If the pandemic has given you some extra time to ponder your career path or has threatened your job security (or both), we thought we’d recommend some books to read if you are considering changing your career.
(Exploring one or more of these would also be a worthwhile distraction from doomscrolling… Not that we’d know anything about that habit!)
Career books aren’t one size fits all, so we’ve rounded up five titles that each have their own approach to guiding you to the role that would best fit you.
What would you say are the best books to read if you’re considering a career change? What are your favorite career books in general?
If you’re looking for career books on other topics, you might want to review our past recommendations of six great books on productivity, the best resources for new managers, the best financial books for beginners, must-read business books, and books and resources to become a better manager.
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Here are five books to read if you’re considering changing your career:
Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (Amazon, Bookshop)
This book, which has been recommended by several Corporette readers, grew out of the authors’ very popular “Designing Your Life” course at Stanford University. Both use the principles and problem-solving methods of design thinking to give advice and offer exercises to people who seek, as the title says, a well-lived, joyful life. The authors also include more concrete information, such as guidance for writing a resume.
You can find related resources, as well as more information about the book, at Designing Your Life, and the companion workbook is $14.77 at Amazon. An online class is also available (a class based on a book based on a class) at CreativeLive; it incorporates 4.5 hours of content over 21 lessons. The registration fee is currently $29 (originally $199).
Note that earlier this year, the authors published a follow-up book, Designing Your Work Life: How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work, which adds career-specific advice on dealing with company politics, leaving a job in a professional way, and more. (Here’s some more info.)
What Color Is Your Parachute? 2020: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers by Richard N. Bolles (Amazon, Bookshop)
How can you make a list of books about changing careers without mentioning this classic? Not surprisingly, many readers have suggested this book in comment threads over the years. It was first published in 1970 — before most Corporette readers (and Kat and I) were even born — and this is the latest version. Each year’s edition reviews job market information, case studies, and more, while providing tips on resumes, cover letters, networking, interviewing, and salary negotiation.
Bolles’ well-known Flower Exercise is a model that encourages self-reflection and asks the reader to determine how aspects of your identity (e.g., skills, knowledge, types of people you prefer to work with) correspond to meaningful types of work that you would be passionate about.
A workbook (published in 2018) is available for about $10; a few Corporette readers have said they found it helpful, but a few of the customer reviews don’t reflect that, noting that the charts included are duplicates of those in the book. The 2021 edition will be out at the end of this year and is available for pre-order at Amazon, B&N, and elsewhere.
Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career by Herminia Ibarra (Amazon, Bookshop)
It feels right to include a book whose title includes the word “unconventional” (and whose title blurb says “sophisticated”) alongside a traditional, straightforward guide like What Color Is Your Parachute?. (It also feels appropriate to give a link to Ibarra’s recent article on “Reinventing Your Career in the Time of Coronavirus“…)
Ibarra is professor of organizational behavior at London Business School — and her website has a long list of impressive honors and qualifications. In Working Identity, she states that the usual thinking that says we need to know what we want to do before we act is incorrect. Instead, she writes, actually doing things and exploring our “possible selves” will helps us attain this knowledge.
In this guide, she shares stories of career changers (e.g., an investment banker who became a novelist) and explains how to seek help from role models and mentors, keep our momentum with “small wins,” and use several other key strategies to land on a career that fits.
The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success by Nicholas Lore (Amazon, Bookshop)
Here’s another reader recommendation: The Pathfinder, whose author founded his career coaching business, the Rockport Institute, about 40 years ago after years of work in sustainable resources, energy conservation, and organic farming. (There’s a career change for you!) Lore wrote the book to share his company’s philosophy on career choices and changes.
He divided the book into four parts: “Living A Life You Love,” “How to Get From Here to There,” “Design Your Career,” and “Marketing and Job Search.” The heart of his guide is “Design Your Career,” which contains the three-step, Rockport Institute career design process and asks the reader to reflect on your values, talents, personality types/traits (including Myers-Briggs), and more. It provides 100 (?!) self-tests and diagnostic tools.
The Pathfinder encourages the reader to think about making the best of your natural talents and personality, finding a workplace environment that will be supportive in the right ways, and connecting what matters to you personally to a real career.
I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It by Barbara Sher with Barbara Smith (Amazon, Bookshop)
Barbara Sher is a therapist and career counselor who would probably have some interesting things to say on a few of the books above. In I Could Do Anything, she writes, “Relying on your skills to guide you is simply unacceptable. That’s why I don’t intend to give you personality tests or skills assessments to find out what you should be doing.”
Sher believes that we have trouble knowing what they really want for two reasons: (1) We have many more options than, say, our parents did, which means we need to create our own goals, and (2) We each have an internal conflict that stops us from discovering what we want. The book provides tools and strategies to tackle this inner conflict, address negativity, analyze unhappiness in your career, deal with the repercussions of big life changes, and more.
Another of Sher’s books, Refuse to Choose!: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams, is aimed at people whom she calls “Scanners,” who feel like they can’t be limited to a single career path.
What do you think are the best books to read if you’re considering a career change? Have you read any of the books above, and were they helpful? Have you ever hired a career coach?