The 4 biggest mistakes holding consultants back in their careers

31 May 2018 5 min. read

Why do some people fly up the career ladder, while others stand still for years? What separates the top performers in consulting from the also-rans? And – most importantly – how can consultants make sure they get what they want from your career? These are questions that Nick Synnott has sought answers to in his new podcast, Climb in Consulting – a podcast created by consultants, for consultants.

In Climb in Consulting, Nick interviews leaders from across the industry so that consultants can learn from their stories and experience, and hear what lessons these leaders have learned. After just a few interviews, a number of common themes emerged from these interviews. asked Nick to share the four big mistakes that consultants typically make and how avoiding these can help rapidly accelerate any consulting career.

Mistake #1: Lack of Emotional Intelligence

“Lack of Emotional Intelligence is the most frequently cited factor in what separates the best consultants from the rest. Leaders such as Minesh Jobanputra (Deltra Group), Matt Cheung (Clarasys) and Dom Moorhouse (Moorhouse) all agree that this is a key skill for consultants looking to climb in the industry. It’s impossible to overstate how important emotional intelligence is in almost all aspects of consulting: from evaluating and managing the expectations of your lead client, to managing change in an organisation, to working effectively as part of a delivery team.

Nick Synnott, Host - Climb In Consulting

Thankfully, these leaders also agree that emotional intelligence is a skill that you can learn if you put your mind to it! Check out Climb in Consulting Episode 9 for some great books that will help you do this including ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie and ‘Influence’ by Robert Cialdini.”

Mistake #2: Being short sighted with your career

“Consulting is a long-term career path, and you’re not going to make it to the top overnight. As Simon Dennis (Gate One) and Olly Purnell (Q5) both discussed in their interviews, those consultants that think of their career not as a sprint to an end goal, but as a journey, are the ones who will succeed.

Often career planning for consultants boils down to how quickly you’re going to progress through a series of small promotions. The advice from those who’ve made it is to do the opposite and focus on the end goal, not the short term promotion points. You need to focus on your longer-term career plan and what you need to achieve it: the skills and capabilities you want to develop, the industries you’re interested in, and the people you want to work with. Consultants who do this are the ones who build solid foundations to succeed in the long run. Those who don’t often get burnt out from chasing promotion after promotion.”

Mistake #3: Perfectionism

“This is something we’ve all been guilty of at one point or another. As consultants, most of us have high standards and are willing to work hard to achieve them. But this can go too far: for example, we can spend days perfecting a slide deck only to hand it to the Partner who proceeds to rip it apart. This just results in wasted time and effort on everyone’s part.

Getting the balance right between high standards and perfectionism was a key differentiator highlighted by Matt Cheung of Clarasys.

Cheung advises that you check in early and regularly with your project lead or client to ensure that your deliverable is going in the right direction, and to seek out any input and feedback they may have. This allows you to course-correct quickly if you’re on the wrong track, and will lead to a much better end product in less time – a great way to stand out!”

Quote Nick Synnott, Climb In Consulting

Mistake #4: Focusing on the what, not the why

“With long hours and demanding clients, it’s easy to get stuck in to a project and focus only on what you need to deliver, and not why you’re doing it, or how it’s helping your client or your firm’s wider objectives.

As highlighted by Mohamed Mansour formally of Baringa Partners, this is not a problem when you’re just starting out but will really hold you back as you climb the consulting career ladder. If you’re only focused on what’s in front of you, you’re missing the wider client and industry perspective, and you’ll ultimately be less effective as a consultant because of this.

Mansour advises taking time to ‘think laterally’ and consider the broader client and industry implications of the project you’re working on. Ask yourself: why are we doing this? What is the end goal? And how will that help the client achieve their objectives?

Doing this will give you a greater insight in your client’s motivations and strategy, and how you and your team can best support them. It might even help you identify alternative solutions that you and your team can implement, or new ways to add value to your client to help them achieve their objectives.”

For more advice from leaders in the consulting industry, check out Climb in Consulting on iTunes and Android.