Wow.. what a roller-coaster of a year it has been so far, and we fear there are more bumps, twists and turns to go. However, I am ever the optimist and if this is as bad as it gets then I feel this community is doing OK in comparison to some. There have been some casualties for sure, the most obvious being the big 4 consulting firms, and some exec level strategy & transformation roles, where we are receiving an increased amount of calls from those having been retrenched or at risk of being let go, but mainly strategy folk are still extremely busy and safe in their roles.
In April we saw many roles go on hold instantly, mostly as part of a whole of business directive. We understand that was not due to a lack of want or need for strategy hires, more that strategy teams and HR/talent teams had to urgently respond to Covid. Strategies changed direction quickly, execs were busy in recession proofing mode and talent teams were all pulled into hiring a vast number of new roles such as call centre staff. But it was not long before the strategy roles came live once again.
Interestingly, many of our recent roles are not as a response to Covid-19, where we would expect to see cost cutting or diversification due to the market conditions, in fact the roles remain focused on growth opportunities.
So where have the roles been coming from?
We have seen several strategy manager level roles coming through in industry across all sectors, but mainly from the bigger ASX organisations as strategy teams add heads and continue to grow due to internal demand. Clients are taking advantage of the increased interest in industry roles currently from management consultants, many whom have had a glimpse of what work/life balance could look like and, due to working from home, have had more opportunity to talk to recruiters and hiring managers. Usually we would need to bolsters the local talent short market with international candidates but at the moment that is:
a/ not necessary due to an increase in on shore interest and
b/ not viable with many organisations putting a freeze on international hiring for the foreseeable future. This is even affecting some on current sponsored visa’s where businesses are reluctant to take over visa’s as part of cost cutting and risk reducing strategies.
At the senior end of the market however recruitment processes are moving somewhat slower. Whilst roles are definitely still there, hiring managers are focused on hiring not only very smart talent, mostly from premium brands such as McKinsey, Bain or BCG, candidates also have to exude executive presence. We are also seeing a renewed focus on diversity at the top end making life more difficult for some. Due to the increased competition in the market salaries are holding fast for most levels but at the senior end we are seeing clients increase their budgets slightly to secure the talent they select.
What is really slowing down processes is trying to get time in exec’s diaries for interviews. Strategy leaders have a lot on their plates right now and whilst hiring is deemed important, so is recession proofing their businesses and responding to the many issues arising daily due to the current economic environment.
All this being said, we are preparing to be busy until the end of the year. When budgets are released in July, we generally see a knock-on effect with an increase in mid to senior level roles in August/ September and then right until the end of the year. We are optimistic that this will be no different despite the obvious challenges. But we also do not see it being a walk in the park to secure the best roles. Candidates are really being tested in interviews with some very tough questions, hard case interviews and HR testing. There are more quality candidates applying for each role, as such clients have more choice. Our recommendation to anyone considering a move is to thoroughly prepare and be interview ready. Gone are the days when just having MBB on your resume and creating rapport is enough to cut the mustard, the bar has risen substantially. Preparation is key.
With Covid-19 keeping jet-setting management consultants home-bound, I’ve managed to pin them down for a chat under lockdown. I’ve had some very interesting conversations around how working from home has affected their work, their relationships and their health and I was interested in their thoughts around if the future of consulting will look very different when we move out of lockdown.
The collective feeling is that that, mostly, consultants are really enjoying being at home but generally feel they are working harder to get the same results as before and are starting to feel less fulfilled in their work. This is down to the simple fact that human beings, whether in an Agile or more traditional process are just more efficient working in person, and Agile is centred around being able to work closely and in person with sprint teams. Many cited that the quick informal coffee meetings or hallway chats with clients are often the best way to really understand the underlying problems a business may have, and are missing the interaction. Instead conversations have moved to Zoom or Skype and many consultants are experiencing Zoom fatigue and teething problems with technology – such as clients using different digital platforms to the consulting firms or not being technically savvy. Mostly, however, clients and consultants alike are quick to adapt but find interactions are just less enjoyable: web chats are being scheduled instead of an impromptu quick chats and this is resulting in longer and more formal conversations.
