15 Things they don’t tell you about being an HR consultant

Last year, Kate shared some ‘Traded Tips’ on careers in HR technology consulting which can be found here. I wanted to take that a step further and share some of my own insights and perhaps a few funny stories. Sticking with Kate’s theme, I’ll endeavour to retort to some of those tips. With Phase 3 being expert HR technology consultants, we feel we are ideally placed to give you some valuable insight on what it is really like to be a consultant in the HR industry. So, without further ado, here are 15 things they don’t tell you about being an HR consultant.

1. You’ll take fewer holidays and not more

This is, of course, referring to those who are self-employed HR consultants, and Kate’s take was that until you are confident there is work around the corner, you may not have the confidence to put down your tools. I lasted a whole month self-employed. I wanted the assurance of a salary and I wanted to feel part of something bigger. I fully respect those in our industry who have that confidence, but I placed mine in the wonderful Phase 3 and I haven’t been disappointed!

2. Sat Navs can stop

And don’t I know it! I also am one of those individuals who blindly follow the instructions of the lovely lady coming through my car speakers. We often use hire cars to ensure the best possible price for client expenses and getting to grips with the various Sat Nav systems is a challenge. Recently when travelling to the very tip of North Scotland, I found myself in a place with no 3G and no signal to find my location so, I had to revert to a trusty atlas. (Who even knew they still did those (?) …Thanks, Marilyn!)

3. Sometimes it is better to give up – at least until the morning

This one I am less agreeable to. Whilst, yes, I agree, a fresh brain can help find the solution to the problem, there are still those times when a payroll deadline is looming and so there isn’t time to wait to get that fix in place or untick those boxes or, last resort, put a workaround in place. My own view on this one as a payroll consultant is to stop when you can and enjoy the rest but if 2 am coffee pots are a requirement, at least make it good coffee!

4. Understanding train tickets is quite easy

While understanding train tickets is actually quite easy, making the trains go is not! I have a reputation at Phase 3 (and with friends on Facebook) of being the unluckiest traveller on trains. The 19:03 from London Kings Cross is my nemesis. Understanding the tickets is easy – the pricing strategy less so! We invested in a great travel planning company at Phase 3 who sort all of this out for us. Now, I just get an email with my itinerary and don’t have to bother with millions of invoices for travel reclaims.

5. Notes are vital

Again, I agree with Kate, I go through hundreds of notebooks each year, I do find that using One Note or Word is fine when there is lots of data to copy and paste but, during key conversations, Paper and Pen is best for me (and I don’t mind being the only person in the room without a laptop). I do find, though, that my attention can drift during meetings and I can get deep into the conversation and realise I haven’t written anything for the last 15 minutes – whoops!

6. Prepare for month one cash-flow

Not just in the HR consulting industry but, for many, the first month of a new job can be tough. Often with reduced pay from the old employer for the last month and, with payment terms most likely in arrears for contractors, it is important to build up a little reserve for hotels. I tried in my first month as a self-employed consultant to be frugal with hotel bookings – something I quickly learned wasn’t the best approach. (Yes, I do like my bathroom to have a blind when staying in a hotel room which is directly opposite an office block). My credit card became my best friend, paying off the balance each time I was paid by a client and generating plenty of cash back vouchers!

7. Appearance matters – to a degree

I am known for asking clients before heading for a meeting, “what’s the dress code?”. I hate to be the only person in a suit in the room and I hate to be the only person in jeans. My hairstyle is often a choice I make too. (Is the client ‘top knot’ friendly?). Last year, I visited one of the ‘poshest’ offices I have ever been to. I’d taken a day off in London and the client called, desperate for help on payroll. I turned up in my jeans, trainers and hoody. Needless to say, I was stuck in a meeting room but, fundamentally, it didn’t make any difference to the work I did on that day.

8. A consultant is not just there to say “yes”

This one can be difficult. See Kate’s recent article on ‘the nerve of no’ here. I have been put in situations where I have had to tell senior leaders that their teams aren’t up to scratch, that there are real issues, and that they sometimes have been the cause of those issues. It isn’t easy but clients are grateful when we are honest and give real actionable feedback. My worst day as a consultant was being introduced to a team before telling them they were all at risk of redundancy (a job the HR Director gave to me about 23 seconds before walking into the meeting) – gulp!

9. Assume nothing –especially not when at on-site facilities

A helpful client will realise that I need water and sometimes even a coffee throughout the day. Others assume I knew that their café was only a fridge in the corner of the office with out-of-date milk in it. A ‘mug shot’ has become my best friend and I always shoot a friendly smile at the receptionist to help me out later when I am lost finding the toilets. I recently went to a meeting with a cluster of colleges in London and only on the morning of the meeting did I realise that they hadn’t told me there were six campuses and I didn’t know which one I was supposed to go to. What do they say about assuming – it makes an ‘Ass out of U and Me’

10. HR consultancy is rather like public speaking

Always be prepared to speak if you need to! After the first time of turning up for a meeting where the client said, “So, you will need a cable for your laptop for the presentation” (erm …. what presentation?!). I always have a handy one prepared now, just in case, and it taught me to be prepared to be placed in front of ten people in a board room ready to hang from your every word.

11. Even easier than train tickets is setting yourself up as a self-employed sole trader with HMRC

But harder still is moving back onto PAYE and getting HMRC to listen to you when you say you are no longer self-employed. Three Self-Assessment penalty appeals later, HMRC finally removed my company from their register (and given I only lasted a month anyway, I think it is fair to say this was a disaster!). The process itself is easier and I paid a company £17 online to do the whole lot for me.

12. The concept of a capsule wardrobe is not ridiculous anymore

Multiple chinos and different shirts are my best friend. I have my ‘grab bag’ ready with a second set of toiletries. We laughed in the office a few weeks ago when I discovered cold medicine, Olbas Oil, a Harry Potter wand, a pack of business cards and a pair of swimming goggles in my grab bag. Those weird purchases at Kings Cross do come in handy, though, from time to time. See my article on the Payroll Brick Wall for more on the magic wand!

13. You may crave eggs or beans on toast

Yes, hotel life is not that glamorous and, no, I don’t want a meal from an overpriced menu each evening I am away. I tend to favour hotels that don’t have a restaurant so that I am forced to wander out and about to try something local. If it comes to it, you have the trusty food delivery apps such as Deliveroo and Just Eat to give you more choice of food than you will ever need!

14. A personal phone is not your client’s friend

I have one phone and it makes life easier. Carrying two phones everywhere is twice the hassle, twice the chargers, and twice the ‘forgetting-to-put-on-silent’ risk. I’m also a Samaritan in my spare time and so phones are everywhere for me. The days I spend with a client, I like to be with the client!

15. You need your friends


And, see again the first point above – I like to be part of a team. It’s great to be at the end of a day, travelling home and giving my friend, Brad (another Phase 3 Consultant), a call just to catch up and share funny stories from the day or to ask questions. We’re a close-knit team and it’s great to offload on each other!

We’re also looking to expand our team right now so, if you like the sound of this lifestyle (which, for all the jokes, I know that I love) then please see our careers page for more details.

For more information, visit the Our People page by clicking here

Laura Lee image
Written by : Laura Lee

Laura’s role as Head of Marketing sees her continually looking for new opportunities to tell the world how great Phase 3 is.

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