21 Books That'll Get You Ahead at Work, According to Top Career Coaches
With summer finally here, and hopefully a vacation or two on your calendar, you’re probably on the hunt for a good book. While you should give your brain a break and read a little light fiction, you should also pick up one that’ll boost your career.
And before you groan and start complaining that you didn’t come here looking for homework, know that we asked our career coaches for some of their best recommendations. That means these books aren’t only recommended by experts, but they’re actually good reads that are well worth your time.
So here you are, free advice from some of the top career coaches out there:
1. David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
We often hold ourselves back from trying something new, starting our own business or project, or doing things differently because we think we need to ‘have it all’ before we can get started. This book talks through dozens of historical examples of how small beats big, as well as the advantages of being the little guy.
2. Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy
Given that my coaching practice is focused on careers and confidence, clients come to me all the time suffering from Imposter Syndrome—feeling like it's all a fluke that they've made it as far as they have and any minute now their bosses will realize that they don't have what it takes. Cuddy's book offers in-depth research on how your physical presence can change your mental energy and your confidence level. The book is heavy on data, but the research is incredible.
3. The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman
While both men and women often come into negotiations with wavering confidence, I have found in my career and negotiation coaching practice that lack of confidence is all too often a real problem for highly capable, intelligent, and accomplished professional. This book breaks down the many and awful mythologies and stereotypes of confidence by showing—through cutting-edge research—how successful women in business, media, and politics ‘do it,’ project confidence and win the daily negotiations of life.
4. Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less by Robert I. Sutton and Hayagreeva Rao
I chose this book because, while it is intended to be about scaling an organization, the techniques work equally well in your personal efforts to scale and grow. The authors (both professors at Stanford GSB), draw on hundreds of case studies to focus on how to spread a mindset, rather than a specific set of rules or guidelines. The result is a gripping read which sets a thoughtful framework for a tactical lifestyle.
5. Refuse to Choose!: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams by Barbara Sher
I was always the student who was interested in everything and my career has pretty much gone the same way. After I read this book, I realized that there are a lot of other people like me and having many interests and passions isn’t a bad thing! I think it takes a lot of insight to recognize your strengths and weaknesses. I have recommended this one to many people and honestly, I’m not even sure who has my copy, but I’d like it back!
The slight edge is a simple concept that reaps great rewards. It’s based on the premise that simple activities and decisions you make daily, over time, will propel you toward success in your career and dreams. The goal is to tap into the ‘one thing’ that’ll help you achieve your career or life goal and apply it daily. For the manager who wants to improve leadership and morale among the team, it may be expressing appreciation to an employee daily. For the job seeker who wants to discover his or her dream career and build a network, it may be leading one informational interview daily. For the marketing professional who wants to gain wide-reach and visibility, it may be adding value and connecting with influencers daily. What is it for you?
7. Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together by Pamela Slim
Many of my clients express that their ambition and multi-passionate natures result in a feeling they have a fractured professional identity—that they’re somehow inadequate because they’re ‘not good’ at any one thing. In this book, Pam Slim proves that having a diverse background is truly a gift, and shows how to create a rock-solid narrative out of your rich experience. This is a must-read for ‘slash’ careerists, entrepreneurial go-getters, side hustlers, or anyone with many interests who wants to tie them together into a meaningful career.
8. Luck Is No Accident: Making the Most of Happenstance in Your Life and Career by John D. Krumboltz and Al S. Levin
This wonderful book encourages the reader to be aware of and open to the opportunities that may seem random but can lead to fulfilling career and personal experiences. This approach is not at odds with taking a playful approach to career development; the authors suggest that our responses to unplanned and chance events can enhance our development and provide a richer experience. It helped me to identify how ‘luck’ has played a part in my own career trajectory and allowed me to expand my skills and experience in satisfying ways.
9. Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day by Todd Henry
This powerful read is not about burning ourselves out. It reminds us that life is finite and offers practical and effective ideas to make every moment count—so we can achieve the goals we’re passionate about. It has inspired me (and coaching clients to whom I’ve recommended it) to be my best at every moment. It's also made a major impact on some of my high-functioning colleagues who felt bored with their work. I think every professional should read this—its compelling message is one we can all benefit from.
10. Strategy and the Fat Smoker: Doing What’s Obvious But Not Easy by David Maister
While this is written as a business book, it’s a great read for people looking to make strategic changes to any aspect of their life, personal or professional. We often know what ‘should’ get done, but yet we fail to focus, fail to make the time, and fail to make the necessary changes in our habits. Maister talks about how strategy is really about saying ‘no’ to many things so we can say ‘yes’ to the critical few that’ll drive success.
11. 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
When I was at a career crossroads back many years ago before becoming a coach, this book helped me clarify my skills, interests, and professional goals. It was full of fun and creative writing exercises that promoted taking action to help discover what you really wanted out of life and career. I found it more useful than many online assessments since it encouraged you to look at yourself at a deeper level.
12. Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman
This book is a brilliant look into our ‘two minds,’ the rational and the emotional, and how they shape our destiny. The author is a true influencer of the emotional intelligence concept and this book is powerful.
13. Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity by David Whyte
If you want to discover your ‘life’s work’—or feel more deeply committed to your work—this book might become your favorite companion. David Whyte is not your typical career expert. He’s not a CEO, an app developer, or a cover letter specialist—he’s a poet. That’s why I love this book so much. Whyte’s perspective feels fresh and unexpected. It’s unlike any career advice I’ve seen elsewhere. I re-read this one at least once a year and I discover a new gem each time.
14. A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger
Everyone’s so focused on ‘what’ they need to do next, that they never stop and think ‘why am I doing this in the first place?’ This leads us down roads we don't wish to travel and causes us to lose control in our lives. But, if you retrain your mind to ask better questions, there will never be a time that you don't understand the reasoning behind your actions, and your direction will become more clear.
15. Middlemarch by George Eliot
‘Every limit is a beginning as well as an ending.’ In the current digital age, our brains have been re-wired to take in information differently. By most accounts, it’s become increasingly harder to sit down and read fiction. We often look for ‘efficient’ reads; those that will maximize our time and effort. And yet books like this one demonstrate that while information may be able to be condensed down to pocket-size, wisdom cannot be. To truly grow we must invest time. To learn we must open ourselves to the humility of not knowing. This is a book about adulthood; it sheds light on the human psyche, our motivations, our desires, our paradox, our endless non-closures. Who we are as professionals depends on who we are as human beings, not the other way around. This is a must read for anyone who aspires to be a ‘professional’ adult.
16. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
Why do people do what they do? What makes them happy and productive? Daniel Pink explores the things that motivate people to do their best work. Spoiler alert: It’s not money! Pink explains the three motivators: autonomy, mastery, and purpose, and the provides a road map to using them to create both career and life satisfaction. Understanding what motivates you is critical to finding career satisfaction wherever you go (and to helping others attain it). My favorite quote: ‘The most deeply motivated people—not to mention those who are most productive and satisfied—hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves.’
17. 120 Jobs That Won't Chain You to Your Desk by the Princeton Review
I’d grown up thinking most people had to sit at a desk and be a lawyer, or a secretary, or a vet, but when my mom sent me a copy of this during college, a whole new world opened up for me! The book has some truly unique career path options and it also does wonders at opening up one's mind to new and creative fields. I find it particularly helpful, because it includes ‘a day in the life’ section for each job, pros and cons, as well as practical steps for how to start your career in each field.
18. Excellence Everyday: Make the Daily Choice—Inspire Your Employees and Amaze Your Customers by Lior Arussy
Using personal anecdotes as well as the results of a 23,000-participant study, this book details the keys to expanding leadership skills, improving employee satisfaction and job performance, and securing customer loyalty through ‘daily choices.’ These choices empower employees to reach their full potential, create excellence in customer service, and thereby enable organizations to achieve profitable results. I was given this book by a colleague when our organization was undergoing a massive reorganization and it provided me with key insights as I managed the teams through the change. Excellence is a mindset. Your thoughts matter. Make a daily commitment to take purposeful and meaningful actions to reach your goals. You truly can achieve what you believe!
19.Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got: 21 Ways You Can Out-Think, Out-Perform, and Out-Earn the Competition by Jay Abraham
This is a book has made a huge impact on my career in terms of thinking creatively about business opportunities and how to help others in the process. It will open your mind up to new revenue streams, deal structures, and product offerings you never would’ve considered.
20. Never Eat Alone: and Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi
I’m always advising my clients to create opportunities for themselves and go after what they really want—and often the only way to do that is through the people you know and who know you, or the ones you reach out to that should. Especially in our overstretched, and often unfocused, world of digital communication (and human to human interaction phobia I see among many job seekers), this book is filled with inspiring anecdotes, helpful insights and practical strategies to get you in the mindset and habit of constantly forming and developing connections that will serve you throughout your career.
21. Give & Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant
This book focuses on the importance of giving as a professional—and how adding value to the others’ careers can ultimately help you to be successful yourself. I love and recommend this book because it changes the way you see personal and professional relationships and reminds you that human beings, more than processes, drive success.
Photo of person reading courtesy of Paul Bradbury/Getty Images.
Jody loves anything that has to do with people, business, and technology. With these passions (and perhaps the fact that her parents are a psychologist and a counselor) it only makes sense that Jody manages Coach Connect at The Muse. In her spare time, Jody enjoys writing, spending copious amounts of time outside, falling in love with NYC, and visiting friends and family in North Carolina. (Go Heels!)More from this Author
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