Professional Development

13 Books to Read to Advance Your Career

Written by Kate Lopaze

We have millions of resources available to us on the internet, any time of day. It’s obviously a fantastic tool, especially when you’re looking for ways to boost your career. But you know what also works? Good, old-fashioned books. (Okay, I’ll even stretch that to include ebooks.) From classic lit (no War and Peace, I promise) to ultramodern career advice, we’ve got a reading list that might not satisfy your high school English teacher, but just might help you move forward in your career.

The Literary Classics

First, let’s look at some of the books you might not think are career books, but provide great insight into human nature and how to cope with life.

The Art of War, Sun Tzu

Love is a battlefield, sure, but so is the workplace. While it may not be the kind of literal warfare that ancient Chinese philosopher and military strategist Sun Tzu likely envisioned for his audience, it has lots of good advice for someone seeking to improve leadership skills, conquer office politics, or just plain survive the ins and outs of the workplace. Besides, a little extra discipline never hurts, professionally.

Career takeaway: “Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.” One-liners like this can give you bite-size management tips that you can apply to any situation, whether the war zone is a literal one or one with a water cooler.

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

If The Art of War is your field guide to turning yourself into an A+ leader, this one is your cautionary tale for surviving office politics. This young adult novel follows a group of students who become stranded, and attempt to create their own new island society. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t go great.)

Career takeaway: Working together with a diverse group of people is an essential skill, especially amid chaos.

The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

In this novel, an Andalusian shepherd travels to Egypt seeking riches after dreaming of finding wealth there. While this is a literal tribute to chasing your dreams, it also contains many insightful lessons about seizing opportunities, overcoming fear of the unknown, and embracing the actions you can take in the present.

Career takeaway: Focus on your journey, and the steps you can take now to achieve your goals.

The Career Classics

While you may not find these books on your English syllabus, these books have helped generations of readers grow professionally.

Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill

Any process that has 13 steps has to be successful, right? This 1937 self-help classic by author and lecturer Napoleon Hill offers the aforementioned steps to make more money and achieve personal goals, based on the successes of early 20th century entrepreneurs like Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie.

Career Takeaway: Emulating successful people can help you break through in your own personal achievement and financial goals.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey

One of the most important things you can do, career-wise, is to set yourself up for success by creating and maintaining good habits. This book has been a perennial bestseller since its publication in 1990, and provides a road map to making changes to your mindset and life to allow for success. While it does cover the aforementioned habits of successful people, this is more of a reset on how you see yourself and the world around you.

Career Takeaway: Beloved by executives and other highly successful people, this book offers tools to push yourself up to the next level.

How to Win Friends & Influence People, Dale Carnegie

Another oldie-but-goodie, this is the original book about networking. Dale Carnegie’s insights into making and maintaining connections has become the basis for many generations of business leaders and highly successful schmoozers.

Career Takeaway: You can’t go it alone, so it’s essential to work on your people skills alongside your professional skills, and make the right connections.

The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success, Nicholas Lore

Originally published in 1998, this book has been a touchstone for recent grads, people looking for career changes, and those who just want to start plotting out a path to their goals. In it, career coach Nicholas Lore lays out how to figure out what you want to do and how to set your course to get to that point. Lore uses diagnostic tools and tests from the career and networking hub the Rockport Institute to guide readers through the first (or next steps) on their career paths. This one has also been revised and updated for the current realities of the job market (technology, economic shifts, etc.).

Career Takeaway: Everyone needs a plan for their career, but not everyone knows how to create and execute that plan. Expert advice and self-diagnosis quizzes help you zero in on your strengths and your goals.

The Modern Classics

And now we have the more contemporary books, which may very well be the career books we pass along to our kids.

Outliers: The Secret of Success, Malcolm Gladwell

Like Napoleon Hill and Dale Carnegie before him, writer Malcolm Gladwell understands the importance of learning from the best thinkers and achievers. Outliers takes a deep dive into what makes these achievers so successful, and what we regular schmoes can learn from them in order to grab some of that success for ourselves. This book also contains the now-famous conclusion, which you’ve likely heard, that the key to mastering any skill is to put in 10,000 of effort and practice.

Career Takeaway: Success is a result of hard work and savvy planning, and we should be open others’ success stories to help determine what works for ourselves.

The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success, Megan McArdle

No one likes to fail, but it’s an inevitable part of everyone’s career at some point. The key is managing those failures, embracing the challenges that come with taking chances, and taking the necessary lessons forward into the rest of one’s career. This book takes real-world stories of failure to illustrate how to embrace and move on from setbacks.

Career Takeaway: I fail, you fail, we all fail…sometimes. Learning to accept these failures gracefully and move on, wiser and stronger, is a major career skill everyone should have.

Linchpin, Seth Godin

If you’ve heard of only one career coach in the past ten years, there’s a good chance that name is Seth Godin’s. Godin specializes in personal success and entrepreneurship, and here he focuses on how to make yourself an absolutely necessary part of the team by embracing innovation and positive change.

Career Takeaway: An indispensable person is a person with job security.

Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg

Women have faced innumerable challenges in the workplace, including a shortage of managerial roles. In Lean In, Sandberg draws on her experience as Facebook’s COO to offer advice on how to cultivate leadership skills and achieve work-life balance. But while this book is aimed at professional women specifically, it also has advice that anyone of any gender can take and apply to their own career paths.

Career Takeaway: If you’re not achieving your full professional, you’re putting yourself at a major professional disadvantage.

Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness, Kerry Hannon

“Do what you love” is very common career advice. It’s also very vague—should you pursue passion projects at the expense of a paycheck? Should you learn to love the job you have? What’s the optimal way to find happiness in your career? Hannon walks you through making necessary changes to your habits, routines, and mindset so that you’re getting the most possible fulfillment out of your job.

Career Takeaway: Whether you have your dream job or not, you should seek happiness and fulfillment from the job that takes up so much of your life and mindspace.

Moving the Needle: Get Clear, Get Free, and Get Going in Your Career, Business, and Life!, Joe Sweeney and Mike Yorkey

If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, either in your job or in your industry, Moving the Needle is designed to help you shake up the status quo, and move forward in your career with a refreshed sense of purpose. If you have no idea what said refreshed purpose could be, this book gives you the tools you need to figure that out.

Career Takeaway: Don’t let yourself get mired in a blah status quo—embrace ideas like risk and innovation that can help you move your career in a more fulfilling direction.

Now more than ever, there are so many voices out there that can help us learn more about our professional selves, and tools to help us achieve our most cherished career goals. Happy reading!

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.