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Mastering the Art of Differentiation: 6 Keys to Recruiting in the Professional Services Industry

Some teams stand out through creating new gadgets that users can’t live without. Others build software that disrupts entire industries. In the realm of professional services, companies make their mark through dismantling their clients’ biggest challenges. As they provide services ranging from consulting to accounting to finance, top firms empower other teams through close partnership and dynamic strategy. Sometimes though, it’s difficult to show candidates how exactly they’re doing things differently than the competition. 

How, then, do the best firms set themselves apart when talking to candidates? We talked to three recruiting leaders who have it figured out. KPMG NZ Senior Resourcing Manager Adam Binks, Aronson LLC Director of Recruiting Kevin Gerrity, and OnPrem Solution Partners Founding Partner Candice Lu revealed a series of secrets to differentiation in the professional services industry. Armed with their six invaluable tips, you can begin ramping up your own recruiting success.

1) Provide broader context about why your industry is unique

If you ask Candice, consulting is appealing largely because of its unpredictability. In many industries, your day-to-day responsibilities rarely shift. In professional services, every new project presents a different challenge. “You experience the excitement of changing careers without changing your resume,” she gushes. “You have to learn several different things in a short amount of time.” She explains that many jobs have aspects of problem-solving – but in consulting, it’s your every day. It’s exceptionally rewarding because it’s a constant challenge.

Consulting is 100 percent about the people, according to Kevin. When it comes down to it, the product you’re selling to clients is your team’s expertise. “That’s our biggest differentiator – our people are the ones providing thought leadership and building training processes for our clients,” he explains. It’s important, therefore, to convey that reality to candidates who are considering Aronson. At other companies, building the technology may be the number one priority. In the consulting industry, developing new client relationships comes first by far.

2) Search for candidates with a variety of skillsets

During his career in the professional services realm, Adam has gathered that employees need a combination of technical and functional skills to best deliver on client deliverables. And while he normally counts on the hiring manager to gauge those technical skills, Adam seeks out that balance of expertise as well. “We don’t have a lot of space in our org for pure back-office people,” he admits. “You need those technical competencies, but you also have to be able to talk to clients and be the driver in every process.” At this point, every consultant, partner or director at his firm is customer-facing. He has to look for the most well-rounded talent in order to help KPMG succeed.

Candice has also learned to maintain a high hiring bar. When she began scaling OnPrem as founding partner, she hired a few candidates who weren’t multidimensional or curious – just because she was eager to grow quickly. “Since then, I’ve learned to never compromise on hiring,” she reflects. “If you’re envisioning someone on your project and you’re not excited, say no.” Your new hire won’t make your life easier if they can’t both build relationships and dive deep into data. Plus, you certainly won’t be able to attract more dynamic candidates without dynamic employees.

3) Leverage your technology


“Today, candidates expect things to be like their online retail experience,” says Adam. “They’re looking to get feedback quickly, and for an application process that’s not too clunky.” Technology alone won’t set your team apart, but it can make your process smarter and more streamlined. At KPMG, Adam uses tools like Calendly to schedule candidate feedback calls and Eventbrite to market campus activities during university recruiting season. He also says that Lever is instrumental in giving hiring managers visibility into their candidates’ progress, empowering them to submit feedback faster, and ultimately improving candidate experience. “Using Lever, we’ve received numerous comments from candidates saying ‘Hey, I just applied for your role, and wanted to let you know that’s one of the best experiences I’ve had,’” recalls Adam.

Taking full advantage of your technology also means becoming data-driven, says Adam. In the professional services industry, where 60 to 70 percent of employees are accountants, your team pays attention when you show them data. What kind of data does Adam look at? First off, his team examines time to hire in three buckets: 1. How quickly they find candidates, 2. How long it takes for them to go through the interview process, and 3. Time to complete references and get an offer out. As he and his fellow recruiters have zeroed in on metrics, they’ve seen dramatic improvements. “Since we started using Lever, we’ve reduced our time to hire by as much as 25 days,” he explains. “The process behind our new system has certainly improved, but the technology has been key to that success.” Beyond that data, Adam’s team assesses quality of hire by measuring employee performance six months in, and looks at cost of hire in relation to the revenue they can gain by hiring an employee more quickly.

4) Proactively build relationships with candidates

In Kevin’s experience, professional services industry candidates don’t apply to job boards. The market is candidate-driven, and you have to be proactive about reaching out and presenting your value proposition. “It’s on our recruiting team at Aronson to get in front of people rather than wait for them to apply; that is how we stand out,” says Kevin. “With tools like Lever, we can regularly and proactively reach out to those passive candidates and develop bigger talent pools.”

Candice remains proactive through continuously building a pipeline of candidates even when she’s not hiring. Since her team can’t always predict when they’ll need more people to staff certain projects, the recruiting team consistently checks in with the candidates they store in Lever. Then, they carry that thoughtful approach throughout the interview process. “You have to remember that this talent is top-notch; they can pretty much do any job,” says Candice. In the interview process, she tells candidates that they’re interviewing OnPrem just as much as Onprem is interviewing them. Through creating a casual, conversational setting, they give each candidate a better experience.

5) Differentiate your outreach

According to Kevin, accountants are conservative in nature, so generic messages immediately turn them off. Any spelling errors? Forget it. Candidates will delete your message immediately, he laughs. A former accountant himself, Kevin knows how deeply his candidates care about getting things right. The bottom line is that tailored messages are most likely to garner responses. He suggests that you get creative through appealing to candidates’ interests, and show them why your opportunity is unique. “At Aronson, there’s still lots of opportunity to deploy entrepreneurial spirit. You’re adding so much value and impact to each client,” explains Kevin. “We try to share that with candidates, and we pride ourselves on partnering with them throughout the process.”

The team at OnPrem builds interviews differently. They give candidates actual cases that consultants are working on. “Generally, you get really vague questions in these interviews,” says Candice. “We take actual projects, redact the sensitive info, and say, ‘Here’s the situation. What would you do here? Walk me through your process flow.’” When the candidate knows their scenario is applicable, they delve in more wholeheartedly.

6) Identify and engage your hiring partners

One of Adam’s most central tips? Understand that you’ll never be the technical expert on every single role. The necessary technical expertise you should hire for will shift, and your hiring manager will always have the most insight into which skills are most useful. “Work with them to see what they’re looking for, and trust them to get it right,” he advises. But searching for, selecting, and guiding candidates through their interview process is the recruiter’s job. If the candidate is the right fit, it’s on the recruiter to make sure they accept.

It’s also on the recruiter to educate their broader team on the importance of every interaction with candidates, adds Kevin. “We don’t have brand ambassadors; our people are our brand ambassadors,” he says. “Every message we send is like our mini-Super Bowl – it’s our one opportunity to execute well and put Aronson in the spotlight.” Kevin makes sure that every employee knows that when they have a coveted candidate in their pipeline, they have to move. It’s crunch time, and working quickly to make that candidate’s experience special is essential.

You know standing out to candidates will be difficult when even your industry title – ‘professional services’- encompasses a myriad of specialties. Still, there’s no doubt that the teams at KPMG New Zealand, OnPrem, and Aronson have zeroed in on the strategies to do just that. Thank you to Adam, Candice, and Kevin for sharing your tips with us!

A few months ago, we talked to another one of our customers in Poland that’s doing everything they can to stand out in their crowded job market. Learn about the dynamic strategies that the Tooploox team is employing here.