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Boutique Consultancy Common Misconceptions

So, it’s that time again. You’ve decided to assess your career options and take a call with one of the myriad recruitment consultants that have reached out to you on LinkedIn in the last year. They tell you they have the perfect opportunity for your skill set and background. Great, just what you wanted to hear. Then they tell you it’s for a company of circa 30 people and words like niche and boutique start edging their way into the conversation. If you’ve never considered a boutique consultancy or have somehow been put off of them by what you’ve heard, it’s possible that one or many of the common misconceptions around these companies has befallen your ear. Here are the five most common to mine:

  1. Boutique companies are not secure.

It’s important to realise that not all boutiques are created equal. Sure, there will always be some in better condition than others and some have just been around longer. It’s always good at interview stage or even at the initial discussion with your recruiter to find out exactly what the company’s plans are for the medium to long-term. Are they looking to grow to 200+? Not all consultancies have this on their agenda. There is great advantage to be had by remaining smaller and focusing on better quality work rather than simply trying to grow for the sake of it. It’s also worth pointing out that if you have been contacted by a recruiter, that will mean the company in question has a recruitment budget which is pretty strong indication of healthy revenues. 

What Can you Do?

A good place to start would be to look at the current employees on LinkedIn. This will give you an idea of how long people have been there, what they are working on and where they came from. You will very likely see that many came from places like the Big 4 or similar. You will also be able to view former employees which will give you some idea of the attrition rate as well as what you might expect when it comes to moving on again. See how we do this at Ascent with our about us page.

  1. They don’t pay well.

Same rules apply here. Not all boutiques are created equal. Some will pay well and some won’t. However, any boutique that is serious about onboarding the best talent will need to adapt to market rates. Simply put, they need to remain competitive. Another aspect to consider is the bonus element. I’m going to say it again: not all boutiques… you get the idea. More often than not, the bonus side of the renumeration is where the boutique will trump the bigger companies and, more and more of them are now coming up with different and interesting ways to do so. For instance, one of our clients, a Change and Transformation specialist, offer what they call “spot bonuses”. This essentially means that consultants are rewarded on an as and when basis for exceptional work they put in. You can also achieve faster promotion much easier at a smaller company which of course allow you earn more over a short space of time.

What can you do?

Be as open and transparent as possible when disclosing your salary information to your recruiter. This is not them being intrusive it is simply so they can present your FULL value to the client so they will have accurate figures to go on when drawing up a competitive offer. Include as much detail as you can. What is your base salary? What bonus percentage are you on? How is that calculated? What did you get last year by way of a benchmark? What benefits do you receive? Do you take any of them as cash? The more clarity you can give here, the better.

  1.  They have less prestigious clients.

I don’t think I need to say it again. This is something your recruiter and certainly the company themselves will be able to tell you about at the first stage interview. For a great many boutique players in the market, this really couldn’t be further from the truth. Smaller companies often beat the bigger players to the best contracts as they have good talent, can specialise and can often afford to charge less. Some of them won’t even respond to RFPs at all and survive perfectly well on repeat business while still being in a position to hire all year round. Many of them also work alongside the larger consultancies focusing on the more specialised areas of the project. They may even be the incumbent between the main consultancy and the client in this regard.  

What can you do?

Do your own research. If working with big named client is important to you then you’ll definitely want to be with a company that is doing just that. Are there any case studies on the company website? Do any of the current employees go into any detail on their LinkedIn profiles? Every company has to start somewhere but never assume that just because a company is small that is doesn’t have its fair share of high-end accounts. Very often the complete opposite is true.   

  1. They don’t have enough variety.

Oddly enough, this can often be a reason why a consultant themselves may struggle to find a home within a boutique. Obviously if your specialism is Transformation in Media sector then you’re very unlikely to fit in at a Pharmaceutical company but, in all honestly, this is something that will be ironed out very early on and a conversation around this shouldn’t even take place. However, if you’ve worked across different sectors and are keen to continue doing so, this is usually very appealing to the smaller companies that are not sector specific. The clients I’ve have worked with of this nature want people who can be adaptable and have plenty of variety in their background.

What can I do?

Again, really look into the company and what their overall mission is. Ask your recruitment consultant to provide you with examples of projects and also what previously placed candidate have gone on to do. Any good company website should give you a good idea of what you can expect but make sure you have these concerns addressed before you engage with the interview process. Also, make sure your consultant knows exactly what you mean by variety. This is term that gets thrown around a lot and it’s always good to be specific.

  1. I’ve heard bad things about them from somebody who worked there.  

This is always a tricky one because people tend to pay more attention to the negative reviews rather than the positives. You may have also read something on Glassdoor that has made you think this. When reading reviews for that Amazon purchase what reviews are we most drawn to? The 100+ 5 stars or the 7 or so 1 stars? There will always be people who have bad experiences in companies big and small and reality is that you’re probably only getting one version of events. There could be any numbers of reasons why this person didn’t get on there but not a single one of them has anything to do with who you are or what you can potentially give the company; not to mention all the detail they’re probably not giving you. One man’s meat is another’s poison, as they say. Wouldn’t it be wiser to form your own opinion instead of letting somebody else’s bad experience potentially stop you from making that life changing career move?

What can I do?

Pretty simple one here. Just speak with them and judge for yourself. If it turns out your friend was right then the only thing you’ve lost is the time of the interview/phone call. If they were wrong and it’s something that changes your career for the better, well done you!

Need more career advice? Visit our Career Advice page. 

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