5 common career traps for Management Consultants

Written by Jade Tjia for 325 Consulting


It takes one to know one, so we asked ex-Bain Principal, Jade Tjia to share her top 5 career traps and ways to solve them.

As a management consultant, you’re smart, motivated and driven to make an impact. In many ways, you have an amazing job: surrounded by talented and high energy colleagues, you work on interesting projects and may even travel around the world.

However, there are multiple career traps that are easy to fall into when you’re focussed on solving complex problems, delivering outstanding client service and working long and intense hours. These career traps are often the by-product of your strengths that have been overplayed or not used in balance, so they end up being counter-productive and lead to self-sabotage.

Below are five strengths common to consultants, and the career trap associated with each. Do any of these show up in your career?

1. Motivated to achieve

Consultants are bright, passionate and desire to have an impact. However, your addiction to achievement may mean that you don’t feel good about yourself unless you’re working hard. Your identity and self-worth can become dependent on your achievements and accomplishments. You crave external validation and rely on others’ feedback to determine whether you’re ‘successful’.

2. Strong sense of ownership

You care deeply about doing a good job and are so eager to please that you may find it hard to honour your boundaries, say no, or distinguish between the important and the urgent. You stay up late to get work done and sacrifice your health and well-being to achieve so-called success. This can lead to being overwhelmed, exhaustion and eventually burnout.

3. Action-oriented

Consultants often work on extremely tight timelines and are highly productive. The day- to-day intensity can be so absorbing and demanding that you don’t feel like you have time to pause and plan your own career. It’s not unusual to find yourself climbing the consulting career ladder without questioning whether you even want to go where the ladder is taking you.

4. High standards

You pride yourself on your high quality work and commitment to excellence. You might even admit to being a perfectionist, believing that meeting impossibly high standards is necessary to be accepted or worthy. You can be so hard on yourself and self-critical. You may shy away from trying new things or taking risks because you have an image or reputation to maintain and you’re terrified of making mistakes or looking incompetent, even though the experience would ultimately accelerate your growth.

5. Analytical

In the consulting world, intellectual reasoning reigns supreme. Emotional intelligence and feelings are often dismissed as ‘soft’. You’re logical, analytical and data-driven. However, your focus on intellect may lead you to overlook the wisdom from other sources of intelligence. Science now suggests that we have complex neural networks or ‘brains’ in our heart and gut, providing support for the age-old notions of ‘following your heart’ and ‘trusting your gut instinct’.

What can you do to avoid these traps?

Here are three actions you can take:

1. Raise your awareness

Notice how you’re feeling day to day. Are you energised and excited, or stressed and unfulfilled? Allow yourself to get out of your head and observe the sensations in your body and the signals from your intuition. Give yourself permission to feel, be gentle and curious in doing this, without judging what comes up or criticising yourself for it.

2. Develop your personal definition of success

Most of us can easily rattle off a long list of what we don’t like, but are inarticulate about what specifically we do want.

Rather than being on achievement autopilot and relying on external markers of success, ask yourself: Who are you, beyond your job title? What matters most to you? What does success look and feel like for you? Why do you want what you want?

3. Stop letting fear drive your career

Many of these career traps result from deep-rooted fears. Fear that you’re not good enough, fear of what others think of you, fear that if you don’t work hard you won’t be enough or have enough.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Where in your life could you do

‘less but better’, focusing on what’s most essential? Where might less (work, time, perfection, etc.) be enough?

For further support to explore these questions, reach out to career, leadership and life coach Jade Tjia for a complimentary breakthrough session. www.jadetjia.com

OriginalMiriam Murphy