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An old post of Dr. Travis Bradberry popped up on my timeline recently. It was entitled 9 things which will kill your career. It is definitely worth a read in my opinion. It made me think about what will slowly but surely kill your career in professional services. How much of these will match up with Dr Travis Bradberry list. Here are my thoughts on what will kill your career in professional services. How many of these do you agree with?

1. Reputation

A poor reputation is a killer in a law, accountancy or consultancy firm. Develop a poor or negative reputation and you wouldn’t get booked out on jobs or get introduced to clients, by internal or external introducers, who may need your services. Your reputation is not the main driver of your internal market value, but probably has the biggest impact on your career in your law, accountancy or consultancy firm. Fail to manage your reputation or nip any problems quickly in the bud and you will be left with no choice but to change firms to reignite your career in a professional services firm.

2. Network

Your internal firm and external network are the oxygen which will keep the heart of your career beating. Fail to realise that partnerships run on relationships rather than alignment to a over-arching corporate strategy, and you will fail to thrive within a partnership environment. It’s always ‘who you know’ which helps your career move forward, but in a professional services firm it really is ‘who you know’.

3. Overly focusing on hitting your billable hour targets

Too many lawyers, accountants and consultants just focus on achieving their billable hour targets. In time this focus will steadily but surely kill your career. The professions don’t want people who are just work horses. They need people to develop and acquire new skills. Without this upward flow of talented people, firms get left with concrete layers of management who stifle the career aspirations of the younger talent in the firm.

4. Delegation

Or should I say lack of delegation. The more senior you get in a firm, the greater the need to delegate for a multitude of reasons. If you don’t delegate, you stop the following happening:

  • freeing up your time for more higher value activities, e.g. business development
  • generating a good profit margin for the work you are doing
  • developing people more junior to you

If you hang on to the work you are given (see point number 3) rather than always looking to delegate everything you can do down, you’ll slowly but surely kill your career. If you can’t be replaced, you also can’t be promoted…

5. Strong personal brand

In your early career it paid to be multi-skilled. That way it was easier for you to get booked out onto jobs and you got to see a variety of clients and industries. That was then, and this is now. If you carry on with the mentality of wanting to be a generalist, your career will start to come to a screeching halt the further up the firm you go. Clients normally don’t want to work with a generalist. They want to work with someone who has a great understanding of their industry and the world in which they operate in. A jack-of-all-trades just wouldn’t cut it. I’ve never read a business case for partnership in a Big 4 or large law firm which is based upon being a flexible generalist. It’s always based upon being an in demand Go-To Expert for something very specific.

6. Advocates, mentors and sponsors

As I mentioned in point number 2, professional services is all about ‘who knows you’. If you don’t have someone at a senior level watching your back and opening doors to opportunities for you, then your career will struggle. You can’t get to the top on your own in a professional services firm. Everyone needs a helping hand now and then. Those people who don’t get the helping hands will find that their career will come to a juddering full stop.

7. See the bigger picture

It’s all too easy in the professions to get stuck into the details of what you are doing. Whether that’s because you love your subject so much or for other reasons. However, if you can’t see the bigger picture your career will stop. That’s because you need to always be:

  • Thinking about your career strategically. What set of skills will be in demand in the next 5-10 years?
  • Thinking commercially about the work you are doing. How is the best way to use the budget on the job?
  • Holding the clients’ agenda high in your thoughts rather than pursuing your own agenda for a piece of work.

In summary:

Having a successful career in professional services is so much more than just being a good technician. Fail to address any of these 7 things and you will kill your career in professional services.