The Career Playbook: Essential Advice for Today's Aspiring Young Professional

The Career Playbook: Essential Advice for Today's Aspiring Young Professional

by James M. Citrin

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Are you about to graduate and begin your job search?


Or are you a young professional trying to choose the right field or looking for that perfect position that will catapult your career?


Figuring out a career and getting a great job has never been more difficult. On top of that, today’s graduates are looking for not only good jobs but positions that will help them launch careers in which they can grow and prosper. But knowing what to look for and how to actually land a great job is exceptionally challenging when you’re trying to get an interview, make enough money, and position yourself for advancement.


Based on an in-depth survey of thousands of graduates and young professionals, and hundreds of interviews with the world’s top business and nonprofit leaders—not to mention James Citrin’s decades of experience as a senior partner at the premier executive search firm Spencer Stuart—The Career Playbook offers recent graduates and aspiring young professionals actionable advice for excelling. From his practical tips on generating valuable introductions, nailing interviews, and negotiating compensation to strategic advice on the arc of a career, the importance of relationships, how to cultivate a mentor, and knowing when to change jobs or industries, Citrin provides an invaluable guide to the most urgent questions that are at the heart of every person’s career deliberations.


Packed with first-person advice from graduates and young professionals themselves, as well as the perspectives of seasoned CEOs, entrepreneurs, leaders, and experts, such as Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Third Point Advisors’ Daniel Loeb, author Malcolm Gladwell, and US Navy SEALs’ Admiral Eric Olson, The Career Playbook is an essential resource for landing, launching, and thriving in your career.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553446975
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/21/2015
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

JAMES M. CITRIN is the leader of Spencer Stuart's CEO Practice and a member of the firm’s Worldwide Board of Directors. His diverse client work includes leading media, technology, communications, and consumer companies, as well as other multinational corporations and private-equity firms. A noted expert on leadership, governance, and professional success, Citrin is the author of six books, including bestsellers Lessons from the TopThe 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers, and You're in Charge--Now What?


New Canaan, Connecticut USA

Place of Birth:

Great Neck, New York, USA


Vassar College, A.B. 1981 in Economics, Harvard Business School, MBA 1986

Read an Excerpt


The Six Phases of Your Career

As you enter the workforce and in the early days of your career, chances are that you will have some notion about how you expect your work life to unfold. You might have ambitious, fairly concrete goals--to become a senior executive in a corporation, a partner in a professional firm, or a leader of a nonprofit that provides housing for people in need. Or you might be saving your aspirations for later, focusing now on just finding a job. Whichever the case, from the vantage point of this formative time in your career, it's often difficult to connect the dots between where you are today and where you hope to be in the future. And yet it's natural to ask yourself questions like "How am I doing?" and "Am I at the right place at this point in my career?" or "Am I learning and achieving what I need to move to the next level?"

In the introduction, I talked about how your career is more likely to follow a winding road than a straight line. While everyone's individual career path is different, and the specifics of yours will be as unique as your fingerprint, most people go through a common series of six phases over the course of their career. Understanding these phases, as well as how you are valued, what is expected of you, and what you need to deliver in each phase, will offer a useful road map to help you see where you are in your career and how you are performing. Here are the six phases of a career that I've seen, across the countless number of people I've worked with.

How Employers Value You: Potential and Experience

Your value to your employer changes following a pattern strikingly similar to how physicists describe the properties of energy. They refer to potential energy (energy at rest) and kinetic energy (energy in motion). Careers follow similar patterns. As you prepare to enter the workforce, you are building up your store of potential value--the value you will be able to add in the future by exercising your intellectual and interpersonal energies, applying your education and academic achievements, and bringing your enthusiasm, work ethic, and energy to an organization. As you land your first few jobs and begin to gain experience, this potential is translated into momentum, as you become increasingly more valuable on the basis of your professional expertise, reputation, and track record. Picture a kid on a swing, kicking his legs so that he swings higher and higher. That is how your career takes off. You launch your career with the scale registering heavy on potential and light on experience. As you move through your career, the scale shifts and the experience side eventually grows to outweigh the potential side. The trick is to add to the experience side of the equation without emptying the potential side. The more you can turn your potential value into valuable experiences, which can then be converted into greater potential, the more valuable you will become in the career market over time.

Now let's turn to the six phases that most careers follow. For the purpose of this book, we are primarily interested in the first three phases, as you seek out and launch your career, so we'll spend most of our time on those.


