Talent attraction in the professional services industry

Talent attraction in the professional services industry


Talent attraction in the professional services industry


The professional services industry has long been a magnet for top-tier students seeking jobs in the KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY.

Those winning spots in premier management consulting firms, for example, are all but assured high starting pay and a steady pace of promotions… in exchange for long work hours and often grueling travel schedules. Jobs in fields like consulting, accounting and finance draw students seeking an intellectually demanding and financially rewarding career.

While the elite firms may not have problems attracting top candidates, most professional service firms (PSFs) are in a heated race to attract the very best. The US unemployment rate for April 2015 in professional services was just 3 percent (compared to the overall US unemployment rate of 5.4 percent). And the Financial Times reports hiring in the professional services field in the UK is booming; firms report double digit growth in hiring, signaling an impressive amount of new job creation in the industry. Due to high demand for skilled talent, poaching mid- to senior-level talent from competing firms is common. A survey by Bloomsbury Professional – a research and media company in professional services – shows the number of accounting firms considering poaching executives from competitors rose from 8 percent to 22 percent in the 12 months ending in mid-2014.

A tight job market, however, isn’t the only talent challenge the industry faces. Recent research shows an insularity among top rungs of the industry. A widely read study by Lauren Rivera, an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management in the US, says top-tier PSFs consistently recruit and hire individuals with the most affluent backgrounds rather than those who may be most qualified. The reasons for this are complex; in part it’s driven by the simple fact that those attending Russell Group and Ivy League schools are more likely to hail from privileged backgrounds. But also in play are more subtle biases. Rivera says hiring is often subject to “looking glass merit” – or the desire on the part of hiring managers to recruit individuals who are most like themselves (i.e. those more likely to be from privileged backgrounds). Rivera makes the case that current hiring practices cost professional service firms because they do not always identify and attract the best individuals.

Finally, companies inside the industry are still wrestling with the rise of worker mobility and free agency. Younger knowledge workers don’t feel they need to be in the office to do their jobs; they don’t associate a physical location with their work. Explains Jody Thompson, co-founder of Culture Rx, a consulting firm that helps companies adapt to more flexible work styles: “We bring them into the work environment and we say, ‘Here’s this 6×6 square you’re
going to work in, with a desktop computer… And here’s your phone with your cord. You come in at eight and you leave at five, and between ten and noon, that’s when we’re creative’.” For Millennials this makes little sense.

For some younger workers, free agency (i.e. working as a contract or freelance worker) allows greater flexibility than traditional employment. In the UK, for example, the number of those working in professional services grew by more than 700,000 in the year ending June 2014, and of those, more than half were self-employed. A 2014 survey by Deloitte also highlighted this trend for highly skilled workers to choose virtual, freelance or contract work rather than traditional employment. “This is creating larger open talent networks on a global scale that can supplement the work of traditional employees,” says Kent Kirch, Global Director of Talent Acquisition and Mobility, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. “Knowledge workers have the flexibility they want, and employers have access to a pool of talent available on a contingent or project basis.”

This represents a massive shift in how organizations operate. Attracting and retaining this generation will require substantially different skills and employment ‘offers’ than professional service firms are currently organized to do. Each year, Universum surveys the professional expectations of one million career-seekers from 55 countries, and publishes dozens of reports on the top issues affecting global talent and the companies that hire talent. We aim to help employers understand the attitudes and career goals of young professionals, and how these insights affect strategic business decisions. In this report, part of our Talent Insights Series, we uncover what university students look for in future professional service employers – and how companies can translate these findings into actionable steps for HR, recruiting and C-level leadership.

About Talent in the professional services industry

Learn more about what university students are looking for in future employers and the implications for companies that seek to hire them.