New Book Describes How to Play Career Game

Few people recognize that the pursuit of an open job can be framed as a “move” in a multifaceted game called a career, according to a new book by Georgia Tech College of Management Professor Nathan Bennett and leadership consultant Stephen A. Miles.

Employing the innovative lens of game theory, they describe how such an approach can be applied to career management in the book Your Career Game: How Game Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals.

Individuals who take the perspective of a “career game”—a fascinating, complex, nuanced, real-life, multiplayer maze that unfolds in real time—can develop into better players, explain Bennett, a professor of organizational behavior at Tech and principal of Red Buoy Consulting; and Miles, vice chairman of leadership advisory within Heidrick & Struggles’ Leadership Consulting Practice.

Savvy players, by definition, have a better shot at successfully competing for the highly sought-after positions that will enable them to realize their goals, they write.

Your Career Game includes conversations with a wide range of successful professionals, such as Ursula Burns (Xerox), Stephen Elop (Microsoft), Marius Kloppers (BHP Billiton), Ken Frazier (Merck), and Liz McCartney (The St. Bernard Project), and discusses how their career moves demonstrate elements of a game theory approach to career management.

According to the authors, anyone who can impact your game is a player. What distinguishes savvy players is that they routinely develop plans to influence other players to participate in ways that create advantage for them. Savvy players are keenly aware that their strengths when combined with the moves of another player can allow both players to win a bit, Bennett and Miles explain.

As a reminder that the game is ultimately self-interested, the authors write, “Of course, recognizing potential gains from the trade requires that you understand the commitments other players can keep. If you partner with players who cannot deliver their ends of the deal, you will end up having been played as a sucker.”

Bennett and Miles delineate three fundamental moves that any player would need to be aware of—”career refining—incremental efforts that sharpen your qualifications and focus your résumé. Other moves may have been career defining—these are the successful big swings that create positive disruptions and sharply accelerate your career progress. Still other moves may be blunders that produced terrible results and threaten to set back or stall your career. We call these moves career ending or career limiting—moves that could require you to leave the game or simply send you back to square one.”

The book also shows how you can strategically manage your key working relationships as your career needs change over time—with your boss, the “weak ties” in your network, and the all-important relationships with your mentors and sponsors.

As Bennett and Miles point out, “Mentors and sponsors can be among the most impactful players in your career game. The ability to draw on their insight and experience can be an incredible resource for players. In fact, this is precisely how good game players should view these allies in the career game—as a resource that should be proactively and strategically managed.”

Bennett and Miles are also authors of the 2006 book Riding Shotgun: The Role of the COO (Stanford University Press).

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