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Work Like a Spy: Business Tips from a Former CIA Officer Hardcover – February 7, 2013

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Work Like a Spy: Business Tips from a Former CIA Officer + Spy the Lie: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception + What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Even though the CIA has been prominent in the not-so-great-news department of late, there are some intriguing takeaways from its operatives. Offering no tell-all story, former operative Carleson applies her learning from eight years at the CIA—during the aftermath of 9/11—to corporate America and business success. Many of her easy-to-read lessons concern information—how to get it and how to use it legitimately when applied to internal and external competition and to the improvement of performance and outcomes. For the first third of the book, she concentrates on boot-camp tactics and follow-up exercises, such as targeting, corroboration, and strategic elicitation. The rest of the book is concerned with how to use those tactics in a host of situations, from recruitment, ethics problems, and crisis management, to sales, compliance, and using competitive intelligence. It’s certainly not a dry read, since Carleson inserts some harrowing (and declassified) accounts of her CIA adventures. Although a hard-to-categorize book, it nevertheless is a useful guide. “There is information for the taking that can change the entire playing field for you and your organization. Getting this information is a matter of asking the right people the right questions in the right way.” Learn it, use it. --Barbara Jacobs


"In this clever twist on the career self-help genre, former CIA agent Carleson takes the principles that she learned in clandestine service and applies them to today's business world… This quick and enjoyable read offers plentiful nuggets of information, which can be put to good use by any career-minded reader."
Publishers Weekly

"Carleson deftly translates the skills of spy craft learned through her eight years in the field—intelligence gathering, recruitment and crisis management—into know-how that can be used 'by anyone—at any level—in the workplace,' she writes. The advice, techniques and exercises for networking, improving sales and generally getting ahead of the competition won’t morph you into a master spy, but it will definitely expand your approach to everyday interactions and make you more versatile, shrewd and savvy, whether you’re a job seeker, salesperson, manager or CEO."

“I found Work Like a Spy to be much more than a compelling read penned by an ex-CIA officer. J. C. Carleson importantly offers a fresh slate of easily understood risk mitigation practices and exercises.”
—FRANCIS D’ADDARIO, CPP CFE, Emeritus Faculty Leader, Strategic Influence and Innovation, Security Executive Council

“This is a blast! J. C. Carleson has written the cure for the common business book. Part business advice book, part memoir, part window into the world of covert intelligence, it will both inform and intrigue the reader. Going beyond the typical business anecdotes, Carleson gives us a glimpse of the world of covert officers, international intrigue, and true high stakes encounters. More than just telling stories, though, Work Like a Spy uses examples from the CIA to provide a set of principles that can be used to succeed in any organization.”
—ALEXANDER J. S. COLVIN, Professor of Labor Relations and Conflict Resolution, ILR School, Cornell University

“Carleson provides a compelling argument for the importance of intelligence and counterintelligence in day-to-day business. Her straightforward sugges­tions encourage the reader to always be on guard for information—either to keep it or to gather it.”
—DEB COHEN, Ph.D., SPHR, SVP, Knowledge Development, Society for Human Resource Management

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio (February 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591843537
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591843535
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #278,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

J.C. Carleson is a former undercover CIA officer. Her near-decade of covert service took her around the globe, from bomb shelters in war zones to swanky cocktail parties in European capitals. A graduate of Cornell University, she lives outside Washington, DC. Visit her website at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Aaron C. Brown TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The author of this book was not a spy in the Sidney Reilly or Mata Hari sense. Rather she was a case officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, gathering information in foreign countries in a variety of ways that included bribing officials, assuming false identities and stealing documents. While these activities may seem far removed from everday legal businesses (or not, your experience may differ) she makes a strong case that there is significant overlap in the requirements for success. Those requirements do not include cynanide pills, exploding cufflinks or Mission: Impossible style plastic masks.

When stripped to its essentials, the advice is pretty much the same as Dale Carnagie preached almost 80 years ago, with a bit of Frank Abagnale to spice it up. So you're not going to find any magic bullets in here, any never-before-revealed secrets to make business as easy as James Bond saving the world. But it's more fun reading this sensible advice in the context of daring covert operations than sales calls or meetings. Plus there is a serious educational advantage to changing the context, it helps you think more abstractly and at a higher level about the things you do every day, and avoids some of the possible blocks most people have to acquiring new ideas.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Reuters Breakingviews on February 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
By Martin Langfield

James Bond fans would expect a former spy's book of business tips to offer a crash-course in whiz-bang gadgetry, car chases and stealing secrets. Intelligence nerds might want to read about working the "dark side" through Dumpster-diving, coercion and other black arts. J.C. Carleson's book "Work Like a Spy" smartly does neither.

Instead, she mostly concentrates on the psychological and behavioral tricks that intelligence officers use to winkle out secrets. Carleson, who worked for the CIA's clandestine service for eight years, clearly has a terrific book in her, though "Work Like a Spy" is only intermittently it.

The book waters down some clandestine techniques till they seem merely bland. Others, though, fizz with insight, and the dabs of color and adventure she throws in, from her time in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to her stint in Iraq looking for non-existent weapons of mass destruction, add drama and exoticism. The reader longs for more of this stirring stuff.

Carleson explains that much intelligence work is in fact more like the average workplace than a Hollywood adventure film. Workers and businesses can learn from CIA tricks of the trade - at least the legal ones.

Among the tips she provides are: how to elicit useful information about rival firms or workplace colleagues using CIA source-cultivation techniques; how to set up meetings to foster the most favorable outcome; how to build networks of informants at all levels of an organization to maximize good information; how to target potential "defectors" or key rivals one would like to hire away; how to minimize the risk of being spied on by rivals; and some handy CIA approaches to negotiation.
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23 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Dagny Taggart on March 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For me, this book was 1 star. For others, particularly those junior in the business world, it might be a 5 star.

As an experienced corporate professional on Wall Street with a mix of technical background, selling skills and leadership responsibilities, I found that all the points made in the book I already knew. I'm not suggesting I know everything, clearly I don't which is why I purchased the book to see if I could learn anything substantive. It turns out that the points made weren't detailed enough and were too vague to be of use for someone who has survived successfully so long in the corporate world already.

However, to be fair, as I was reading the book, I felt that the points made were good aggregate summaries of overall approach to surviving the workforce, and would have been particularly helpful to me in my earlier years. As I read the book, I felt myself constantly conjuring up images and names of people I have come across that fit into some of the personality types and the descriptions were fairly accurate in terms of success profiles and "what not to do". In spite of that though, neither of the sections went into enough detail to be truly actionable.

In addition, I didn't feel that the author had a substantial corporate world experience. The author admits job hopping quite a bit and didn't stay at each job for long. Perhaps 1-2 years max at each job, although I can't remember if that was specifically stated. The point is, how can one be a reputable source on the corporate world if they haven't been able to implement these specific "suggestions" in the workforce? They can't. I don't feel the author has more credibility than, say myself, in the corporate world. Mgmt trainee starting off in the executive compensation dept?
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