The most obvious downside highlighted by every consultant I spoke to was the inability to build deeper relationships with clients, especially new clients. The lack of small talk before and after meetings has made it harder to really connect the same way as they have been used to. Although their clients seem to welcome a quick call whenever needed, it just doesn’t seem to have the same impact.
Of course, the effect this is having on consultants’ personal lives has been enormous. Most love not doing the expected travel, and whilst they are still putting the same – if not more – hours in, they have swapped lengthy commutes and flights for exercise and family time. Although their frequent flyer points are suffering immensely, they are able to put their own kids to bed and read them bedtime stories. Their self care has improved, with sleeping more and eating home cooked food – well most are – some are still expensing Uber eats daily apparently. Their pets are wondering what is going on having never been walked by their humans so much in their lives. Generally, life is just better.
Some cited having their kids in the other room being really hard, and not for the reason I first expected… and yes there are stories of “zoom family bloopers” with cheeky toddlers running into the office at exactly the wrong moment, but mostly they are feeling guilt. Guilt for being present but not being present.
What the vast majority of the consultants I have been speaking to echo is that this unprecedented situation has given m a glimpse into what “normal” life could be like outside of consulting and many are liking what they are experiencing. This could see a rise in consultants looking to make a move into industry roles in the coming months.
It’s clear that the top tier consulting firms, such as McKinsey, Bain & BCG, are extremely busy right now as they are being pulled into Covid response projects. Their leadership teams are trying to figure out how and if they need to change the way they operate moving forward – it is the hot topic of the moment. Do they move to a more flexible working culture meaning consultants can enjoy a more tangible work/life balance? Or do they return to the Monday morning 5am dash to the airport? Or something in between? Many feel there is a middle ground that needs to and can be reached.
Where do you sit on this topic, and do you think there is a happy medium? Let me know in the comments below.
Not a day goes past that I don’t speak to a strategy management consultant with aspirations of moving from consulting into a “sexy” start-up environment… bring on the free lunches and foosball!! From juniors to senior level consultants, it seems everyone wants a piece of the dynamic, fast paced rollercoaster lifestyle that comes with working for such a business.
So I decided to investigate the allure of this trendy industry and see if it really does meet the hype…. I spoke to my esteemed network, consisting of serial entrepreneurs who have worked in many a start-up or tech environment, and some have been there and done that in both start up world and the ASX corporates and have war wounds to show. I have compiled and analysed their input and have come up with my top 10 things to consider when considering this career path.
So it seems that… yes, there are some definite pro’s with this career path. Start-ups can offer you massive amounts of freedom; you get involved in a wide variety of tasks for a company where every day is different. You get direct access to C-suite, you are at the centre of power, and decisions are made quickly. It is a casual working environment and there is usually a strong culture filled with missionaries (rather than mercenaries) and there can be some equity incentives for the right roles.
However you also need to consider…
1/ A lot of the “tech start-ups” in Australia are actually local branches being set up by tech companies that HQ’s are based in the US/London/Singapore. The reality is being based in Australia and working for one of these satellite branches removes you from the centre of power and decision making. The Australian team will often be handed decisions and key strategic changes as fait accompli and won’t have any real input into it. This can often mean regular shifts in strategy and tactics without much advance notice which can be extremely frustrating, especially when the decisions are being made by people who don’t really understand local market conditions. So you need to go into such a company and role with your eyes open and a realistic assessment of how much impact you are going to be able to have on the business.
2/ With regard to a “local” tech start-up, my veteran contacts believe most people they talk to have a completely unrealistic view of what it will be like when they are leaving a management consultancy or industry position. They cite “They are used to the trappings of the corporate environment…nice offices, good pay, bonuses, expense accounts, business class travel….and also very defined roles where they can focus on say “pure strategy” because there is a whole hierarchy of other support staff to look after everything else for them. In a true start-up, you need to be prepared to pitch in and work right across the business, often doing work that is tangential or completely unrelated to what you see as your core role. There aren’t big teams of support staff so suddenly you are doing everything yourself and there certainly aren’t big expense accounts and luxury travel. Working in a true tech start-up is not like what people see at Google or Facebook. It is unglamorous, often involves “unsexy” work, very long hours, and few perks while the business is struggling through its first years”.