This phase, beginning in your college years and continuing through your first years in the workforce, marks your transition into adulthood. It draws on everything you've learned in college and internships and all of the challenges you will meet or will have faced in your first exposures to the work world. The Aspiration Phase is about discovery and introspection, the process of learning, and the development of knowledge. It is the time when you are getting your earliest experiences that will inform your interests and strengths. In this phase, your value in the career market is based almost completely on your potential. So the most important objective is to discover your strengths and interests and to begin learning marketable skills. Try out as many different kinds of tasks and jobs as possible. Get feedback from professors, peers, and mentors who can help you to identify what you are good at--and what you're not good at. If you use the Aspiration Phase to gain exposure, build skills, work on your weaknesses, and fill in gaps in your knowledge, you will build your potential and strengthen your ability to provide value to current and future employers.

In the Aspiration Phase, you won't have much of the industry-specific knowledge that you'll gain as your career unfolds. So focus on acquiring life skills that are valued in every industry: writing, thinking critically, listening well, solving problems, and collaborating effectively with others. And don't forget to focus attention on your life outside work. Take the time to build meaningful friendships, establish healthy living habits, and partake in activities you enjoy. These skills, coupled with the ones you'll develop at work, are the foundation of any successful career and life. If you build them now, you'll be poised for success as you develop more specialized skills later on, starting in the Promise Phase.


The Promise Phase begins with your first or second job and lasts through your early promotions and job changes. Chronologically, this phase tends to run from one or two years after graduation over the next seven to ten years of your career. During this stage, your value will begin to be recognized by those who employ you through your compensation, promotions, and access to the best assignments and mentors. You will continue to explore your interests and talents, but you will also begin to develop specific professional skills and make meaningful contributions to your organization.

One goal in this phase is to show that the bet your superiors made on your potential was well placed. You will do that by becoming known as a can-do person who meets deadlines, does high-quality work no matter the assignment, and asks good questions. Employers want employees who are enthusiastic, responsive, curious, helpful, optimistic, and hardworking and who work well with others, both above and below them.

The second goal of the Promise Phase is to position yourself for the next stage of your career by testing out a diverse set of roles and work environments. Remember that you can expect to work for as many as fifteen to twenty organizations or businesses over the course of your career. As long as you have a rationale for experimenting and can later explain what you did, why you did it, and what you learned from it, then it's fine to have a winding career path, with multiple left and right turns. Push yourself during this stage to find out the answers to questions such as whether you prefer working on your own, in small project teams, or in larger organizations and whether, in all honesty, you are willing to put up with the late-night and weekend work required for jobs in lucrative sectors like technology and financial services. Reflect on whether you thrive in competitive environments, where there are stars and also-rans, or prefer cultures that put a premium on teamwork, or seniority. Consider whether you are comfortable with ambiguity and having your results depend on things outside your control or whether you prefer the structure of well-defined roles or the fulfillment of task completion.

There are two other critical questions you want to address during the Promise Phase, the answers to which will lead you toward different career paths. First, are you inclined toward a position whose objective is to generate revenue, or do you prefer support functions? Second, are you skilled and interested in managing others, or do you prefer to be more of an individual contributor? Often answers to these questions emerge only over time. You may need to switch departments, companies, and even industries to answer them, and you should reflect upon them carefully over the first decade of your career. If you've built a strong foundation of work relationships and a reputation for excellent work, you may well be able to switch jobs within your existing organization to explore these key questions.

You chose your academic major during the Aspiration Phase. The Promise Phase is when you declare your professional major (which may or may not have anything to do with the academic major from college) and figure out the roles and settings that will allow you to be most successful and most true to yourself. This stage isn't limited to a particular age range. Given how careers are structured today, with serial entrepreneurism and the lure of start-ups, and with corporate training programs the rare exception and lifetime employment a relic of a bygone era, it is highly likely that you will be switching roles and companies more frequently than in the past in order to test out the different settings and roles. If you can expect to work in fifteen to twenty companies or organizations, you will need to count on having multiple starts or restarts. It is incumbent on you to figure out the best environments and roles in the Promise Phase so you can dig into your chosen area and start becoming valued for your track record and experience. This is to say that there is one other key goal of the Promise Phase--to develop your skills in managing your own career.


This phase tends to run from your early thirties through your early or midforties, when you establish your track record and reputation in the marketplace. This can be in functions like marketing, finance, sales, operations, information technology, or strategy. The Momentum Phase is when the value of your experience will overtake your potential value as you increase your professional standing by capitalizing on your experience, stature, skills, and expertise. In doing this, you will become promotable in your company and more recruitable in your industry and across sectors.

