In Opinion, Recruitment, Startup Management

I am regularly involved in recruiting, in seeking work as a consultant, in delivering consultancy projects and even occasionally in applying for roles – for example I am currently applying for a trustee position with a charity.   As a result of my experiences I have written about recruitment a fair bit, and I wanted to pull some of those posts together.  I think many of these are as relevant to people looking for roles as they are to recruiters – after all, how can you pitch your services (after all, that is what a CV or interview is for) successfully without understanding the recruiters perspective?

I can safely say I have never once approached the recruitment process by thinking “I’m  looking for someone who wants a job”.  I might be thinking “I’m looking for a Chief Technology Officer”, or “I need another software engineer”.  Underneath though, I’m actually recruiting to solve a problem.  “We need technical leadership in this organisation”.  “We need to write more code more quickly”.

Reading covering letters, applications and CVs I am surprised at how few people have really thought about the application process from a recruiters perspective.  Very few people say things like “I can bring technical leadership to a company” or “I work well in a team producing complex software”.  Most covering letters are not even targeted at the particular role and talk about what the candidate wants, or tell me in dry and nonspecific terms what they have done.

I am also interested in  the number of people who pitch for contract or consultancy jobs as if they were pitching for employment.  To me, the roles are very different:

  • An employee is an integral part of the organisation, and is directly accountable to a manager (even the CEO is managed by the board!) and is paid a salary.  An employee has a long term relationship which means that it is worth the enterprise investing in their development.  Often an enterprise will look at someone’s potential for future growth as much as their current skills and abilities when recruiting.
  • contractor is a means of securing a specific set of skills and abilities on a short term basis.  Like an employee, a contractor is usually directly accountable to a manager.  The enterprise will recruit someone who can carry out the job required easily and without the need for learning or development, as they will likely not benefit from any investment they make in the individual.  Contractors are often paid a day rate that is higher than the equivalent salary as they get none of the rights of employment such as sick pay, holidays, pension or job security.
  • consultant is an expert who is brought in to solve a specific problem.  A consultant is usually not directly accountable to a manager as they are responsible for deliverables rather than actions.  A consultant will usually work to a day rate but may be engaged on a project basis with a fixed deliverable for a fixed fee.  Like a contractor, the day rate that is higher than the equivalent salary and this reflects their expertise and experience as well as lack of employment rights.

(One important note on the above – I have written this from the perspective of an enterprise, but there are some quite specific rules for a contractor or consultant may still be paid through PAYE depending on the precise details of their contract.  That is NOT a matter of choice and HRMC offer a useful Employment Status Indicator for whether you are an employee or a contractor for tax purposes.)

In the work I do now at Salient Point I am sometimes a contractor, but all of my client relationships start off on a consulting basis.  Having said that, I almost never use the word “consultant” with my clients because I present myself in terms of the problems I solve, not the skills that I bring.  I think I was well placed to go into this type of work post-fellowship largely because a top UK consultancy Sagentia invested a huge amount training me in consultancy skills in the early 2000’s, long before I joined the fellowship.  There I was an employee of Sagentia but a consultant to our clients – an interesting duality.  Had I not received this training in consultancy, whatever other benefits I have received from the fellowship, I would be nothing like as good at doing it now.

I believe that being a good consultant requires an additional set of skills on top of whatever domain expertise the consultant is offering.  For anyone considering going into consultancy for the first time, I believe it is vital to recognise this and to consciously try to learn new skills and a new style of client engagement.

I’ve blogged more extensively on these topics for the benefit of graduating Saltire Fellows, so feel free head over and read my posts there if you want to find out more:

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