3/ Because of the points above, the people who thrive in start-ups are typically different to people who love corporate consulting. To really enjoy your start-up experience you need to have a high risk tolerance, a huge degree of comfort with ambiguity and uncertainty, a willingness to work across a really diverse range of activities (so you might be a strategy consultant but suddenly find yourself having to attend an expo, man a stall, and sell the product face-to-face to a potential customer). Have no pretensions about the work you are doing, and an ability to get on with people from very different backgrounds to yourself (you will no longer only be working with commerce-law and engineering graduates from UNSW and Sydney Uni).
5/ Many typically have completely unrealistic views on the likely success of start-ups. An almost infinitesimal number of start-ups become unicorns. The vast majority of start-ups fail. So you have to go into this with the mindset that you may devote 3-5 years of your life to this business and end up with little more than a modest salary and a huge amount of experience. Some scale ups can burn out in spectacular fashion but the experience certainly can be character building.
6/ People also often also have unrealistic views about the value they add and therefore the equity stake they should be given. Unless you are a founder or one of the senior management, if you are lucky enough to get any equity at all, your stake is likely be very small and simply as part of a general employee equity scheme. You are very unlikely to get super rich on this due to the high level of business failure and the small stake that you have been given.
7/When thinking about career development generally start-ups (and digital business generally) do a better job of accelerating capable people through levels of seniority quicker. You often see people with 5-10 years of experience reaching quite senior levels in digital businesses. In corporates, this is less the case – promotion tends to be more a balance of experience gained and capability. However unless a start-up really hits it big, then the brand recognition is likely to be far less than any brand name corporate. Therefore, a future corporate employer could undervalue your experience.
8/The lack of structure can be a real issue for some people, especially those who are coming straight out of a top tier management consulting environment like McKinsey, Bain or BCG. In start-ups people often work outside of the traditional org structure, and tenure is often just as important as role title.
9/Many have visions of changing mindsets and being a thought-leader when they join a start-up however it takes a special type of entrepreneur to listen to an outsider and admit they are wrong. In many cases they will just plough on with their gut feel, so gaining their trust is key, but this is also difficult as most of the other execs have also been on the journey with them.
10/And finally a word on remuneration. For most start-ups, a significant proportion of income can be through equity in the business. This has the potential to be quite lucrative over the longer term but won’t pay the mortgage in the short term. When candidates come to me asking about roles in a start-up the first thing I tell them to consider is if they can currently afford it… Many are unaware of the drop in base salary that will be offered compared to many corporate or consulting roles.
So there you have it… there is certainly a lot to think about when considering a move into this space, it can be hugely rewarding for some but it is certainly not for everyone.
If you have anything to add to the above I would love to hear your thoughts.
Interview Preparation Tips
While some people are confident and love being tested in interviews, others get nervous and don’t always show the best version of themselves. No matter which one of these is you, the following tips will help guide you to perform at your best.
Remember you only get one chance to make a good first impression and preparation is key.
We have even seen confident candidates fail in interviews. Overconfidence can sometimes lead to a lack of preparation for an interview, and it often shows up in an attitude of “sell this job to me”. So even if you are the smartest person in the room, with the gravitas to match, you need to do the basics well and remain professional at all times or hiring managers will be put off by a perceived lack of commitment to the interview process.
Whether you feel the position is one you would love to be offered or if you’re merely there to explore the opportunity further, you need to put your best foot forward at all times. Be professional and humble and never let complacency or arrogance come across – it is a small market, people talk, so do yourself proud each and every time.
1. Always do your due diligence on the company you are interviewing with
What have they been in the news for lately?
Read the companies last annual report.
Who sits on the leadership team?
Who are their biggest competitors?
Speak to anyone you know who has worked or does work for that business to get their insights.
2. Have an opinion on what problems they could be trying to solve
Even if you are not currently in the same sector as the hiring company, make sure you understand the issues this sector is facing and come with a view on how, as a business, they may tackle some of these challenges. Clients like that you’ve had a think about their organisation and come with some points of view. It shows interest in them and also a proactive approach that will distinguish you.
