Work & Purpose

5 Great New Books to Help Your Career

Help for switching jobs, changing careers or enjoying work more

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How These Books Can Be Helpful


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2017 is looking like a good year for American workers. We’ve just had the 75th straight month of job growth and — according to a new CareerBuilder survey — 40 percent of employers plan to hire full-time employees. What’s more, 66 percent expect to increase salaries on initial job offers in the year ahead, says Career Builder.

So this could be an excellent year to jump start your career. To help, I’d like to share five of my favorite books on work and careers published in the past 12 months. Whether you’re gearing up for a career change, looking for a new job or just want to enjoy your current work more, these five reads can help you reach your goals:

No. 1: ‘Designing Your Life'

Designing Your Life

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Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Stanford University design program professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans is based on the authors’ wildly popular course on how to leverage design principles to create a more satisfying life and career. Although the Burnett/Evans course is geared towards undergrads, the program is equally useful for people of all ages, and so is their book.

Designing Your Life is built on the premise that you can’t just think your way forward; you must build your way to the future. Since few of us have one guiding passion, the authors say, the only way to discover what you really want to do is to continually test things out in small, but impactful ways until you find what works.

One of the fastest ways to test out ideas, say Burnett and Evans, is to conduct what they call Life Design Interviews: design-speak for getting someone’s story. By talking with someone who is either doing or living what you’re contemplating, you’ll quickly get a sense of whether your expectations measure up to reality.

The authors do a masterful job explaining their five-step life-design process (be curious, try stuff, reframe problems, know it’s a process and ask for help) and then showing how to put those steps into action. Initially, I was skeptical as to how product design techniques related to career design. But by the end of the book, I was a convert. An engaging read, this is one of those books you’ll circle back to for guidance more than once during the course of your career.

No. 2: ‘Pivot: The Only Move That Matters is Your Next One’


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Pivot: The Only Move That Matters is Your Next One by Jenny Blake, a career coach and the former career development manager at Google, is an especially helpful read if you don’t have to make a career change, but feel the itch to do something different and don’t know how to move forward. (Next Avenue ran an excerpt, “When to Make a Career Pivot,” last fall.)

Blake’s Pivot Method is a four-stage process designed to help you craft a vision for the future, understand your strengths and identify ways to bridge the gap between your current reality and where you want to end up. She believes it’s most effective to “double down on what is working to make a purposeful shift in a new, related direction,” as opposed to making a drastic 180-degree change.

Like Burnett and Evans, Blake is a big proponent of using “small and low-risk experiments” to test new ideas and create opportunities, especially if you can do so without quitting your job.

One of the things I like best about this book is that Blake doesn’t just offer theory, she includes dozens of how-to exercises, worksheets and strategies culled from her private coaching practice. (Many are also accessible on her site’s toolkit page. ) For example, Blake includes several resources for people interested in starting a mastermind group — a key support system that can help you brainstorm options, get support and monitor your accountability as you pivot to a new direction.

She also shares client stories to illustrate her strategies in action.

No. 3: ‘Reinvention Roadmap’

Reinvention Roadmap

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Reinvention Roadmap: Break the Rules to Get the Job You Want and Career You Deserve is from Liz Ryan, CEO of the career advisory firm Human Workplace and a widely-read career adviser on Forbes.com and LinkedIn. Her book is a smart guide for anyone looking to change jobs or break out of a career rut. It’s also a surprisingly entertaining read, thanks to Ryan’s whimsical artwork (including on the cover), witty commentary and uplifting client stories.  Did I mention she’s also a former punk rock and opera singer who graduated from the Manhattan School of Music?

There’s a good reason why Ryan has over a million LinkedIn followers: her advice rings true and she dishes it out with both tough love and encouragement. As a onetime HR VP for U.S. Robotics and 3Com, Ryan knows what it takes to get noticed and hired in the modern workplace.

One example from the book: Ryan recommends getting around the black hole of the online application system by writing a “Pain Letter” — a carefully crafted letter sent to a specific hiring manager that details how you can help solve the employer’s most painful business challenges. “Your power in the hiring equation, whether you work for yourself or someone else, is in your ability to spot Business Pain around you (or individual pain, if you provide services to individuals) and to solve it!” she writes.

Highly practical, Reinvention Roadmap is a must-read for anyone struggling to find footing in today’s often chaotic workplace.

No. 4: ‘Born for This'

Born for This

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Born for This: How to Find the Work Your Were Meant to Do by New York Times bestselling author Chris Guillebeau (The Happiness of Pursuit, The $100 Startup, The Art of Non-Conformity) is an engaging action-oriented guide sure to help you answer that burning question: “What’s next?”

Born for This is divided into two sections: The first half features lessons to help you figure out what you want and how to get it; the second has questions, strategies and tactics to help you put those lessons into action.

One of my favorite strategies from the book: Guillebeau recommends analyzing your email inbox for clues to your best next steps. “If you look closely, you’ll probably find that there are certain types of advice that people ask you for over and over,” he writes. “Whether it’s recommendations for books and movies, investing tips, or your thoughts on the latest gadget to hit the market, the advice people solicit from you is a huge clue as to which of your skills and expertise is most in demand — and therefore probably most marketable.”

Although Guillebeau’s other career books are excellent (I named The $100 Startup as one of my favorites in 2013), Born for This is arguably his most practical guide yet.

No. 5: ‘Build Your Dream Network’

Build Your Dream Network

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Build Your Dream Network (whose subtitle is Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World) by writer and networking expert J. Kelly Hoey is a much-needed guide to building powerful relationships and meaningful connections, both online and off.

There are already plenty of books on networking, of course, but Build Your Dream Network will help you become more strategic. “It’s not a question of IRL (in real life) or digital,” writes Hoey. “It’s both. You need to move seamlessly between networking rooms, recognizing that your most meaningful, connected communications may happen in person and simultaneously on Viber, Gchat, WhatsApp, Kik, Snapchat, or the next communication platform or tool of choice.”

Hoey reminds us that networking need not be complicated or time-consuming. It’s often the small tweaks to our routine — grabbing coffee with a new colleague or striking up a conversation with an old friend at the gym — that result in networking serendipity.

Her book includes a series of smart Q&As with networking experts, as well as a host of tips and easy-to-use checklists. I think its strategies are sure to help you grow your network and even (dare I say?) have fun in the process.


Nancy Collamer
By Nancy Collamer
Nancy Collamer, M.S., is a semi-retirement coach, speaker and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. You can now download her free workbook called 25 Ways to Help You Identify Your Ideal Second Act on her website at MyLifestyleCareer.com (and you'll also receive her free bi-monthly newsletter).

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