West Monroe Partners: Looking for Versatility

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At West Monroe Partners, boredom is not part of an IT consultant’s job description. That’s because no two days are the same. On Monday morning you could be tackling a system migration, and by Tuesday afternoon you’re dabbling in application architecture. Because of this ever-changing tapestry of tasks, the consulting firm seeks individuals who crave variety and are fast learners.

“One of the reasons people choose consulting as their career path or choose to transition into [it] is [because] consulting offers a variety of experiences — there is no one typical day,” said recruitment manager Julie Meyer. “We look for individuals who can adapt because you might find yourself in an engagement with a client where you need to learn something quickly to deliver our solution. We need people who like to work in that type of environment [and] thrive [in it].”

While every consultant at West Monroe Partners handles some form of technology, the firm has a dedicated technology solutions team with about 60 consultants covering strategy services, infrastructure services, security, performance optimization, business intelligence, applications and integration.

The technology solutions group is split into two teams. One is focused on infrastructure services and has employees with experience in operating systems, Microsoft AD (Active Directory) and Exchange, Unix storage backup or disaster recovery systems. The other team is focused on integration services and has employees with backgrounds in .NET, J2EE, MS SQL, Oracle and full-system architecture.

To find the best professionals for its IT environment, the firm engages in a diligent interview process that consists of two phone interviews and four types of in-person interviews: technical, behavioral, fit and case.

The technical interview “takes a deeper dive” into technical skills and assesses a candidate’s aptitude and interest in learning new technologies. The behavioral interview is a thorough and systematic way of evaluating critical thinking, initiative, teamwork and leadership. The fit interview looks at whether a candidate will excel in West Monroe Partners’ culture. The case interview is the newest addition and recently was integrated into the selection process.

“It is commonly used in the consulting industry and assesses the candidate’s ability to work [with] ambiguity and think on their feet,” Meyer said. “The candidate is given a business problem. Typically it’s an example of a past client engagement, so it provides the candidate with a nice overview of the type of work they would do. Based upon the information [provided], we ask them to develop and communicate a potential solution.”

West Monroe Partners first looks for candidates with experience in professional services consulting. But because the firm also is searching for qualified IT professionals, having this consulting experience is not a must.

“We weigh consulting experience pretty heavily because that means the candidate has the level of communication skills and business knowledge that we typically look for in any hire,” Meyer said. “But for our technology solutions group, we’re looking for people who have that hard-core technical experience. So we have hired individuals who did not have prior consulting experience.”

If they’re coming from a different field, candidates must aptly explain why they want to move into the consulting arena, Meyer said. They also have to defy the stereotype of the antisocial IT professional.

“I typically ask if they have the availability to travel because that’s a key component of a consultant’s lifestyle,” she said. “[Also], in a lot of industry-specific roles, you’re acting as an individual contributor. [But] everything we do here is team-based, so we look for individuals who have worked and enjoy working with others.”

Because West Monroe Partners is providing solutions for a variety of clients, its employees must have communication and project management skills. IT consultants need these skills to be able to listen to their clients and service their needs appropriately.

“Project management skills are also key,” Meyer said. “We’re looking for our consultants to have the ability to scope, price, architect and manage a project to completion.”

In the past three years, there has been a significant number of hiring opportunities within the technology solutions group at West Monroe Partners. The company hired 10 people onto the team in 2006, 18 in 2007 and 12 in 2008, for a total of 40 hires during the past three years. Unfortunately, the economic recession will limit the company somewhat this year, Meyer said.

“The market often can play a role in how many hiring needs we have at any given time,” she explained. “So obviously, given the current economic climate, our needs are less right now than they have been in the past.”

That’s not to say that the long-term plan isn’t to continue growth, however. The company hopes to expand in the cities where its current offices are located — including New York, Chicago and Toronto — and eventually branch out into other consulting markets.

“In addition, [we’re] looking at ways we can continue expanding [our] industry-specific verticals,” Meyer said.

There also is a lot of opportunity to advance within the organization. Newly minted college graduates would start at the consultant level. Once they gain the appropriate experience, they can become senior consultants and lead small project teams. At that point, there are three career tracks available to them: architect, principal or manager. Architects oversee the technical delivery of complex projects, principals are subject matter experts, and managers focus on client service delivery.

Once a senior consultant becomes experienced in any one of those areas, he or she can be promoted first to the director level and then to the managing director level, during which time the focus is primarily on business development and leading engagements.

“We hire people into these various areas [based on] experience,” Meyer said. “You certainly don’t have to start at the consultant level if you have 10 years of experience.”

In fact, having both fresh talent and seasoned professionals is integral at West Monroe Partners.

“You need both to have a well-rounded consulting staff,” Meyer said. “Our strategy is to hire talented individuals from college [and] mold, mentor, teach and have them grow within our career model. But we also need very experienced hires who can help our business development efforts [and] provide that mentorship that we need to bring up some of those younger resources.”

And regardless of the position you’re interviewing for, West Monroe Partners still wants to see education, relevant work experience and appropriate certifications on your resume. That means recent college graduates should have internship experience.

“We’re in the business of selling our people’s knowledge and talent, so we need to have the best and the brightest representing [us],” Meyer said. “We view the best and brightest [as] having strong educational backgrounds, in addition to certifications, which can often assist in qualifying a candidate’s skills and experience, and relevant professional work experience.”

Even though certifications are preferred, they’re not a requirement. And both vendor-specific and vendor-neutral certifications have a place at West Monroe Partners.

“For technical certifications, vendor-specific are important,” Meyer said. “If we’re looking for IT process or project management expertise, vendor-neutral then become important. [We would be looking] for someone who has that PMP or ITIL certification.”

Once you’re hired at West Monroe Partners, there are several opportunities to develop professionally, both in terms of technical expertise and consulting capabilities. Corporate-sponsored classes such as Consulting 101 and 201 provide a general introduction into the consulting industry, while Ensuring Project Success focuses on project management. Besides instructor-led courses, there are on-the-job training opportunities, as well.

“You [are] able to shadow on an engagement,” Meyer explained. “So you’re working with a client team, but you’re not billing the client for your time. You’re really there learning more about that client’s business and our team’s engagement activities. Our consultants are also encouraged to attend seminars, user-group meetings and technical training classes to keep their skills current.” 

– Lindsay Edmonds Wickman, lwickman@certmag.com

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