3. Rapport is key
It is an unconscious bias that people hire people they like. Always try to build rapport with the interviewer in an authentic way. Be curious, inquiring and also aware that the hiring manager will be evaluating your style and personality against other major stakeholders in the business you would support in order to be effective in the role. They will be asking themselves if you have the style, maturity and gravitas to lead people as well as senior stakeholders while also challenging them without getting them offside. Keep this in mind and always have examples on hand of previous relationship building successes both from team leadership and senior stakeholder perspectives.
4. Keep it concise!
One common reason for rejection is not being able to articulate your answers in a concise way. Often candidates will give long-winded answers and go off on a tangent. Yes, it’s imperative you need to build rapport BUT interviewers have a limited amount of time and want to get to know you as much as they can in a professional capacity more than a personal one, at least at first.
5. Your Questions
Come prepared with two or three good questions to ask the interviewer when the opportunity arises. This usually happens towards the end of the interview. Always remember when asking questions, the manner in which you ask is often more important than the question itself. Be humble and well intentioned when asking questions about the opportunity so you can determine if this is the right role for you.
When asking about career progression opportunities should you be successful in the current role, please be acutely aware that hiring managers want to be assured you are excited and interested in the role at hand as opposed to the next promotion. It is all in the positioning of the question and can easily be asked more generally like “what do you see as the career pathways from this position after a few years in the role and strong performance”.
6. Money talk
Never ask about salary in the interviews where possible, talk to your recruitment consultant about the salary levels beforehand. Let us do the negotiations for you. If asked about salary expectations in the interview (and yes, it does happen!) gently advise the hiring manager that you haven’t given it too much thought because you’ve been focussed on the role and fit for the position. Advise them that you believe your recruiter would have provided all this information to them prior to the interview.
We have seen these types of conversations go south very quickly if not handled correctly in the moment despite good interview performance up to that point.
7. Behavioural Style Interviews
In behavioural psychology, past behaviours are the best predictor of future behaviours unless those behaviours weren’t helpful and you’ve adopted new ones. Behavioural questions evaluate how you’ve handled situations in the past and what you would do if faced with a similar situation again in the future. It’s about articulating your approach and process but also having learnt from situations that didn’t turn out well. Clients also like to understand what you have learned from failures and how its changed your approach and subsequent behaviours.
For example: Tell me about a time you have failed on a project you were working on? What did you learn from this?
This is not easy but if prepared you can come out on top.
We suggest you tackle these type of questions using the STAR method. This method also ensures you stay on point and concise.
Think of a situation similar to what the interviewer is asking you about that had a successful or learning outcome. It doesn’t necessarily have to be work related as long as it’s relevant. Remember to include the who, what, where, when and how.
Describe the task you were responsible for in that situation. Keep it specific but concise. Make sure to highlight any specific challenges you faced.
This is the part where you describe exactly what you did. How did you complete the task you were assigned? Remember to focus on what you did and highlight traits (qualities) that a hiring manager will find desirable (initiative, teamwork, leadership, dedication, etc.)
Share what the outcome of the situation was and how you specifically contributed to that outcome. What did you accomplish? What did you learn? What were the results of your actions?
This is where you also get to be introspective and share some of the softer learnings over and above the hard facts or results.
Here are more behavioural interview questions to practice with.
8. Watch your ego!
Clients find candidates that display a high level of ego in interview are either covering up for some insecurity they have or have a lack of Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Either way it is not a good look. Clients prefer to hire humble, achievement-oriented people who are universally likeable, no matter how talented they are.
9. Mind your manners
Wherever possible write a thank you email to the hiring manager for their time.
Some clients have a real issue with candidates that do not send thank you messages post interview. A recent survey on this showed that 25% (one in four) interviewers appreciate or even expect this courtesy. If possible, it is recommended you end it straight after the interview or at the very least the same day of the interview.
Research shows that people with manners are perceived as more likeable. Writing a thank you note post interview, reiterating that you would be excited to work with them or that you’re excited about next steps, allows the hiring manager to re-engage with you, thereby making you more memorable too. This small act can place you front of mind during their refection time on candidates they’ve met.