Why You’re Not a Consultant

Funny things job titles. All of them are fabricated terms of course. At some point, someone gives themselves a title, and everyone accepts it.

This is why you see some funny ones on LinkedIn. Gurus. Ninjas. Even Sherpas FFS. Leading the flocks of the whimsical away from meaning and sense.

In other cases, titles are given.

In this case that’s less like being knighted on one knee, more of a branding on the backside, with a white hot iron to say you’re one of the herd.

Recruitment Consultants represent the latter of those examples. Depending on nothing other than your employer’s whim, you’ll be rubber stamped ‘consultant’ and kicked out into the field to graze.

After some time you may stray from the herd of course. You might find yourself being a ‘.Net Consultant’ or ‘Mechanical Engineering Consultant’ in a misguided or sneaky attempt to appear in searches by fellow recruiters.

You might be elevated to Associate or Senior. Or the even loftier Principal Consultant.

But the premise is the same.

You’re a consultant. A recruitment consultant.

But are you?

Bain’s on the phone, they want their job title back

Or Boston Consulting Group or any business in the Big 4. Or for that matter, anyone who truly consults.

If you’re able to find one of these people, ask them about their current client. How much do they know about them? Oh a lot huh?

Ask whether this knowledge was gained from sitting ‘off-site’, conversing through sporadic emails and semi-angry phone calls, manufactured by slipping one past the gatekeeper.

I’ll save you the effort.

It wasn’t.

You see, consultants are normally thought of as those who not only fix problems, but find them. They deal with stakeholders at the top of the pile. They haven’t got time to make suggestions that aren’t taken on board.

They’re intrinsic to the business they consult with. They work on site. They’re not there to make friends. They’re there to solve problems the existing staff can’t see and create an endemic culture of success.

Sometimes that involves firing instead of hiring.

If recruitment consultants exist, they’re probably contract-only job hoppers, fixing internal recruitment processes in troublesome environments for hefty spot fees.

These people do exist by the way, I’ve worked with some great ones. But they’re not common.

Certainly not as common as the 387,610 LinkedIn tells me exist online – not taking into account any one of the aforementioned Seniors or Principals.


A hefty spot fee

That’s how I described the payment for consultants working as recruitment spot fixers across the industry.

‘Hefty’ is also how I’d describe the fees swapping hands in the world of Financial and Management Consulting.

If you don’t know how much Consulting companies charge for their services, let me tell you.

It’s a lot.

Certainly a darn sight more than 15% of one person’s salary. Companies pay through the nose for consulting services. Often more than they can afford. Almost always when there’s no money left.

The reason they pay such huge fees is because of the results.

Good consulting changes fortunes.

And whether you’re Bain, BCG or just a one-person band, hopping from one ill-advised process to another, you need to be good to stay in business.

These people don’t work on contingent processes, with the lowest of decision makers, desperately trying to plug holes in a leaky bucket. Often they get rid of the bucket completely.


If you’re still reading this and have the job title ‘recruitment consultant’… come here. Let me hold you.

Let me bring you in with my strong, comforting, Robin Williams-esque, furry grip. Listen to me… it’s not your fault.

Listen to me. It’s NOT your fault.

In the same way you were taught how to create job ads in your first week, where you set out a formula you haven’t altered or even measured since, it was natural to do the same with your job title.

Sure it felt nice handing out business cards to hammered revellers at 1am on the bus home. But did you stop and question it? If not, let’s do it now, together.

Don’t change your title, change your approach

Like the difference in approach above… if you were trying to align your job and job title, you’d probably just delete the consultant part. I did. Because I worked on contract roles, and realistically, would back myself to fill any role. It’d have taken something monumental not to take on a project.

But let’s say you wanted to bridge the gap now between your job title and your job. The first way to do that would be to start saying no.

Saying no to clients isn’t as revolutionary as you might think. But the response you’ll get will make you wonder why you didn’t do it before.

On a large scale, you might turn down the chance to work with someone. On a smaller level, it might be pushing back against individual hires, or requests for information.

You’ll have heard lots of your clients asking for the best. But I’d guess not one of them is paying anywhere close to the best. So you must’ve told them to forget it once or twice, right?

B*llshit. Course you haven’t. Because you need that fee. I get it.

But imagine this…

Instead of diving into Monster or LinkedIn to ‘box off’ a role before anyone else, you start asking questions.

The first question could be why anyone considered ‘the best’ would walk away from their job, paying the same (or less), to work in a similar role, for your client.

If they can’t persuade you of a good enough reason, walk away. Immediately.

And tell them you’re doing so.

Once you’ve done this, start writing down a list of questions you’d need to be answered, before you consider working with someone.

Then, on your next client call. Reel off this list and stipulate, you’d only ever be interested in working with someone who could stab at an answer to all. Consultants don’t work with every client.

Because most clients aren’t willing to consider the upheaval of true consultation. Most clients aren’t wiling to be told ‘No’.

Questions questions

Your list of questions will be individual to you, and sometimes change per mandate.

Some will be universal.

Questions like “Why do people leave you?” are universal.

Questions like “Why are you paying market rate if you want anything other than market standard” you might want to alter, depending on how delicate your client is.

Once you have the right questions however, here’s the clincher. You don’t answer them, or even offer the full list for free.

You need to borrow professional tips on business from those who are good at not working for free. And the origin of this advice might raise an eyebrow but bear with me…


You need to be more like a plumber

Or a mechanic. Or a writer. Or, to be fair, a Management Consultant.

But ask anyone of the above whether they’d be happy to come and tell you what’s wrong, for free. Be it a sink. A car. Or a business.

They’ll tell you where to go. The fruitiness of their reply will depend on their candour. But ‘where to go’ will probably be their website. Where it says “callouts charged at…”

People generally don’t work for free.

Especially consultants.

So why do you?

There are courses on selling retainers available from some habitually successful people.

There are courses on true selling. Even podcasts if you don’t want to leave your house.

There are courses on copywriting and persuasion.

Everything you want to learn about being a consultant, you can find for either cheap or free.

But ask yourself this, do you want to consult?

It’s hard. You have to be an expert. Not just in your niche but recruitment too. And the evolution of the recruitment industry may yet favour the former, over the latter – this is something I’ll discuss in an upcoming article.

You have to make tough decisions that won’t win you friends.

You may have to go and sit on site. Probably for more than one day a week.

You may, in truth, have to quit your job, and pursue this ‘consulting angle’ with the respect it deserves.

It’s hard. But the rewards, as established by Consulting companies all over the world, are worth it.

I’m going to bet as few as 0.1% of the ‘recruitment consultants’ on LinkedIn, are genuine consultants. Which sounds negative, but it’s not.

For a start, there’s your market.

The recruitment industry’s changing. You could lead the pack in this brave new world. Once you’ve got credibility and a great track record, your relationships will be easier to tune to those of a true consultant.

The knowledge is out there for you to change your career, and your financial future.

You have a chance to make your recruitment fees based on your skill.

Not your client’s budget.

But here’s the thing, your client probably can’t afford a real consultant right now. They may not want one.

They’re probably happy working on a contingent basis. Creating a bidding war for their suppliers, with a race to the bottom. I mean… why wouldn’t they?!

You’re working for free!

But, aren’t you worth more than that?

If the answer’s yes, stay tuned next week for my article all about selling retainers. And in the meantime, start saying no to clients. You can thank me later.

Here’s something on an incredible productivity hack that might change your fortunes now. And here are some companies who might teach you their secrets.