How to Jump the Consulting Talent Gap

Posted by Guest on September 21, 2021

Consulting Talent Gap

By: Jason Mlicki of Rattleback

Business is great. But you're down to a skeleton crew, and you can't find the people you need to go forward. Sound about right?

If you're like a growing collection of consulting firms, this statement probably feels all too true. In many firms, talent has quickly become issues #1, #2, and #3, blocking their growth objectives. Firms are finding it harder than ever to:

  • Attract top talent. Talented people simply have more options than ever before. This is especially true within critical areas of specialty digital skills -- data, analytics, AI, cyber security, automation...
  • Retain key people. Many people are simply resetting their lives. They're rethinking their entire relationship with work. Even key project leaders and senior managers are stepping aside.

If you're a consulting firm leader, you probably feel like you're riding Disneyworld’s Space Mountain. 15 months ago, demand practically collapsed over night as you flew over a cliff into the darkness. Now, there's opportunity abound. You're re-climbing a mountain in the broad daylight, but it feels like you're coming off the tracks because the supply of talent you need to make the climb is disappearing.

Is It Just Us? What's Going on Here?

In July, the Wall Street Journal reported that 7.5 million workers quit their jobs in April and May. That's nearly twice as many as a year earlier. By September, the McKinsey Quarterly put that number at 15 million U.S. workers since April. So, somewhere between 15-20 million U.S. workers will have made a job transition (not necessarily a change…as many are leaving for no new position at all) in the last 5 months alone. That's a staggering number!

An August report from Source for Consulting found that 4 out of 5 of consulting firms are finding it very difficult to recruit; some are even turning away work due to a lack of capacity.

And it doesn't look like it's going to get any easier. According to McKinsey, 41% of white-collar workers said they are at least "somewhat likely" to leave their current job in the next 3-6 months and 64% of those are willing to leave without a job in hand.


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So, What Are You Going to Do About it?

Of course, a lot of firms are opting for the simple answer. Raise pay. While this may be completely warranted, the fact of the matter is you probably can't compete with the real competition for talent. With work from home becoming a "semi-permanent" or "truly permanent" thing, technology companies are reaching all across the country to grab talent. Bay Area companies are hiring people in Boseman, Provo, Little Rock, and Portland. No need to relocate and they offer a handsome pay raise to boot.

The problem is most consulting firms generate $200,000 - $300,000 in revenue per employee. By contrast, Google generates more like $1.7 - $1.8M per employee. Oh, and they still throw 20-30% to the bottom line. You're not going to outbid big tech when it comes to talent. So, you're going to have to get more creative.

Here are some strategies on how to get started:

  1. Double-down on your culture. Take the time to understand what really motivates people and how that intertwines with the purpose of your firm. In short, figure out what makes you great, and double down there so you can attract and retain the right people.
  2. Rethink who and how you recruit and retain. Most firms recruit from the same places and the same skills over and over again. Now more than ever, you need to be flexible. Think more about the nature of the work and the qualities that successful consultants possess, then look for untapped talent pools you can bring into the role.  
  3. Rethink your pricing models so you can grow without growing headcount. The vast majority of firms still use cost-based, one-size fits most pricing models. The price of your services is a function of the value you create and the likelihood of you delivering it.
  4. Invest in technology to connect, engage, and limit burnout. The best firms we work with use systems to make employees’ lives easier and better connect them with each other. They use systems to document and share best practices, to prioritize and organize work, to provide real-time communication and collaboration, and to visually see resource requirements and capacity problems.

Want to learn more?

Check out the on-demand webinar, where I do a deeper dive into these four strategies and what tactics other consulting firms are using to overcome the types of talent challenges you probably face. 


About the Author

As Principal of Rattleback, Jason Mlicki has been advising professional services firms on marketing matters for nearly 20 years. He writes about growth strategies, thought leadership development and digital marketing at He also co-produces the annual conference, Profiting From Thought Leadership and the professional services marketing podcast, Rattle & Pedal.