Getting things done is rarely a one-person challenge. Sometimes you’d post up a job description to attract a full-timer, but once in a while the answer is to find a consultant who, along with their team, can apply their expertise to your complex projects.
After reaching out to a consulting company, you don't just pay with a credit card and kick things off. However, you also definitely don't spent a week phone screening a consultant and bringing them on site for a 4 hour interview session.
From the moment you discover an expert 3rd party, there is a slew of differences in experience between assessing them versus a typical full-time applicant. The typical consulting company jumps a number of hurdles that most applicants face in their job search. Let's explore.
Consultants set expectations
When you’re evaluating a consultant, you expect them to make it easy for you to understand what type of work they do, to what quality, and in what amount of time. Consultants with a certain amount of experience will be able to compare your needs to the needs of other, similar customers, helping you to visualize what you’ll end up with after they wrap up. Every case study that you've read is a synopsis of real work with a favorable measurable outcome. There’s a pretty good chance you know all this about the consultant because you've been talking to someone on their team specialized in sales.
Applicants, on the other hand, are not (unless human cloning has been perfected) an entire team of salespeople, operators, marketers, and solution architects. Even more, it's unlikely that their first touch point will be with the hiring manager that needs their skills. Instead, they will need to convince a recruiter to let them through.
Consultants market themselves well
There's a really good chance that you're considering the services of a consultant because you found them online or heard of them through respected sources. In order to generate more business leads, consultants need cheap ways to get eyes on them. Every accomplishment, every new project, and every interesting fact about them gets turned into easily-accessible content. If they are extra ambitious, key individuals from those companies will multiply the reach via social media and partner outlets.
Your typical applicant has an accurate but unflashy LinkedIn and a word doc resume at their disposal. Beyond that, a lucky few have portfolios or personal websites. The chance that an applicant has a trail video clips or of long form text content is unlikely, unless they are working in video production or content writing.
Consultants can write the entire contract
Once you begin your engagement with a consultant, they will create one or more contracts that dictate the scope of the project. This usually included everything from timeline to deliverables, and is guaranteed to cover what happens if the project falls apart halfway through. You end up with a feeling of security as soon as you sign on the dotted line.
When hiring your typical applicant, the contract terms are fairly standard and slanted to whatever the hiring company prefers. Applicants are raising their hands to fill roles defined by the company (specifically, a job description) based on what managers believe that they need. Contracts are open-ended; employees won't be fired if there is no more work to do. They are permanent resources to be fed a steady stream of projects and problems.
You are a consultant’s customer, not their boss
There are certain expectations about relationships between consultants and their clients that can be assumed when you're engaging with consultants. Because the entire engagement is based on deliverables and not simply output, your role is to define and assess the deliverables as opposed to critique the details of how things are done. In return, the POCs at the consulting company will make sure you are informed about the project status every step of the way.
This relationship changes a lot when you are the boss of someone. Typical applicants step into an environment where they are evaluated on their ability to repeatedly create certain outcomes or generate a certain type of output. Even more, new employees are usually expected to adopt the company “way” of doing things. This is one reason why so many candidates are expected to “learn on the fly”, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to adjust their skill set from project to project.
(It typically doesn't matter if a consultant and/or their team is a culture fit since they remain separate from the rest of the company and end the engagement after projects are finished. While important, I'm not going to spend time on that detail in this article.)
Applicants aren't great at most of the above
It seems that the most desirable candidates barely have to interview because most of the questions you would ask have already been answered by the things people say and the things you find online. So many minor influencers in design, engineering, and business are continuously employed as full-time workers at respectable companies. Their strong presence on LinkedIn alone can often be enough to encourage managers to skip playing hardball in the on-site.
What if applicants had the ability to market themselves like consulting companies?
First, the jobseekers would focus less on their hard skills and more on the tasks that they can accomplish. Most of the conventional advice presented to candidates about adding keywords to resumes misses the point.
Second, jobseekers would approach companies which are trying to accomplish things that they can do well or learn fast. Every reasonable business has a screening process for their prospects because, while it makes money in the short term, taking on clients indiscriminately would kill them in the long term. It's very common for new workers to take the first thing that they can get, but with the right structures in place it doesn't have to be that way.
Finally, jobseekers would have compiled an archive of case studies or, even better, demonstrations of their work being accomplished over time. Social proof would come easy as they bake a little bit of marketing into everything they do. Businesses use content over time (months to years) to create awareness among potential buyers, and jobseekers can do the same by getting on the radar of their future managers.
At the time of this writing, companies mostly post job openings and applicants mostly fill them. Only after a bunch of interviews do candidates begin to understand what kind of tasks they'll have in their queue. Consulting companies, on the other hand, know what they'll be tackling before the second phone call. Perhaps it's paranoia or simply ignorance, but most job descriptions don't mention anything specific about current or planned projects, which forces applicants to reach out on the basis of offering nothing more than their time in exchange for a salary.
Would managers really hire someone full-time who advertised themselves as a fit for one kind of project? It's up to companies to make their needs clearer and for jobseekers to find out. Either way, I'm comfortable with the idea of skipping the extra interviews and getting right to work.