Feb 19, 2008

Going from Industry to HR Consulting

Interesting Q&A at WSJ.com:

Q: I've spent seven years in telecom human resources and labor relations and now want to get into management consulting. There seem to be many requirements for entry, including previous consulting experience. How can I make this transition?

A: You face an uphill battle. Consulting is a different animal than industry and most firms aren't interested in corporate candidates unless they have worked in consulting-type roles or are stars in their fields, says Gary Smith, managing partner with Smith, Scott&Associates, a Colorado Springs, Co., recruiting firm that fills consulting openings.

"It's exceedingly difficult for a person with only corporate experience to make the transition to consulting unless they are exceptionally good at what they do or have real stature in their field," says Mr. Smith.

The reason is that experience limited to just one company or industry isn't useful to firms that seek to solve problems for multiple clients across many industries. Less than 5% of industry professionals he interviews are hired as consultants, Mr. Smith adds.

Many consulting firms seek specialists with narrow expertise. In the HR arena, this might be sales or executive compensation or organizational development. If you feel you have specialized expertise, such as in compensation, "strip away anything on your resume that isn't related to compensation and say what you accomplished and delivered," says Mr. Smith. "Saying that you designed a sales-compensation plan a year ago isn't enough."

The same is true in India. Many HR consulting firms look at corporate HR roles as more akin to consulting roles and tend to not take into consideration years that a HR professional might have spent as a Business partner - because the focus as a consultant is more on design and development than on execution skills for an individual.

I have heard of cases of senior HR people with 10-15 years of experience being equated with 4-5 years of consulting experience based on internal formulas that consulting firms use to calculate 'fitment' for applicants.