What to look for in a HR consultant
2nd September 2016
You may know what a HR consultant does – providing human resources support for your business – but how do you know that you’ve found the right one?
What separates one HR consultant from the next? HR consultancy is so skilled, and must be handled so sensitively and professionally, that it’s essential you make the right decision.
Here are things to look for when you’re hiring a HR consultant:
The HR consultant’s availability
It might seem obvious, but can be easily overlooked when you’re focused on finding the right person. Does the consultant’s availability fit with your requirement?
This might mean that they need to be available for as many weeks or months as you expect to need their support, but could also mean thinking about their day-to-day availability. Can you contact them in the hours that you need to? Could they visit your office at the right time?
The HR consultant’s working situation
Is your consultant a part-time freelancer? Are they a full-time HR consultant?
Do they work solely online? This can be a benefit as it really cuts cost and can add flexibility, but may also be a drawback if you need a physical presence or have particularly complex requirements. Instead of an online HR consultant, would it be better to work with someone that can visit in person?
The HR consultant’s experience
You’ll want to know two things about a consultant’s experience:
- How much experience do they have?
- Do they have experience that is specifically relevant to your business/industry?
Ideally, you want someone that understands the complexities of whichever industry you work in. They should know what you need from your employees and what they’ll need from you.
Experience levels can be a tricky topic. It makes sense that you would want a HR consultant with plenty of experience, but remember that the most experienced consultants will charge a lot for their service. You will need to balance the experience level with how much you’re happy or able to pay.
Sometimes, taking a chance on a HR consultant with very little real experience can pay off – particularly if they’re looking to build a client base and are offering reduced rates – but you’re taking a risk to get that reward.
Which HR consultants will be working with you?
Some consultants work independently. Others are part of a small team.
When you hire a HR consultant, be sure that you know exactly who you’ll be working with.
There are benefits to having just one consultant working with your business, so that there are no confused messages or miscommunications. One consultant will also be able to learn more about your business, with a full understanding of what it does and how it works.
There are also benefits to having more than one consultant. You can benefit from a number of different brains working together to help you to make the most of your HR consultancy experience. Too many cooks may sometimes spoil the broth, but you never know which mind is going to add the perfect ingredient. The more minds you have working on your project, the bigger the chance that they’ll suggest something incredible. With a team of HR consultants, it’s also more likely that you’ll be able to access immediate help and support whenever it’s needed.
Pricing, payment and billing
It makes sense that the prices charged by your chosen HR consultant should be a top priority. Know what your budget allows for. Cheaper isn’t always better, but the most expensive consultant may not be the right one, either.
How will you pay for their services? Does the payment method suit you? Are the billing terms agreeable?
Does your chosen consultant charge a retainer, invoice by the hour or give you a set price for a specific project?
When working with a HR consultant, it certainly helps to know that they’ve been in your shoes! Before becoming consultants, many of the best will have years (or decades) of experience working as an in-house HR manager.
What’s their CV like? Who have they worked for? These questions can help you to determine if you’re choosing someone with an array of past successes, a steady and stable career, or someone that has advertised as a HR consultant having just left a touring circus.
References and reviews
Unless you’re taking a chance on someone that’s completely new to the industry (everyone needs to start somewhere!), you’ll probably want some evidence of past success.
It’s fine to ask consultants to share reviews and references. In an ideal world they’d name the companies that they had previously worked with, and that you could contact in person, though client confidentiality will often stop this from happening. At the very least, ask if they have any statistics or quotes to show that others have been happy with their service.
You’re going to be providing your chosen HR consultancy with a lot of confidential information. They’re going to have details about all of your employees, with the responsibility falling on you. You need to trust your consultant absolutely.
How are they going to provide data security? What will they do with the information that they’re given?
After all of the practicalities have been considered, there’s still one more thing to think about. Do you get on with your consultant of choice?
You might not prioritise interpersonal relationships over prices and experience levels, but you’re going to be working closely with the consultant that you choose. As a result, it’s best that you are able to relax at least a little.
If things feel awkward, if you seem to clash or there are more awkward silences than friendly conversations, then a long-term working relationship is going to be painful for everyone involved. You might also struggle to address certain topics, because you don’t feel comfortable being open and honest.
Choose a consultant that you can sit across the table from, discussing ideas and even cracking a joke or two. You’re going to be talking law, recruitment and possibly redundancy, so the least you can do is find someone that you like to discuss everything with.