Headhunter James Citrin tells millennials how to land jobs and keep them

Corporate headhunter James Citrin wrote a book called “The Career Playbook” to help millennials land jobs and keep them.

Corporate headhunter James Citrin wrote a book called “The Career Playbook” to help millennials land jobs and keep them.

(Matthew Peyton / Getty Images)

James Citrin is a corporate headhunter at executive search firm Spencer Stuart, where he leads the firm’s work in finding chief executive candidates. He recruited Marissa Mayer to Yahoo Inc., for instance.



June 12, 10 a.m.: An earlier version of this story said James Citrin is a corporate headhunter at the executive search firm Stuart Spencer. The firm is Spencer Stuart.



But another Citrin passion is the struggle of the “millennial” generation — the 82 million people born between 1981 and 2000 — to find and keep jobs.

Many millennials were unlucky to come of age when the Great Recession hit in 2008, and they’re still dealing with a tough job market despite the economy’s recovery. Many also are saddled with college debt.

“Young college graduates’ job prospects have deteriorated dramatically since the start of the Great Recession,” the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank, said last month.

More than 9 million millennials live in California, more than in any state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Citrin, with three children in their 20s, wrote a book called “The Career Playbook” to help millennials — and anyone, for that matter — land jobs and keep them. We asked him to share some advice for job hunters. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s been suggested that millennials looking for work today have it easier than those who tried during the depths of the recession a few years ago. True?


The class of 2015 is facing the best millennial job market in a decade, and that’s great. But it’s a two-sided story, because they’re competing against people who have been out of work for the last two or four years and who might have experience in the field.

If the new applicants don’t have that experience but need a job to get the experience, how do they get around that old paradox?

When a company says you need two years of experience, they don’t really mean you need two years of experience. They just want something [in your background] for you get off to a running start on the job.

So you say, ‘I’ve used my summer vacations for the last two years to work on this or that’ or ‘I started a T-shirt company on campus’ or ‘I started a Web-based business.’ You say I’ve got all these sets of experiences.

It’s having the confidence and conviction and storytelling tools to weave your experiences together in a way to enable the hiring manager to see you can solve their problem.

How do you build that confidence?

Practice interviewing [for a job]. Practice interviewing your story. The more you do it, the better you get.

But in your book you say employers fill most jobs with people they know or to whom they’re personally referred, correct?

That’s right. It’s about making connections and relationships. Just because your parent isn’t the CEO of the company or you didn’t go to Princeton doesn’t mean you can’t build relationships to get great job opportunities.

People are more connected than they think. When a hiring manager gets a referral, those referrals typically tend to be referrals of referrals.

Millennials are known for being more Internet-savvy than their predecessors. Does that help make connections?

You are more connected today than ever. There’s a huge democratizing force at work with today’s social networks, like LinkedIn. The rate and scale at which we can leverage relationships with those networks is greater than ever. I view them as a massive force for good in the job market.

You can plant that seed on the winds and let that go out. Personal recommendations from your network are what power all this.

You maintain that making connections, or networking, is one area where a millennial actually has some control in the job search, right?

Yes. The other thing they have a lot of control over is the attitude by which they go through the process.


If you are positive, if you’re bright, if you can have a mind-set of helping others, it’s easier to get noticed than people might think.

If millennials are so at ease with technology, why isn’t their job search easier in a world where technology seems so prevalent?

There are more possibilities out there for energetic, creative, entrepreneurial people than ever. But their career paths are much less defined than before. Whether it’s consolidation, globalization, competition or new technologies, companies aren’t creating the career lanes — starting with general training programs — they had 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago.

It’s much harder to get that first job because there are fewer structured programs in place.

Tech skills obviously are in demand. But what if you studied English or other liberal arts?

It’s incumbent on liberal arts students, or those who aren’t technically trained, to do two things: First, develop the skills where you add value and leadership such as problem solving, communicating, analytical skills.

Then a person should study some of the disciplines [related to] where the world is going. Years ago it might have been mathematics or chemical engineering or a foreign language. Today it might be [computer] coding or a part of the healthcare system.

You can still be an art history major and balance that with at least one or two courses in these other disciplines. A lot of hiring managers love traditional liberal arts, but they need that little hook to hire you.