Sandi Peterson, group worldwide chairman of Johnson & Johnson, is a textbook example of someone who used the Momentum Phase to position herself for even greater success (she was named #20 on the Fortune Most Powerful Women list in 2014). A government major at Cornell, Sandi focused on international economics and politics over the course of her Aspiration and Promise phases. After graduating from college, she worked in a handful of international political risk consulting firms in New York and went on to earn a master's degree from Princeton in applied economics. Following graduate school, she decided to take her interest in economics, politics, and science policy and redirect it onto a business track. She became one of the first non-MBA associates at McKinsey, where over six years as a management consultant she developed a specialization in consumer and technology companies, focusing on strategic marketing and innovation. After McKinsey, Sandi leveraged these areas of experience into new opportunities, joining Whirlpool's strategy and product development team, and three years later moving to become Nabisco's executive vice president for research and development.

Sandi's track record and reputation brought her to the attention of other companies, and she was soon recruited from the consumer products industry to the health care field, where she could apply her experience in a new sector. She joined Merck-Medco as the top marketing executive and after six years was recruited to the German life sciences company Bayer AG to lead its global health care divisions in New York. In 2012, eight years later, Sandi was recruited to Johnson & Johnson, the world's largest health care company, where today she is its number two executive. In total, Sandi oversees more than $20 billion in revenue and approximately seventy thousand people, more than half of J&J's total workforce.

Beyond leveraging your experience into new opportunities, success in the Momentum Phase is also defined by the quality of the teams you build and manage. This is perhaps the first thing CEOs and HR officers consider when deciding whether you're a fit for an executive role at the company. You want to become known as a "talent magnet," someone who has built a positive culture inside your organization, attracted world-class talent from the outside, developed talent internally, and used all of these resources to create highly effective teams. As J. Patrick Doyle, CEO of Domino's Pizza, explains, "In your mid- to late thirties, the basis of how you are judged fundamentally changes. You're no longer evaluated as an individual contributor, but rather on the quality of the people that you can attract to work with and for you."

Build goodwill by supporting those around you and being a positive, responsive, and helpful colleague and leader. This is especially important when life inevitably gets in the way during this period of your career. The more goodwill that you have built up from having supported others around you and from having been a positive, responsive, and helpful colleague and leader, the more assistance you will in turn benefit from when it comes to maintaining your momentum and balancing work with the major events in your personal life, such as marriage, parenthood, and health issues, to name a few.

The Latter Three Phases: Harvest, Encore, and Legacy

If The Career Playbook can help you optimize the Aspiration, Promise, and Momentum phases of your career, then we will all be able to declare it a major success. Even though the latter parts of your career seem an eternity away, let me briefly define the final three phases that most careers follow:

* The Harvest Phase. This phase kicks in at about your twentieth college reunion and runs for the next ten to twenty years, depending on which industry sector you're working in and how you are progressing.

* The Encore Phase. This stage follows traditional corporate retirement. It is well known that careers are no longer ending like clockwork at the age of sixty-five.

* The Legacy Phase. Finally, there is the Legacy Phase. You might think about this as the new age of retirement to leisure given lengthening life spans and longer terms of employment.

If you are interested in the details of these phases, turn to Appendix A. For now, the key points are that in these latter phases careers begin to diverge most dramatically: some people keep growing personally and professionally, moving into new positions, and redefining roles, while others start to fade. The key principle in the latter parts of your career is to find ways to redefine your experiences and apply them in new and hopefully valuable contexts.

The shape of your career trajectory can be quite different depending on what direction you take, how you perform, and what decisions you make along the way. For example, if you follow a traditional career in business where you focus on one field and become fairly specialized, the slope of your value in the career market can be quite steep, on both the upside and--if you don't find a way to reconceive your experience--the downside. No matter what shape your career takes, by understanding the six career phases and knowing what to focus on in each phase you will be saved a lot of soul searching when you're in the throes of trying to meet your daily demands, find new opportunities, and build a meaningful life outside the office.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Essential Advice for Today's Aspiring Young Professional 1

Part 1 How Careers Really Work

1 The Six Phases of Your Career 17

2 The Career Triangle: Job, Compensation, and Lifestyle 29

3 What About Money? 37

4 The Power of Relationships and Networks 42

Part 2 How to Get the Job

5 Time to Land Some Interviews 55

6 Overcoming the Permission Paradox: You Can't Get the Job Without Experience, but You Can't Get Experience Without the Job 76

7 You've Studied Liberal Arts, Now What? 83

8 The Art of the Interview 95

9 Deciding What Job to Accept 112

Part 3 How to Thrive

10 Getting Off to the Right Start in a New Job 127

11 Four Guaranteed Strategies for Success 141

12 You're a Knight, Not a Bishop (Or, How to Move from Job to Job) 155

13 Negotiating (or Not) to Get More Money 169

14 How to Cultivate a Mentor 179

Conclusion 193

Appendix A The Latter Three Phases of Your Career 205

Appendix B How Select Colleges and Universities Are Helping Their Students Compete More Effectively 209

Sources 219

Acknowledgments 227

Index 235

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