One of the upsides to the downturn is that recruiting top talent is far easier and more cost effective than during a more positive economic swing. That’s certainly the experience of Nathaniel Greene, CEO of Stroud Consulting, a soon-to-be 60-person operations management firm and Consulting magazine’s Best Small Firm to Work For in 2008. He is on pace to grow his firm’s headcount by 20 percent and expects to add staff at about that pace next year. Consulting’s One-on-One sat down with Greene to discuss the advantages to hiring in today’s economy.
Consulting: Most firms are finding themselves overstaffed, how do you find yourself with the opposite problem?
Greene: Stroud is growing. Our business is doing well. I hired two experienced people in the last six weeks and five more are joining us this summer. If we look at the spectrum of consulting firms across the profession, there is a lot of great talent available. A lot of large and small firms are cutting back. They tend to move with the market and the consulting market is down. Niche firms such as Stroud are doing well as the demand for our services remains strong in a downturn.
Consulting: How do today’s candidates compare to the level of talent you were interviewing during better economic times?
Greene: We recruit top undergrads straight out of university and we’re seeing some excellent candidates. Starting last fall, we noted that while consulting firms and investment banks were maintaining a presence on campuses, most weren’t hiring in significant numbers. Outside of our campus hires, we’re also seeing stronger candidates. We’re finding that when some firms cull staff, they are not just cutting the underperformers. They are taking a knife to a whole office or practice and cutting loose some really good people. Since this is opening up a high quality talent pool, it’s making it easier for us to recruit.
Consulting: What about consultants that are still actively employed? What is your experiencing in recruiting them?
Greene: A consulting firm’s culture is really hurt by these cutbacks. When a firm is cutting staff and not making any new hires, those that remain inside the firm begin to question whether they’ll be able to advance. They’re unhappy, but staying put because they do not know there are opportunities out there. When their firms were growing, they probably wouldn’t have considered hopping to another consultancy. It would have been unlikely they would have been unsatisfied and had the inclination to look. Things are different now as they are willing to explore new opportunities to advance faster and do meaningful work.
Consulting: In the current economic environment, how competitive is the hiring for top talent?
Greene: For top people, there’s always tremendous competition. But, in general, there are good people available. There’s a lot of opportunity for strong talent. There are plenty of people out there that are looking more actively.
Consulting: What are the other advantages to hiring in this market?
Greene: We are hiring people faster and they are starting sooner than they could during a more robust economy. The majority of people applying for jobs are unemployed, so they are available immediately. We made an offer and had a person start with us six days later. They don’t need to think so much. They aren’t comparing other offers.
Utilization rates are also lower at other firms, so they can more easily roll off an existing project. They can leave a current employer with relatively short notice and not burn bridges. This is the case with our latest hire who will join us at the end of June.
The hiring process is also faster because we’re able to make decisions quicker. We’re still seeing hundreds and hundreds of resumes, but we’re acting more quickly to see candidates. It used to take more time to get them in, to schedule time around client engagements. That’s less of an issue now. The strong candidates that find out about great opportunities are motivated to act fast.
It also helps that the quality of the candidates is improving. Before, only 2 percent of the hundreds of resumes we got were worthy of consideration. Now, the number is probably closer to 4 percent. We have to do less work to find quality people.