A human resources consultant is a skilled person who assists organizations with impactful human resources solutions. In some instances, the human resources consultant can be a specialist who focuses on one or a few specialist areas of human resources. Overall, a human resources consultant offers human resources solutions to organizations that require such services. The majority of human resources consultants work for consulting firms, while others work as freelance HR Consultants. In some instances, you can find them as in-house specialists, specifically in big organizations.
Human resources consultants offer human resources services or solutions to organizations. The services that human resources consultants offer range from recruitment, performance management, training and development, HR analytics, compensation and benefits, and payroll and human resources administration in general. Some client organizations consume these services as once-off interventions whenever they have human resources problems that require the assistance of a specialist consultant. In some instances, the consultant is engaged on a retainer basis and paid monthly for their services.
Organizations vary in the scope of their in-house human resources capacity. Organizations can hire a human resources consultant when they do not have internal human resources support, and in such instances, it is on a need basis. For example, an organization may hire a human resources consultant to assist them in implementing a performance management system. In some instances, they hire a human resources consultant to do a remuneration or compensation survey. Such assignments can be once-off assignments, or they can be on a retainer basis. We also do get instances when an organization hires a human resources consultant, even if they have in-house expertise.
The consultant comes in to provide specialist support to assist the internal team. You can also get instances where organizations hire an HR Consultant because the assignment requires an outsider who will bring an element of independence to the intervention. Areas that may require an independent human resources consultant include carrying out employee engagement surveys and leading a 360-degree assessment. In all cases, organizations hire a human resources consultant when they have a problem that they can not solve on their own, or they require an independent person to do it.
Human resources consultants offer a variety of services to client organizations. All these services depend on the problems the client organizations are facing. Below, I list and explain the various offerings consultants can offer.
- Compensation and benefits – Organizations often hire HR consultants with specialist skills in compensation and benefits. Consultants in this area assist organizations in structuring compensation and benefits. This could include carrying out compensation and benefits surveys for the client organization and presenting results and recommendations to the clients. In some instances, assignments in this area include developing pay and benefits structures. From my experience as a consultant for 20 years now, for any consultant to do well in this area, they need specialistic skills such as how to apply statistics to human resources.
Pay structuring involves the use of mathematical formulas, and compensation surveys require someone who can understand statistics such as percentiles, averages and standard deviation as they are critical in analyzing market compensation data.
- HR Policies and Procedures – HR Consultants can assist clients in developing human resources policies and procedures. Such HR consultants need to have good knowledge of the whole human resources value chain as policies cut across a number of human resources areas. More importantly, HR consultants wishing to offer this type of service must have a good knowledge of labour statutes, as HR policies have to comply with applicable labour laws.
- Training and Development- HR Consultants who work in the field of training and development often assist organizations in carrying out training needs analysis and developing training plans and mechanisms for evaluating the effectiveness of such training. The majority of HR Consultants working in this area offer training services as facilitators to various training programs, which can range from management/leadership development, customer service training and many other HR-related training interventions.
- HR Analytics – HR Consultants who work in this area would have been trained with a focus on statistics and HR. These people offer prediction models to companies. They work largely in the area of workforce planning and analytics. This is a growing area for HR Consultants.
- Recruitment and Selection – We find a large number of human resources consultants working to assist companies in hiring the right people. The majority of HR Consultants in this area work in Recruitment Agencies across the globe. Such consultants help organizations find the right people. This starts with them receiving a client brief on what they are looking for, and they go into the market to look for the right candidates. Their role is to introduce the right candidates to the client organization. They can also be involved in assisting the client to carry out more comprehensive interviews. In some instances, they are also contracted to carry out background checks on shortlisted candidates as part of the client contract.
HR Consultants in this area are now leveraging technology to reach the right candidates; they use platforms such as LinkedIn to look for the right candidates. Client organizations may also engage Human Resources Consultants who work in this area to do specialized headhunting for skills that are rare to find.
- Organizational Development – We are increasingly seeing lots of HR Consultants moving into this area. Organizational development (OD) is a strategic and systematic approach to improving an organization's effectiveness and performance. It focuses on the culture, structure, and processes of an organization to help it adapt to change, solve problems, and achieve its goals. Consultants who work in these areas normally focus on organizational design, culture change and process improvements to help companies achieve better performance.
There are many routes to becoming an HR Consultant. I will share my personal story first and will then look at other options. While I was at university pursuing a degree in psychology, my then lecturer, Josephine Jordan, was already a consultant. She lectured in psychology but also did private consulting work. She was mainly offering consulting in psychometric testing and organizational development.
In many of the discussions I had with her, the issue of becoming a consultant came up for discussion. She told me that to be a consultant, and I needed to amass a wealth of value-adding experience in the field of human resources. I took this to heart and started the journey, and here is how it unfolded.
I joined BHP Minerals as a Human Resources Graduate trainee. The traineeship lasted 18th months, and I was deployed as an HR officer generalist initially. After a few months, I was assigned to work in compensation and benefits. I worked in compensation and benefits till I joined BHP four years later. I amassed technical skills that I would later use. I acquired great skills, but I was not able to do salary surveys and pay structuring from start to finish. These skills proved to be extremely valuable later in my HR Consulting career.
From BHP Minerals, I moved to Ernst & Young, where I started as an entry-level HR Consultant and became a senior HR Consultant. I handled small and big projects in the areas of salary surveys, job evaluation, pay structuring, performance management, and change management. I trained many people from client organizations in these areas. In 1999, I was trained in using the balanced scorecard approach to performance management, and I still use it up to now. I lasted four years at Ernst & Young.
From Earnt & Young, I moved to a financial service firm as an HR Manager. I was an HR Generalist. I covered everything to do with HR in this organization as we had a very lean structure and had no luxury of delegating the core duties in HR. In 2003, I left this firm to start my HR consulting firm. I am still leading this firm as an HR Consultant. In my current role, I cover services such as psychometric testing (based on my status as a registered occupational psychologist), performance management, culture transformation, and recruitment agency services, and I also offer various training services in the area of human resources. One more thing is that my firm has been voted the Best HR Consulting firm several times now.
If you decide to go it alone as an HR consultant, you need to select a niche you would like to service based on your skills. Avoid trying to be a jerk of all trades. Being a consultant means you need to have very good networking skills to be able to get clients. One strategy I have been using effectively is thought leadership. In 1999, I started writing articles in leading newspapers, and I still write up to now.
I now write for three leading newspapers. I have done TV interviews, and I have spoken at several conferences. I had a glorious opportunity to do a Ted Talk, and I grabbed it. These are the many ways I reach out to potential clients. You can do it, too, once you have decided this is the route you want to take.
Whether you are an HR Consultant running a firm or as a solo consultant, you need to be careful how you manage your finances. Most HR Consultants fail because they fail to manage their finances. It would help if you managed your cashflows so that you can pay your bills, such as for the internet, which is so important now, and other running expenses.
Being an HR Consultant can be lucrative if planned well. The entry into HR consultancy must be planned so that you avoid getting there by accident. You are likely to succeed as an HR Consultant if your target market sees you as a thought in your areas of expertise.