Some of the best books on career success are decades old. Luckily, many of these have been updated and apply the same wisdom to today's digital age.
This list of resources offers professionals new ways to navigate their careers where remote work, mobile lifestyles, frequent career change, and increasing personal and professional pressures are the norm. Read on for the best career development books for the 2020s.
1. Grit: The Power Of Passion and Perseverance By Angela Duckworth
Angela Duckworth is a celebrated researcher and professor. Her early stints in teaching, business consulting, and neuroscience led to her hypothesis about what really drives success. Duckworth argues that talent and intelligence are less important than grit in determining the trajectory of your career path.
What’s grit? Duckworth believes it is tenacity, perseverance, hard work, and goal-setting. Duckworth shares the stories of leaders such as Pete Carrol, coach of the Seattle Seahawks, and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan and explores the origins of grit, why it drives success, and how you can nurture it to shape your career.
2. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts By Brené Brown
Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston and a visiting professor in management at The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business. She has studied courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy for two decades and given numerous TED talks.
Brown’s career advice is that great leadership skills involve knowing that you don’t have the right answers and staying curious to find solutions. Successful people can share power with others and do not avoid difficult conversations or situations. It takes guts and a willingness to open up to vulnerability.
According to Brown, our culture is defined by scarcity, fear, and uncertainty, which prevents great leaders from emerging. This book is geared toward tomorrow’s brave and daring leaders. This book was number one on the New York Times best-seller list and named one of the best books of 2018 by Bloomberg.
3. The Startup of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career By Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha
Reid Hoffman is co-founder and chairman of LinkedIn. In his book, Hoffman advises managing your career as if it’s a Silicon Valley startup. The premise is that the entrepreneurs who run startups invest in themselves, are nimble, and build and rely on professional networks as support mechanisms. This career guide explains the best practices of successful startups and how they apply to your career whether you work in a large international corporation, a small business, or are an aspiring entrepreneur with your own business.
This book explains how to gain a competitive edge, respond to industry changes, leverage your network, and make intelligent decisions about your biggest challenges. This book is for those ready to take charge and become the CEO of their career and their future.
4. Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type By Paul D. Tieger, Barbara Barron, and Kelly Tieger
Ok. So books on Myers Briggs personality types are so 1980s, but this book brings the philosophy into current times. Paul D. Tieger is an internationally recognized expert on Personality Type. In this book, he offers career guidance based on Myers-Briggs personality types and suggests professions that would be most fulfilling for each type.
But more importantly, Tieger discusses careers in the context of the modern workforce, the ups and downs of the global economy, the digital revolution, and the migration to mobile communication, and remote work and study. This book will lead you through the step-by-step process of determining and verifying your Personality Type, which is so important to understand if you are working in teams or leading them. The book presents real-world case studies and exercises to help you get results quickly. Get to know what makes you tick with Tieger’s “Do What You Are.”
5. What Color Is Your Parachute? 2021: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers By Richard N. Bolles
A classic of its time (and this baby is old), this must-read has been revised to reflect today’s workforce. Richard N. Bolles offers timeless advice for job seekers in the age of social media and the mobile lifestyle. It is a timely release considering the shifting economic landscape facing college grads who seek work that pays and inspires. This book also addresses lay-offs for mid-career professionals and those seeking new jobs, work-life balance, or a change in their careers.
Katharine Brooks, EdD, of Vanderbilt University Career Center updated the book for 2022 with advice for job seekers, such as building an online resume, making the most of social media, and acing virtual interviews. The book retains the original wisdom of Bolles and contains the well-known but updated Flower Exercise that lays out the entire job-search process, from writing resumes to interviewing and networking.
6. Designing Your Work Life: How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work By Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
This audiobook takes a unique look at finding happiness at work and a successful career. Because the perfect job is so hard to find, authors Burnett and Evans suggest making your job the one you want by adjusting your attitudes and behaviors rather than complaining. The book discusses reframing dysfunctional thoughts and resetting your mind to be more productive.
Dysfunctional thought: I'm stuck in a lousy job (and I can’t do anything about it).
Reframe: I'm stuck in a lousy job (but I’m finding the solution).
Bill Burnett and Dave Evans successfully taught graduate and undergraduate students at Stanford University. This book succeeds their best-selling book, Designing Your Life, where the authors posit that designers don't analyze, worry, think, or complain their way forward; they build their way forward. In Designing Your Work Life, Burnett and Evans show readers how design thinking can transform our present jobs and work experience by using a designer mindset amid new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, drones, and robotics. The book also offers advice on how to leave a job amicably when the time comes.
Another well-worn cliché among career gurus is "follow your passion." Cal Newport offers a refreshing perspective in his book, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.” Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University, career coach, and New York Times best-selling author of seven books, suggests that passions are rare and don’t really correlate with work enjoyment. Moreover, Newport suggests focusing on passion rather than honing skills can lead to anxiety and job-hopping.
Through interviews with people who do enjoy their work—venture capitalists, screenwriters, freelance computer programmers, and organic farmers to name a few—Newport finds the strategies they used and the pitfalls they avoided to find compelling careers. Hint, pursuing passions wasn’t one of them.
Rather, finding true fulfillment in your professional life takes hard work. You have to excel in a role you find extremely valuable or "be so good they can't ignore you." Cal Newport’s book is for those who are frustrated with their current direction and eager to find a clear way to professional happiness.
8. The New Rules of Work: The Modern Playbook for Navigating Your Career By Alexandra Cavoulacos and Kathryn Minshew
Career transition is a recurring theme in the most popular career books. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the labor market and new technologies has created chaotic career trajectories where people change jobs every few years. Even the way that job seekers apply for positions has changed.
Alexandra Cavoulacos and Kathryn Minshew, founders of the career websiteTheMuse.com, offer the Muse Method. A step-by-step roadmap to the modern workplace and finding the best career. The guide outlines steps, such as building your personal brand and communicating your value to an employer. It leads you from job interviewing to negotiating an offer. Caloulacos and Minshew’s “New Rules” will help you master the "soft" skills of communication and creating first impressions to find your dream job and thrive in the modern workplace.
9. Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One By Jenny Blake
Jenny Blake also discusses job change in her book “Pivot.” This is a slightly less modern look at career change, but Blake’s advice on how to decide when and how to move is timeless. According to Blake, reaching your full potential is not about big leaps to the next level, but small steps. She advocates using existing strengths as a basis to pivot towards something better. For example, take on side projects to test ideas for your next move rather than expecting to know the full answer upfront.
Blake was a training and career development specialist at Google but now runs her own company as a career and business consultant and speaker. Her philosophy is to use what you know rather than reaching too far and failing to leverage what you have already learned. It made sense in Silicon Valley for lean business advocates, and Blake thinks it will make sense for you.
10. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us By Daniel H. Pink
Think money is what makes a fulfilling career? Making a difference perhaps, or the camaraderie in the workplace? Daniel H. Pink, five-time New York Times best-selling author, argues that what motivates us is the need to direct our own lives, learn and create new things, and simply to do better. In three words: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Pink describes a mismatch between what science tells us and what really happens in business. This book will help you find a deeper understanding of your true motivations, sources of satisfaction, and help you hone your emotional intelligence so that you can find work that you care about and excel in.