The 10 Things You Should Consider Before Hiring a Consultant

Editor’s Note: Dr. John Sullivan has been a strategist in HR and talent management for over 30 years. His specialty is HR strategy and designing world class HR systems and tools for Fortune 200 firms. He’s never been shy about telling it like it is.

That’s why TLNT asked him to share his thinking in a video series titled “$#*!@ Dr. John Sullivan Says!” Look for these videos weekly here at TLNT.

There are certain business or organizational problems, Dr. John Sullivan says, that require short-term knowledge quickly, but only for a short period of time. And, that’s where the ultimate contingent worker — the consultant — comes in.

There are 10 things — 10 criteria — that you can use to assess whether bringing in an HR consultant might be right for you.

Article Continues Below
  1. Ask them to provide a simple solution to your problem. They should be able to quickly outline their solution, Dr. John points out, “and you should hire them based on their solution.”
  2. Get proof of their recent work. Have they solved a similar problem, and will they show you a report or some accounting of what they did? You should ask.
  3. Do they quantify their results? They should be able to put their work into dollar form, or use specific numbers to quantify just what they did on their recent assignments.
  4. Can they tell you “why” their proposed solution will work? The good consultants know why things work, when they don’t, and what common problems might crop up. “Do they have a list of 10 things that might go wrong, or have gone wrong?”
  5. Do they offer an approach that is unique to you and your business? Do they bring you solutions that are different than what they did for you competitor? Are they bringing you something new, and, something they won’t take across the street to your direct competitor when they go to work for them?
  6. They must make their decisions based on hard data. Intuition and past practice are fine, but you want consultants who crunch the numbers and use that to drive the solution they are offering your organization.
  7. They have a track record of working for top, innovative firms? That’s a good indication that they are someone you should bring on to help you and your company out.
  8. They can identify the unique aspects of your company or corporate culture. Can they identify your unique problems quickly?
  9. Is there is a continuing improvement component to whatever solution they offer up to you? “Great programs that work one year become less effective the next year,” Dr. John says. If they don’t offer up a solution that has a continuing improvement component to it, you should think again about hiring them to help your company.
  10. Do they offer a guarantee? “The best consultants are confident in their work, confident in their results, and offer a guarantee,” he says.

One last thing: if you are thinking of hiring a consultant, “be cynical,” Dr. John says, “because the ones that talk the most are probably not the best.”


John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *