Duncan Burtoft of OEE Gives Us The Inside Scoop On How A Major Management Consulting Firm Approaches The Recruiting Process


Want the inside scoop on how a major management consulting firm approaches the recruiting process? Duncan Burtoft of OEE was kind enough to share his insights on several aspects of recruiting. Read on to also discover his advice on what potential recruits should never do.

What is your professional background? How has it served you in your position with OEE?

Originally a Mechanical Engineer, I moved into operations line management early in my career, as I found engineering a bit removed from the action! I held progressively more senior operations roles in engineered products businesses and later in automotive at Land Rover. I left Land Rover to take up broader general management roles with greater commercial responsibility, working in 2 SMEs.

At this stage of my career, it dawned on me that I was most effective in the initial weeks and months of a new role; this was when the issues and opportunities were clearest, and I felt I was able to add the most value. So I decided to take a risk and try to use a full-time MBA as a springboard into management consulting. I completed my MBA at Warwick Business School in 1999 on a self-funded basis (I took out a second mortgage!), and I joined OEE Consulting directly from the Warwick MBA.

The business was quite small when I joined, with around 12 to 15 employees. We now operate with over 100 people deployed across the business. I progressed through the full spectrum of consulting roles to the account management level, but began stepping back from front line consulting in 2008 when I joined the board, becoming Ops Director in 2009.

Engineering is a good grounding for a management consulting career, because it brings clarity of thought and analytical skills. Having a very broad basis of experience was also extremely useful in my consulting roles, allowing me to make sense of a wide range of issues across many client sectors. But of course, my broad operations experience has been of most use to me given OEE Consulting is an out-and-out operations specialist.

In recent years, my senior operations and general management experience has been of huge benefit in my operations director role, where I deal with commercial and HR issues as well as recruitment - and of course, supporting our Consulting and Learning & Development service lines.

Please tell us more about OEE.

OEE is a management consulting firm specialising in operations, predominantly in service sector businesses. We believe that great operations are at the heart of every successful business; but many of the teams, departments and functions that we work in are not called "operations" nor would they particularly regard themselves as "operational." You will often find us supporting customer service areas, but equally often less obvious areas such as HR and IT.

The work we do is not sector specific: we operate in a very broad range of sectors from travel and tourism to further education; and of course, we are perhaps best known in financial services.

Equally the range of project types we support is also broad: from designing operations through a wide range of operations improvement to improving the capability of operations line management.

Alongside our consulting work, we have a distinct and very successful Learning and Development team that offers support in operations disciplines, lean principles, service excellence and stakeholder engagement.

With OEE, "it's all about the people" - both our people and the great relationships we build with our clients' teams and individuals. We receive fantastic feedback from the people we work with because we value their input to our work, and we go to great lengths to share our expertise and experience with them.

Given this, it won't be surprising to hear that we have a great culture: our consultants really enjoy their careers with OEE Consulting, and we can boast tiny levels of attrition.

We have grown strongly in recent years and we continue to grow; the first half of 2015 achieved record levels of turnover.

How do you approach the recruiting process?

OEE seeks applications both from those seeking an employed consulting role and from those who wish to operate independently. We also are interested in "development hires" (individuals with 5 to 10 years relevant experience who are well qualified but don't necessarily have strong operations line management or external consulting experience) and "experienced hires" (individuals with a very strong background in operations line management and/or relevant external consulting experience).

Of course, those seeking to enter our consultant development programme join us as employees rather than associates.

These days, the majority of applicants for roles with OEE Consulting come through the network or they approach us via our website having already heard of us. We also advertise from time to time using LinkedIn, Top Consultant and other web boards. We have also established close connections with a number of relevant business schools, and this has proved a valuable source of candidates in recent years.

We have a thorough assessment process, the majority of which is common to all types of applicants. The assessment comprises an initial stage, completed remotely, to check alignment with what we do; followed by a face-to-face assessment centre. During the process, we provide lots of information on the business and what it will be like to work with us; we really try to "let candidates in" to our business during our assessment centres.

OEE Consulting is growing strongly and we are constantly recruiting. We are lucky enough to receive 1000s of applications every year, and we run around 25 assessment centres each year.

What are the primary things that you look for when recruiting?

We are looking for "fit" with who we are and what we do. Fundamentally, it's about a candidate's interpersonal alignment rather than their specific technical knowledge and experience. We can teach the latter!

What should hopeful recruits never do?

Some really good advice is that candidates should not try to find out the details of our assessment process in advance! It's very obvious when candidates have prior knowledge, and anyway we change the details of our individual assessment tasks regularly.

We go to great lengths to get to know our candidates to assess if the relationship is going to work. The best advice for candidates is to be themselves and be completely open to the process; it's as important for our candidates that we get this right as it is for us!

Has your recruitment process changed a lot over time?

The basic structure of our recruitment process has not changed a great deal. But at the detail level, we are constantly evolving the process to try to help us to make the best decisions that we can, whilst minimising the work involved in the process. We expend a huge amount of effort in recruiting the right people!

Where we have seen change is in what we are looking for in the ideal candidate. As we have grown as a business, our clients have changed and their specific needs have also changed. The ideal candidate would now have a very different experience and capability profile at entry even compared to our ideal candidate profile of 5 years ago.

To give an example, the majority of our assessment process now looks at behavioural aspects. In the past, the balance would have been more on technical experience and capability. That's not to say that the latter aren't important: it's just that we have learnt from experience that consulting behaviours are the key to success - and hard to teach!

Do you have any other advice for those hoping to start the recruitment process?

Our process is designed to help candidates make the right decision as well as to help us to make a good decision; and candidates receive lots of straightforward feedback. So for anyone unsure whether OEE Consulting is the right employer for them, or even whether a career in management consulting is right for them, then my advice is to apply and we will help them to find out.

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