Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to analyse the human resource management (HRM) policies and practices in consulting firms. The paper specifically investigates whether or not the HRM approaches in these firms mirror the two organisational archetypes of professional partnerships (P2) and manage professional businesses (MPB) found in the professional services sector. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The paper draws on interviews with experienced consultants from a sample of 28 large and medium-sized consulting firms with a presence in Germany and Switzerland. The paper uses both qualitative and quantitative methods to evaluate the data. Findings ‐ The findings in the paper show that P2-type consulting firms take fundamentally different approaches to HRM from MPB-type firms. In P2-type consulting firms, HRM is an integral part of the organisational system and is run in practice by consultants, rather than by specialised HR staff. P2-type firms emphasise the notion of membership of individuals in an organisation tied together by extended socialisation processes and adherence to common values. In contrast, MPB-type firms exhibit HRM systems with "corporate" features widely used in other large-scale service organisations. Research limitations/implications ‐ The paper shows that the organisational archetypes prevalent in professional service firms have significant implications for their HRM systems. Consulting firms' HRM practices and policies should be interpreted in the light of their respective organisational archetype. Practical implications ‐ The paper concludes that consulting firms should use HRM practices that fit the organisational archetype they embody. Originality/value ‐ The paper provides systematic evidence on the HRM policies and practices in an important yet under-researched sector.