How Your Consulting Firm Can Win the War for Millennial Talent

Posted by Angela Goldberg on July 27, 2018

Millennials in the Consulting Industry

A five-step process for attracting, retaining, and developing top millennial talent

I know what you’re thinking. “Not another blog about millennials, please!” Indeed a lot has been written on the topic of millennials in the workforce. Since the early 2000’s there have been thousands of articles proffering advice on how to recruit, retain and relate to millennials. In honor of “Global Millennials Month”, I have decided to add just one more blog to the conversation. But this one focuses on the consulting industry, and while most of the studies on millennials were conducted by management consulting firms, there is surprisingly little research available on what consulting firms, themselves, should be doing to win the war for millennial talent. This blog brings together insights gleaned from that data supplemented by interviews with millennials in the consulting industry and MBA students contemplating a career in consulting. In the process of collecting this information, five consistent themes emerged, which are key to winning the war for millennial talent.

1. Adopt the latest and greatest tools and technologies.

In the open-ended interviews I conducted with millennial consultants, “modern technology” emerged as a consistent requirement. One millennial consultant stated that she chose her firm because it offered “the latest tools out there.” Another millennial stated that he left his old firm, because “they were not using technology to be as productive as possible.” These anecdotes are supported in the literature. 

According to Consulting Magazine’s editor-in-chief, Joe Kornick, “Technology is intuitive to millennials, comprising a significant portion of their education and upbringing. They spend an average of 19 hours on smartphones each week and are even willing to leave a job if there is substandard technology.”  Erin Passons, former management consultant with Gallup and founder and CEO of Passons Consulting, advises firms to embrace the devices, tools and technologies that millennials expect. She describes millennials as “the most connected generation in history” and says they have an intuitive comfort level with all forms of electronic communication. Her advice: “Businesses need to embrace these forms of communication and millennials will be much more likely to build a positive relationship with you.”

2. Establish a flexible work structure with an emphasis on work-life balance.

In 2013, consulting firm, PwC, noticed something was drastically changing among the attitudes and priorities of new recruiting classes. PwC did what they do best and launched a new study to understand millennials’ attitudes toward work. The study found that millennials were not willing to sacrifice their personal lives for the possibility of a lucrative partnership somewhere in the distant future. As the report states, “the old model was broken.” 

According to one of the MBA students I interviewed, concerns over this broken model persist among business students today. In his own words, “One of the biggest internal conflicts I've experienced- and I know many of my classmates have likewise experienced- in deciding whether to enter management consulting -is the ability to balance your work and personal life.” In my interviews I heard time and again that consulting firms do not seem to understand that the job market has changed and firms need to keep pace with that change or risk becoming obsolete. One millennial consultant stated:  “I would rather have work-life balance now than a mythical pay-off at the end of some proverbial rainbow.” 

James Goodnow, author of Motivating Millennials, says that “accommodating millennials is the new business imperative”.  According to Goodnow, "Companies that give millennial workers the latitude to choose where and how to work ultimately win by retaining and keeping the best millennial talent.” Goodnow’s advice applies to consulting firms as well. As Kornick states, “Millennials are more likely to remain with firms granting flexible work hours instead of switching to a company that just offers a higher salary.”


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3. Offer meaningful work connected to a greater purpose.

Results from the 2018 Deloitte Millennials Survey suggests that one way to win the war for millennial talent is to connect your firm’s work to a greater purpose. According to the study, millennials’ opinions about business’ motivations and ethics, which had trended up the past two years, retreated dramatically this year, as did their sense of loyalty to their employers. In fact, 40% of respondents stated that they believe business leaders are having a negative impact on the world. The study astutely states, “Millennial loyalty must be earned, and the vast majority of millennials are prepared to move, and move quickly, to firms that meet their ethical standards.”

One millennial consultant I interviewed explained that she joined her management consulting firm because when the firm came to present at her school she was impressed with the sustainability work they had done. Another millennial consultant stated that she chose her firm because of all the pro bono opportunities. Other millennial consultants said they left high-paying positions to start their own firms where they would have the freedom to choose work connected to a greater purpose. 

