Hot Skills & Pay: How do Consulting Companies Compensate In-demand Talent?

hot skills consulting compensation

By Yao Tang – Business Development

In the world of consulting, staying competitive means possessing the necessary skills to offer innovative and effective solutions to clients’ problems. These competencies, often referred to as “hot skills”, are continually evolving, with new skills consistently taking centre stage.

Hot skills can vary over time as technology and industry trends change, but they typically represent expertise in areas that are currently experiencing rapid growth, innovation, or a shortage of qualified professionals. Current examples include machine learning, cloud computing, blockchain, cybersecurity, and specific programming languages such as Python, Ruby, JavaScript and others. Hot skills can also extend beyond technical skills and include skills related to management consulting, strategy development, industry-specific knowledge, and more - depending on the specific focus of the consulting firm and the needs of their client base.

Consulting firms seek professionals with these skills because they are essential for delivering services to clients looking to adopt or optimize new technologies or approaches in their business operations.

Hot skill-based compensation

In order to attract and retain professionals with these in-demand skills, consulting firms often find they need to adjust their compensation and talent acquisition strategies. Doing so, they are seeking to address a number of issues:

  1. Skill Shortages: Paying a premium for hot skills attracts professionals possessing these skills, combating skill shortages in particular areas.
  2. Competition for Talent: Offering competitive compensation for hot skills sets the firm apart in the competitive talent market, making it more appealing to top candidates.
  3. Client Demands: Hot skills enable consultants to meet clients' evolving needs efficiently and with expertise, enhancing client satisfaction and trust.
  4. Retention and Motivation: Paying a premium motivates employees to acquire and maintain hot skills, reducing turnover and preserving institutional knowledge.
  5. Market Rate Alignment: Aligning salaries with market rates ensures the firm can secure and retain skilled professionals, staying competitive in talent acquisition.
  6. Efficiency and Effectiveness: Hot skills lead to more efficient project execution and higher-quality outcomes, enhancing the firm's effectiveness in delivering value to clients.
  7. Strategic Business Goals: Investing in hot skills aligns the firm's workforce with its strategic objectives, enabling it to tackle specialized projects effectively.
  8. Talent Pipeline: Attracting individuals with hot skills helps build a talent pipeline of skilled professionals ready to contribute to ongoing and future projects.
  9. Client Trust: Demonstrating expertise in hot skills instils confidence in clients, fostering trust and long-term relationships based on the firm's ability to deliver on their needs.

While an increase in compensation is the obvious way to attract and retain candidates with particular hot skills, exactly how such adjustments are introduced and managed may vary from one firm to another.

Our market analysis reveals three main approaches to hot skill compensation among consulting and IT firms:

Group 1:

Firms offering broad salary bands that encompass higher pay for a particular hot skill.

This is the largest group among the firms we looked at or spoke to in our analysis. The adjustment is reflected in a wider, albeit existing, salary range for the position in question.

As such the adjusted hot skill-based salary does not necessitate a change in the salary ranges being offered by the firm because the hot skill premium is within the existing salary range; it only increases the average salaries being paid.

Interestingly, the majority of this group of firms offered their hot skills-based employees a fixed increase in salary. Should the skill go from hot to “vanilla”, i.e. no longer cutting edge or exceptional, or if the employee were not working on a project requiring this hot skill, their salary was not adjusted (i.e. downwards).

Group 2:

Firms paying or adjusting salaries only for the hot skill in question.

In this model, only employees with the respective hot skill are offered a higher salary – outside of the firm’s existing salary range.

Again, the majority of this group of firms offered their hot skills-based employees a fixed increase in salary. Should the skill go from hot to “vanilla”, or if the employee were not working on a project requiring this hot skill, their salary was not adjusted (i.e. downwards).

Group 3:

Firms that pay a hot skills bonus or additional component.

This group offers an additional bonus or salary component to employees who can demonstrate that they possess a desired skill (e.g. via a certificate or diploma or otherwise). This additional income functions in a similar way to a bonus and can be discounted should the hot skill become “vanilla”, or as in the case of some firms, when the employee is not working a case or project that requires the hot skill in question.

The cooling effect

As our clients have frequently noted, the hot skill of today may become vanilla tomorrow. This is why the strategy of Group 3 is often the most efficient from a firm perspective. It is clear that HR managers at consulting firms may not be able to hire the talent they require without offering the premium required by the market. However, with this approach the skill is paid for only when it is in use.

It is up to firms to decide which approach is best suited to their business and perform a balanced assessment of the effects of each approach on their goals, considering firm competitiveness, profitability, talent acquisition and retention.

In our forthcoming article, we will further explore the intriguing relationship between hot skills and their influence on consultant compensation, delving into the finer details of how these hot skills are factored into our benchmarking assessments here at Vencon Research.

For more information on this topic or on how you may successfully respond to the issues raised in this article, please contact Vencon Research – as always, we are happy to assist you.