Tips for Choosing a Human Resource Consultant

Most of us know that a human resources consultant is not someone you generally find in the yellow pages. But how should you choose one?

Before you worry about selection, you should consider whether an HR consultant is what you really need. If you need to fill a temporary vacancy for routine HR work, you might want to consider a temporary HR staffing agency. If your need for advanced expertise is continuous, you should be considering an addition to staff. If you are looking for someone with special HR skills and you have a limited need for those skills, a consultant is a wise choice. If the sensitivity of a project requires neutrality to produce credible results, the use of an outside HR consultant is also a wise decision.

Your HR consultant is not a substitute for your employment attorney; their efforts should complement one another. Experience in employee relations and counseling, training, recruitment and selection, benefits administration, or any of the other HR functional specialties does not qualify an HR consultant to give legal advice. Similarly, legal training and expertise do not qualify employment attorneys to counsel, train, recruit or select employees or perform HR consulting tasks effectively.

Finding a Consultant

Once you decide that an HR consultant is your most productive solution, you will need to source appropriate options. Networking is probably the most successful strategy to do this. Talk to people in firms similar to yours. Ask who they have used, and how successful were the results. If networking doesn’t yield results in the time frame you have, professional associations, directories, and Internet search engines can also be helpful sources. If you need a place to start, the Society for Human Resource Management website includes listings for consultants.

Selecting a Consultant

Selecting the consultant will be your next challenge. You will need to decide whether to use a large or small firm. Each has its advantages and pitfalls. Large firms have “marquee” names that give them instant credibility, and extensive resources. They also have large overhead costs and allocate their resources according to their own criteria. For example, clients are sometimes disappointed to find that the experts they spoke to in the initial phases of a project merely “oversee” the project, leaving the work to junior staff.

Smaller firms are generally cost advantageous, and typically the consultant who starts the project remains with it. On the negative side, smaller firms do not generally have expertise beyond what you see in the selection process. It may also be necessary for them to establish credibility with your stakeholders.

Having decided on the consulting options you want to explore, you will need to formulate your discussion questions in much the same way that you develop interview questions. You will want to cover:

  • Experience in the field
  • Experience with firms similar to yours
  • Details on who will work on your project
  • General methodology
  • Pricing – retainer, time, or project
  • Billing terms and practices
  • References
  • Unique considerations.

Launching the Engagement

In order to successfully launch the engagement, you should discuss critical success factors and administrative considerations with the consultant you select.

You and your consultant should agree on the following expectations:

  • Clearly defined results
  • Appropriate contacts
  • Included changes
  • Timetables and milestones.

Your company policy will determine which of the following administrative considerations need attention:

  • Confidentiality agreements
  • Copyrights and material licensing
  • Workers compensation and/or insurance requirements.

While you may not supervise the details of a consultant’s work, periodic status updates will enable you to track progress and clarify misunderstandings. A final meeting to review the results of the project can also be helpful.