Deloitte CEO, Jim Moffatt, believes that firms that ignore the importance of purpose to millennials do so at their own peril. According to Moffatt, “The key, ultimately, to empowering a millennial workforce is to align their work with a meaningful purpose or call to action. It's not enough to expect to be able to retain your top talent just by handing over a paycheck every other week. There has to be a greater social, economic, or technological impact for it to be appealing.” Erin Passons agrees. She advises consulting firms to “Provide the "WHY". As she puts it, “Most millennials want more than just a job - they want to connect their work to their values and feel like their job serves a purpose that they deem important.”

4. Move away from an annual review process to ongoing coaching and feedback.

One theme that came up repeatedly in the interview process was transparency. Time and again, managers explained to me that millennials on their teams expect complete transparency on an ongoing basis. Whether the feedback is positive or critical, millennials want to hear it in real time; not at the end of the year when it’s too late to do anything about it. 

According to Kornick, “Annual performance reviews are not enough…Millennials thrive on feedback, more so than older generations. Accustomed to instantaneous response from technology and parental upbringing, they crave comment and assessment. However, only 19 percent of millennials say they receive regular feedback.” This unmet need presents a tremendous opportunity for consulting firms looking for a competitive advantage in the war for talent. 

One manager told me that she had to change much of her management style when she started hiring millennials on her team. In her experience, the millennials expected more of an “open-door policy” where they could come to her with issues, comments, concerns, guidance at any time. She instituted the business version of academia’s “office hours” so that everyone on her team knew there were certain hours each week devoted to open communication, coaching, and feedback. Passons advises that all managers of millennials adopt a similar open-door policy. As she says, “Being accustomed to instant feedback about everything online, millennials expect the same at work, from their peers and their manager.” 

5. Develop customized career paths based on individual goals and priorities.

Most employees expect their managers to collaborate with them to establish a clear career path. However, for millennials this is a deal-breaker. Many of the millennial consultants I spoke with said they ended up leaving their first firm because there was no clear career path –other than the traditional associate/partner model. 

One millennial I spoke with explained it like this, “Over the course of several years and several digital clients, I had developed a breadth and depth of knowledge in digital transformation. I knew I didn’t want to stay on the traditional partner track, but I wanted to stay at my firm and become a subject matter expert. However, I was told I had to “move up or move out”. Guess which one I chose? I’ll give you a hint. I work for a boutique digital consulting firm now.” 

Passons advises consulting firm leaders to listen to their millennial consultants and look for ways to accommodate alternative career paths.  She says, “Millennials need to see where their career is going and they want to know exactly how to get there, so you're likely to keep them engaged by entertaining a dialogue about career goals and aspirations for what lies ahead on their career path.” 

Next Steps

Winning the war for millennial talent has become the new business imperative. But to truly win this war consulting firms must establish open lines of communication with their millennial candidates and employees. In addition, here are five easy steps your firm can begin taking today. 

  1. Adopt the latest and greatest tools and technologies
  2. Establish a flexible work structure with an emphasis on work-life balance
  3. Offer meaningful work connected to a greater purpose
  4. Move away from an annual review process to ongoing coaching and feedback
  5. Develop customized career paths based on individual goals and priorities

And, read the Powerful Talent Strategies to Boost Your Business eBook to understand the five key areas to incorporate into your human capital management strategy to drive retention, morale and productivity rates throughout your firm.


About the Author

Angela Goldberg is the Director of Marketing for Deltek, Inc., a leading provider of project-based solutions to the professional services markets. Prior to this role, Ms. Goldberg served as the Chief Marketing Officer for I.B.I.S., Inc., a Microsoft partner and provider of distribution software. Ms. Goldberg has more than 20 years of marketing experience, serving in various roles at consulting firms, including Boston Consulting Group and PwC, as well as leading technology firms like IBM-Informix, NetObjects, and Courtroom Connect. Ms. Goldberg received her Master's degree from Brown University and her Bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley.