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The Best Books for Your Career: 2016 Edition

A career coach picks her five favorites of 2015


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Looking for help to find a job or switch careers, get a raise or promotion or start a business in 2016? Have I got some great books for you!

I just spent time over the holiday break to come up with a list of my favorite reads from 2015. Ultimately, I whittled the list down to five books in three categories: Career Reinvention, Success Strategies and Entrepreneurship.

Career Reinvention: 'The Art of Work'

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The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do, a bestseller by blogger Jeff Goins, was my favorite read of the year.

As a career coach, I’ve read dozens of books on finding your purpose, so I expected to do little more than skim this one when I first picked it up. But The Art of Work caught me off-guard. With his masterful writing, captivating stories about everyday people and insightful observations, Goins held my attention from the first page to the last.

When it comes to career reinvention, too many people expect easy answers and neat formulas. But in practice, finding your purpose is more of a path than a plan — a messy, unpredictable and winding journey. Serendipity happens, but most of the time it takes hard work. And inevitably, once you “reach” your destiny, life throws a curveball that sends you out searching again.

Goins reminds you to seek help along the journey. In his chapter on Accidental Apprenticeships he writes, “Every place you go, every person you meet, every job you have is a chance to gain greater clarity in your self-education.”

The stories in this book are a testament to the powerful role that communities and mentors play in shaping our dreams.

“The Art of Work was not the book I intended to write but ended up being the one I was supposed to write,” Goins says. “A calling is like that too, I suppose. It is the thing that you never thought would be, the twist in the plot that makes everything else come together, and somehow in the end you cannot imagine otherwise.”

I couldn't agree more. Fortunately, no matter where you are along your career or life journey, this book will make you think differently about who you are, the options you have and what you choose to do about them.

Career Reinvention: 'Do Over'

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Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work and Never Get Stuck by self-described “chronic job quitter” Jon Acuff is a witty and surprisingly practical guide to navigate the inevitable bumps and detours of our career journeys.

“When it comes to your career, you control more than you think,“ writes Acuff. He maintains that the best way to thrive during transitions is to invest in what he calls your “career savings account” (CSA). That’s a phrase Acuff coined to describe a formula encompassing the critical elements of career success. The four key elements of a CSA: relationships (who you know), skills (what you do), character (who you are) and hustle (how you work).

Just as a savings account shields you during a financial crisis, a healthy career savings account, he says, will help you thrive during times of transition.

What makes this book special is that Acuff doesn’t just say it’s important to invest in a CSA, he shows you how to do it. For example, instead of suggesting you create a list of your best contacts, he provides a series of questions and exercises designed to help you dig deeper to build a far larger and more effective list than you’d likely build on our own.

You’ll discover a boatload of tips and resources here for any type of career transition. If you use just a fraction of the advice offered, you’ll be far better equipped to flourish in a world and a workplace where change is a constant.

Success Strategies: 'Captivology'

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If 2016 is the year you hope to score a promotion, attract more readers to your blog or connect with more recruiters on LinkedIn, grab a copy of Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention by entrepreneur and tech journalist Ben Parr. It‘s a fascinating, enlightening read that will help you get noticed in a noisy world.

Parr skillfully weaves together scientific research and stories of successful entrepreneurs, entertainers and others to illustrate ways of using “captivation triggers” to grab people’s attention in appropriate ways.

For example, in his chapter on the “automaticity trigger” (the tendency to shift our attention towards sights, sounds and other sensory cues critical to our safety and survival), Parr explains that if you want to convey competence, wear blue or red (as seen in the Presidential debates), but if your goal is to appear rugged, opt for brown (think National Park ranger).

This book is heavy on the research. But somehow, Parr manages to strike the right balance between stats, stories and strategy. Reading Captivology will help you better understand why we do what we do. In turn, that information can help you further your career in a multitude of ways.

Success Strategies: 'Work Simply'

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Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style by productivity consultant Carson Tate is a timely read for anyone drowning in e-mail and information overload (and who isn’t?). Unlike traditional time management books that tout a one-size-fits-all solution, Work Simply offers a personalized solution system based on what’s unique about you and the way you think.

I especially liked Tate’s Productivity Style Assessment, a 28-item quiz she designed to help you identify your preferred productivity style. Once you have a better understanding of your style, you’ll be able to choose the tools and methods best suited to your unique needs — whether you want to find the best way to decorate your office, calendar your time or benefit from productivity apps.

I found the chapter on taming your inbox especially useful; the tips in that section alone are invaluable.

Ironically, for a book about working simply, there’s a lot of information to digest here. But Tate clearly knows her topic and brings a real world sensibility that many other similar books lack. Well researched, practical and filled with resources, this one is a keeper.

Entrepreneurship: 'The Creator's Code'

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According to the 2015 Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, just over half a million people became new business owners every month last year. Of those, one out of four were aged 55 to 64. If you have entrepreneurial leanings, take a look at The Creator's Code: The Six Essential Skills of Extraordinary Entrepreneurs by Amy Wilkinson. It provides an intriguing look into why some entrepreneurs rise to the top, while others flounder.

Wilkinson, a strategic adviser, entrepreneur and lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, interviewed 200 leading entrepreneurs, including the founders of eBay, Spanx and Tesla Motors. She distills their stories into six principles of business success — fundamental skills that Wilkinson maintains can be learned and developed.

There are a ton of inspirational stories here. While the book focuses on highly successful ventures generating more than $100 million in annual revenue, I think the lessons will be relevant even if your goal is to run a small side gig in semi-retirement.

One of the things I like best is that Wilkinson includes multiple stories about the early struggles faced by many of these companies, demonstrating that virtually all start-ups experience turmoil. Reading their backstories is both instructional and reassuring.

This is an excellent read, whether you’re an entrepreneurial newbie or a seasoned business owner eager to take your business to the next level.

I hope you enjoy these books as much as I did and they help you have a fulfilling 2016.

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