Recruiting Top Outside Consultants

Recruiting Top Outside Consultants: What the Savvy Project Managers Should Know

Eva Marer writes for – a Ms.Money partner.

As the networked economy grows, more companies are reaching beyond the corporate ranks to staff temporary projects. The need for specialized expertise and the lure of operational efficiency are compelling reasons to hire outside consultants. To protect themselves and their companies’ investments, however, savvy project managers should know a few things before hiring free agents.

Good hiring practices

First, the hiring company should have a clear strategy and project plan in place, says Michael Flannery of Redwood Partners, a New York-based recruiter specializing in the temporary placement of executives at pre-IPO dot-coms. “You need someone who can execute, who can come in and fix the problem quickly without burning a lot of cash,” he says. In other words, he warns, rely on freelancers for solutions, not strategy.

Second, in today’s job market, project managers need to be very aggressive about hiring. “You should always have your feelers out there,” says Flannery. “Always be creating candidate flow.” Regardless of whether a job is currently open, says Flannery, the company should be promoting its brand, interviewing candidates and developing a stable of potential hires. “Starting to screen candidates 90 days before the start of a project is all wrong,” he says.

For junior to mid-level managers or creative consultants, online job boards, newspapers and other traditional methods are effective recruiting arenas. “This is a very dynamic and fluid workforce,” says Robert Sydia, a partner with Hutchinson Smiley, a Toronto firm and one of Canada’s oldest MIS placement firms. Sydia recommends pursuing several avenues at once, including word-of-mouth recommendations and specialized sites and newsgroups.

With resumes in hand…

Once a flow of resumés has been created, project managers can perform an initial screen. Sydia advises having an MIS specialist review the candidate’s technical skills to make sure they’re not “full of baloney.” Also, make sure the person has experience in project work, he says. Did the person work for Fortune 1000 companies? Small- or medium-sized enterprises? Sydia advises scanning for the human element also. “Was this person in a mentoring or leadership role? Did he have client contact? Or was he locked in a room with no social interaction at all?” Before finalizing a short list of candidates, managers should seek third-party references if possible, says Bill Burgess III of The Burgess Group, a high-tech consulting and diversity recruiter with offices in New York City and New Fairfield, Conn. Because freelancers have access to so much proprietary information, and may at some point work for competitors, a high degree of integrity is crucial.

A mile in their shoes.

Project managers should also understand the nature of project work from the consultant’s point of view. “Freelancers come to the table differently than regular employees,” says Burgess. They are basically mini-companies whose business depends on being able to accept a high volume of projects within a short time frame. “They need information fast,” he says.

Top freelancers, whether in technology, research or management, are selling speed, expertise and thoroughness. Project managers who appreciate these skill sets are more likely to snare top candidates… and retain them. “Keep a good freelancer busy,” jokes Flannery. “That way they can’t work for your competition.”