What Human Resources Consultants Do
Human resources (HR) consultants help companies when they don’t have an HR department, or their existing team doesn’t have the skills and expertise to solve a problem. Some work as generalists, assisting companies with a wide range of employee-related issues, while others become specialists, and focus on a single area of HR. One of the most common things human resource consultants are asked to do is to help find the right talent for a company. At its core, the job is simple recruitment, but an experienced HR professional will dig deeper to find the right match, negotiate a benefits package both parties can agree on, and may be involved in creating employee development and retention schemes too. It’s also common for HR consultants to refine processes for HR departments or help the company find the right partners to outsource specific tasks to, such as payroll or accounting. HR consultants who are particularly knowledgeable when it comes to safety guidelines and employment law will develop procedures and policies related to these areas, and may conduct audits to ensure a company’s HR team is compliant with all regulations. When large established companies face an HR-related issue, such as having a large amount of employee grievances or is preparing to restructure, they’ll also bring on a human resources consultant to help advise them and work through the issue. Sometimes, the HR consultant will be responsible for training the existing HR team or employees as well.
Some HR consultants work for large consultancy firms, such as Mercer, Deloitte, Accenture, Willis Towers Watson, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and McKinsey & Company, while others work for smaller boutique firms or independently. The amount of time a human resources consultant spends on any given project, or with any client, will vary, so there’s much variation in an HR consultant’s day.
Who would enjoy a career in HR, Human Capital, Talent and People Consulting?
The career of an HR consultant is a good fit for those who are always hungry for new challenges, appreciate diversity in work, and are highly-organized as well as self-motivated. It can also be an excellent opportunity for those who like to make a difference in people’s lives and are capable leaders with in-depth knowledge of all HR functions.
Who mightn't like the career?
The career isn’t a good fit for someone who isn’t already well-versed in all the tasks an HR professional would normally carry out. In addition to this, travel is often extensive, so it’s probably not ideal for someone who wants a standard schedule and more work/ life balance.
Large firms specifically target the best of the best as they emerge with undergraduate degrees in human resource management or similar area of study from top universities. For those looking at moving into the career without top grades or from an elite school, it may be easier to work in HR for some time, network, and then try for a larger firm or boutique firm.
- Bachelor’s in Human Resources
- Master’s in Human Resources
- Master’s in Labor Relations
- Master’s in Business Administration
It may be easier to get a consultancy role as a specialist rather than a generalist, so those just starting out may do best by refining their skills in one area and marketing themselves as an expert in that area. Joining a professional organization for consultants and/ or HR specialists may also be beneficial.
Moving into HR, Human Capital, Talent and People Consulting from another career
The only viable paths into a career as an HR consultant are working as an in-house HR professional or similar field and obtaining a degree in human resources. For one non-HR professionals experience making the transition, read “How a Burned-Out Lawyer Quit Her Job and Discovered Her Dream Career.”
Associate Consultant / Analyst
Role: Most people beginning their careers start as an analyst, as the bare minimum educational requirement is typically a bachelor’s degree. Analysts spend their days supporting senior staff, gathering data, and doing research that will be used to propose solutions to clients. They may also be involved in creating presentations for clients.
Role: Generally speaking, people move into a consultant position after obtaining a master’s degree in human resources, although some firms will promote favorite associates/analysts without the degree. Although consultants do much the same work as associate consultants do, they may be entrusted with a higher tier of clients or with handling more research solo.
Role: Managers oversee a project and manage a team of associates and analysts. They also work closely with the partners and may be involved in coming up with solutions.
Associate Partner/ Associate Principal
Role: Associate partners often hone in on a particular industry and work exclusively within the sector. They often meet with prospective clients and demonstrate how the firm can help, and secure the organization as a new client. Travel is required frequently. Progressing up the consulting food chain typically requires good sales and business development skills, even at the Principal level, as the nature of the role chances from “doing” to managing others and to eventually winning and retaining new clients and business.
Partner and Director
Role: Many firms offer higher levels for associate partners who have proven themselves in the industry. The positions tend to be coveted, only being offered to those with large client portfolios and effective teams. Partners typically are responsible for winning new business or relationship managing clients who have worked with their firm, so sales and relationship skills are required to progress to this level.
Entry-level positions can involve significant travel, but people in advanced positions travel often to meet with clients and close deals. Whilst at a graduate and junior level the travel can be exciting, consultants often report that the joy of catching planes and commuting has been said to considerably wear off over time.
Entry Level (0-5 years): According to data from PayScale, those beginning their careers have salaries of approximately USD$60,000 in the United States, £32,000 in the United Kingdom, CAD$64,000 in Canada, and AU$68,000 in Australia.
Mid-Career (5-10 years): USD$74,000, £37,000, CAD$70,000, AU$84,000.
Experienced (10-20 years): USD$84,000, £48,000, CAD$76,000, AU$98,000.
Late Career (20+ years): USD$100,000, £55,000, CAD$87,000, AU$125,000.
Bonuses, commission, and profit sharing are all often added to an HR consultant’s salary and may increase take-home pay by tens of thousands of dollars.
Why Human Resources Consultants move on
Work as a human resources consultant can be demanding, and the travel requirements extensive, which can occasionally lead to burnout. In these cases, most still have passion for human resources, so they slide into in-house positions or launch their own consultancies to have more control over their hours and clients. They may also move into an HR-related field, such as recruiting or executive search. For further reading, see “10 Best Careers for Human Resources Professionals” and “Is There Life After HR?”