Book Review: Getting to the Top, Strategies for Career Success

On this blog, I talk a lot about how my MBA from Duke has helped me successfully transition from science into business. However, since the time I graduated, I found that that I needed to continuously learn how to navigate the next steps in my career – something the MBA did not prepare me for. I think the MBA – albeit rightfully – is focused on career transition, whereas after school one must shift focus onto career progression.

This is where it becomes important to build strong relationships with leaders in your company and identify mentors that can show you the way. In addition to that, I started looking for good books that could provide the academic view on career progression, i.e. a more empirical and broader view on the topic.

That is when I bumped into Kathryn Ullrich’s book, Getting to the Top, Strategies for Career Success. She was an invited speaker for one of the Duke MBA’s post-grad informational sessions. She has served as an executive recruiter in Silicon Valley for many years and this book is essentially a collection of her experience and learnings from that time.

Here’s what I like about this book:

Evidence driven

According to Kathryn Ullrich, the data shared in this book is based on thousands of executives that she has worked with over the years. This is quite impressive, as it does take some foresight into producing such an extensive dataset on executive career patterns. This makes the types of career paths she presents throughout the book that much more believable. For instance, I now have data to support the fact that the sales/marketing make up the most in terms of backgrounds that CEOs come from.

Lots of anecdotes

In addition to the data that is everywhere in the book, Ullrich also includes a lot of anecdotes to amplify her points. These are also very in-depth and discuss details on people’s entire career paths, something I found useful being relatively new to the corporate environment. This is one reason why reading books like these – where many different careers are summarized – is beneficial. It allows the reader to go beyond his or her own network to learn about all the different possibilities in a successful career.

What’s also great about these anecdotes is that they are very detailed and talk about a person’s career path – this is in contrast to some books only discussing one aspect of a person’s career. By including more background, these stories help create context and can really help readers understand the situation and potentially leverage the learnings better.

Here’s where the book may be biased:

Potentially tech-focused

Ullrich mentions this herself – she is a tech focused executive recruiter, and many of her anecdotes may reflect this. However, I did not find this to discount from the value of the book and its teachings. Functions within companies across industries are consistent, and learnings are translatable between industries. As long as the reader focuses on learnings as it relates to career progression then the book will have served its purpose. My recommendation would be to continue to meet with senior leaders within your company to get the perspective on your specific industry.

Where the book sits within the post-MBA bookshelf

In my quest to continue my post-science, post-MBA career in business, I am now creating my own library or bookshelf on career progression (all digital, of course). I think this book is great as a fundamental knowledge on all the senior leadership roles in business and how to get there. It is general in a way that touches on many broad concepts, but it doesn’t get specific on any particular area. Think of it like your first year MBA financial accounting course.

Kathryn Ullrich’s book, Getting to the Top, Strategies for Career Success, should thus be on every post-MBA’s bookshelf and should be one of the first book that everyone reads. For more specific guidance on particular aspects of career progression, I will soon recommend other books that I am currently reading.

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