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by Vault Consulting Editors | March 09, 2011


By Kristine Schoonmaker, MyConsultingLife.Com

There are some people that know exactly what they want to do professionally for as far back as they can remember. And then there are the rest of us that are slightly later bloomers in that department. One big reason many pursue a path in consulting early in their career is to get a lot of different experience so they can figure out exactly what they want to do later. They assume they’ll refine their specialty area after trying out lots of different things. At first, that was my strategy as well. A few years and several learned lessons later, I challenge that approach. I suggest you should actually declare an area of focus for your consulting career as specifically and as soon as possible. Why?

When you let yourself float along a generalist path you lose control over your destiny. Being a jack of all trades doesn’t mean you aren’t a high performer, but it can mean that people don’t readily know where you fit. You get plugged in anywhere there’s a need. It’s great to feel needed and valuable, but it’s no fun to be told where to go or get tapped for more than you want to take on. Welcome to frustration and burnout.

There are skeptics that will suggest narrowing your focus closes you off to opportunities or pigeon-holes you. I totally disagree. Where you focus doesn’t have to be your permanent reality. That’s the beauty of life—it’s full of choices! You can always choose again if you realize there’s another path that’s calling your name. If you are bold enough to declare your focus early, however, you reap both professional and personal benefits:

1.You have fewer skills to build and more room to stretch—As a generalist there are a lot of things you will need to learn. On one project you may be part of a test team and on the next be building training materials. Totally different skill sets right? When I started practicing yoga years ago, I was nervous, everything felt awkward and it was all I could do to make it through 15 poses in a class with the right form. It was anything but relaxing. Yet after years of regular practice I’ve gained strength, confidence and comfort to push myself to take on advanced poses that I would have never considered early on. We all need to reach a comfort level before we are willing to really stretch. Specializing helps to limit the amount of change you experience from project to project. With less change your confidence and comfort grows and your learning curve flattens because you are building on existing knowledge versus constantly tackling something completely new.
2.You can better influence where you get staffed—Getting staffed is a lot like looking for a job. Networking and marketing yourself are essential pieces of the strategy. When talking to others, there’s a world of difference between saying you are "looking for a role in marketing" vs. saying you are "looking for a role where you can help design marketing strategies that help retail clients leverage multiple media channels to better communicate with their customers." When you are very junior, it’s hard to guarantee you will get your dream role, but having more focus certainly helps HR, your colleagues and you know much more specifically where to look for opportunities.
3.You more easily develop a personal brand within your practice and office. Every role will give you additional experience and more knowledge. The more closely aligned those roles are with your specialty, the more you position yourself as an expert. Then comes the really cool part—people will start to seek you out. Not only does this build your personal brand, but it also puts you on the short list as questions arise or there is a need for someone with your particular experience. The roles you want start to come for you versus you having to chase them.
4.It makes it MUCH easier to know your "hell no" from your "hell yes." There will always be an abundance of opportunities for side-projects like research, proposals and events to plan. But, wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t feel pressured to always say yes and if they actually worked for you to get you closer to your ultimate goal? When you have a specific career path mapped out, you know immediately when those "opportunities" surface whether they will help you or not. Unless saying no will negatively impact you, you can feel comfortable to politely pass if it doesn’t fit your direction.

Kristine Schoonmaker is The Career & Lifestyle Coach for Consultants and founder of Her bi-weekly ezine Accelerate offers practical insider advice and quick tips from a former consulting exec to help YOU take greater control of your career and stay engaged in your personal life from the road. If you’re ready to have it all – an amazing career in consulting without giving up the lifestyle, relationships and experiences you want, get your FREE subscription now at


Filed Under: Consulting