of difficulty however, and he elaborated that often with junior candidates, the brand is more important. This is partially as “it looks great on their CV” but also because it is generally an indicator that they can access structured training programmes, which help to “really kick-start their career.”

Longstreet asserted that branding is not the be-all and end-all of bringing in young talent, however. He stressed, “Let’s not forget the ability of smaller firms to provide greater exposure and responsibility earlier in their career to juniors, something that larger firms normally struggle with… At the same time, I often work with candidates from the likes of the Big Four. From my experience, they’re less interested in engaging with the other larger brands… and they often look for a move to a smaller firm, or sometimes to industry. They can be offered the same perks, a better work/life balance and more ownership in what they do, less of the ‘cog in a machine’ feeling.”

In terms of which skills are in highest demand in boutique consulting‘specialist generalists’ are becoming more in demand. Individuals that can contribute to developing a strategy, help shape a solution, and own it through to implementation, are highly sought after.

According to Longstreet, this is because it seems “the ‘land and expand’ model of consulting is slowly disappearing, and partnerships are now the way forward. From my point of view, this way of working is something that smaller firms excel at!”

Related: Firms concerned about growing competition from boutiques and independents.