Why not consulting?

Elizabeth Kerry

Elizabeth Kerry

Senior Consultant - Reward, Analytics & HRIS

Why not consulting?

By Elizabeth Kerry – Specialising in Reward and HRIS permanent hires within the Professional Services Market




I can predict it coming now. Like clockwork. Chatting to a candidate over a coffee. They’re good… and I mean really good. All the right experience, background at a Big Four consultancy, well presented and switched on. Please let me be wrong.. just this once..

That’s when they hit me with it.

“I’m basically open to any sector, as long as it’s in-house.”

The sentence that all Professional Services recruiters brace themselves for is like a verbal smack in the face.

From my experience, consulting and advisory candidates often start their careers as a graduate. They sign up to a Big 4 or reputable consultancy with a 3-5 year career plan. Get the professional firm’s name on your CV with plenty of exposure, then move on.

But why the automatic belief that the “correct” right move is to go in-house? Working in an advisory setting definitely has its benefits. Like any role there are pros and cons, so I decided to reach out to my network and find out what working in a consultancy was really like. I have been speaking to a member of a leading advisory firm’s Reward team, who has been helping me understand the draws and setbacks, of working in an advisory role. For the purpose of this article, they have asked to remain anonymous.

  • Thank you for chatting with me today. What drew you to working in an advisory position?

I remember very clearly someone coming to do a talk at my university from a Management consultancy. I have a real interest in business and so I went along to listen, and whilst it sounded like an amazing opportunity for learning and travel and exposure to all sorts of different industries, I was put off by the lifestyle. Constantly being on the go, being a cog in the wheel of a large organisation, just wasn’t for me.

At University I studied psychology, and I was really wanting to work with people and human behaviour, so I decided to do some research on HR consultancies. That’s when I started to get really excited about my firm, so I applied for their graduate scheme.

  • But why consultancy over in-house? You would have the opportunity to work in HR at any number of firms, what drew you to advisory?

I suppose the consultancy piece was appealing to me because I would be able to interact with lots of different people, different projects and different businesses. The idea of working in-house just bores me if I’m honest! The same cycle of work year after year, with maybe the odd project thrown in, just isn’t for me. It might sound like a cliché, but not two days are the same when working in a consultancy, and I love that.

In my role I interact with all sorts of different people, across all levels, and all sectors. This is so important to me, especially earlier in my career because if you start in-house, you will really struggle to go into consulting. However, if you want to get that exposure and really learn about business, and have that variety, then consulting is the way to go.

  • That’s interesting, it sounds great talking to a variety of different people, on a lot of different projects, but what is it exactly that you do?

Ok, so I actually was trying to explain my job to my friend’s little boy recently! I told him that I help organisations get the most from the people that work for them, and the people get the most from the organisations they work for.

In a nutshell, my job is to optimise how businesses help and reward their people. The majority of a firm’s spend goes on people- their salary for example. This is a massive expense. Therefore my job is about optimising their spending. Finding out what is important to the people working there and utilising where the money goes.  People assume that the best way to reward staff is to simply pay them more money. ( And its definitely up there! ) but that’s not the driving force anymore. Some people want better holiday options, flexible working, more structured maternity leave and support and childcare vouchers. Listening to what people want, and what drives them, and communicating it to the business, allows us to make suggestions to clients on how to optimise staff engagement. Finding out what drives the individual, which I find fascinating – probably because of my psychology background!

  • So what are the pros of working in a consultancy?

For me, the big one is the people and the variety. I love that I talk to different people, on different projects all the time and that every day is different. I really enjoy that element of my job. I also get to travel a lot with my role, most recently I have been to Paris and Qatar.

The flexibility is also a massive draw to me. Since working with my firm, my circumstances have changed, and my role has changed with them. When I first started, travelling was a big part of my role, I even had the opportunity to live abroad. Now that I have a young family, its my role has evolved with me, I can still do my job, with the support, and evolution of my role.

In terms of the nitty-gritty parts of my role, I really like that I can influence and help drive engagement based on the communications I have with the businesses. I am able to help people get paid fairly and be recognised for their work, and I get to do that for a variety of businesses, speaking to people from all different sectors. That’s particularly interesting to me, as I love to learn about businesses.

Lastly, and probably shouldn’t be saying this… but because all my work is project-based, if you don’t like who you are working with, you can remind yourself it’s not forever, the project will end, and you will move on!

  • Lots of plus points for team consultancy then, but what about the drawbacks, there must be parts of your job that you don’t like.

I think the biggest drawback for me is that I find it hard to switch off at the end of the day. The work being project-based means that you are always in demand. If you have a particularly complicated project or difficult client, you are on call, and you don’t stop because it’s the end of the day, you stop because the work is finished. To add to that, it can be very high-pressure and high-paced. I know some people love that, but it can be a lot to handle, and I can sometimes find that a little overwhelming. In times like that, it’s important to have a good team around you and support you can lean on.

I think the targets can also be pretty hard going, especially if you aren’t used to that environment. The payoff is great when you hit them, but you need to really focus and push for them if you want to ensure you’re firing on all cylinders.

Lastly, I’d say the compensation is not ideal. I know that salaries in-house usually will be on the higher side compared to consultancies. The majority of firms make up for it with bonus earning potential, and rely on their culture to keep people, however in terms of base salary, it’s not the highest.

  • That’s really helpful, thank you so much for your time. Last question, what advice would you give to someone looking at getting into consultancy?

Tricky.. It really depends on your own personal ambitions I think, and what interests you. If you want a challenge, a variety of projects and love talking to people, then I think consultancy is absolutely the way to go. Personally, I love that I am actively contributing to people getting the most out of their jobs. Getting to listen to what is important to them, communicate it with their workplace, and instigate change for the better. If that sounds like you too, then go for it!

I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about consulting. Like any industry, it has its pros and cons, but I can see how the variety, challenges and engagement would be a huge draw.

Have you worked in an advisory setting? I would love to hear more about your experienced.

If you would like to learn more about consultancy roles, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me to hear about the roles that we are working on at Oakleaf Partnership.

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