The 8 Best Career Books of 2021
Advice you need to boost your professional life
We are committed to researching, testing, and recommending the best products. We may receive commissions from purchases made after visiting links within our content. Learn more about our review process.
A career is so much more than just a job. Almost anyone with enough time on their hands, enough determination, or enough desperation can find a job, and most people can even find a job that pays the bills, if just barely. But building a career, unlike finding a job, is a lifetime pursuit. Building a career requires dedication, both to yourself and to the work that you do. Creating a career involves persistence as it will not always be easy to find fulfilling work while moving your way up the career ladder—and these days, many career paths do not resemble a ladder at all, but rather a long and winding road.
Lastly, building a career requires thinking smart about the sort of life you want to lead, about your skills and passions, and about the kind of work that can help you achieve maximum happiness and fulfillment.
Need some inspiration and guidance when it comes to building and navigating your own career? We put together a handy list of the best career books to read today to get you started on the right foot or back on track if you happened to stray a bit.
Best Overall: Designing Your Life
In the design field, every single choice is intentional—especially the ones that you don't even notice. The things we use every day and don’t even think about are also things that were thoroughly designed. In "Designing Your Life" by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, you will learn how to apply this same thinking to the choices you make in your own life and intentionally build a system that works for you. You'll start by working backward to determine what you want out of life, then learning how to achieve that productively by thoughtfully redesigning your routines with plenty of experimentation, prototyping, and constant iteration along the way.
Learn to embrace your choices instead of anguish over them. This is huge for many people who are held back by a limited belief system. According to this book, redesigning your career and life are possible at any age. Find out how to use Mind Maps and become immune to failure. The strategies provided here will teach you to take action, and if that does not work, reset and try again.
Best on Personality Types: Do What You Are
Perhaps unsurprisingly, certain personality types are terribly suited to particular jobs. If you don't like math, becoming an engineer would probably be a challenge. But how do you discover what your unique personality is and how that impacts the best career choices for you? Enter "Do What You Are": this book will walk you through every step of figuring out your personality type, what occupations are popular with others with that personality type, and gives you an inside look at your unique strengths and weaknesses. You will also figure out how to make your job search as efficient as possible.
Best on Soft Skills: Presence
No matter what your line of work, making a great first impression is essential—and it is just as important to make sure that this first interaction is genuine and thoughtful. Whether you are meeting a new potential boss for a job interview or giving a public speech, people can always tell if you are genuine, so learning how to build a “presence” and showing your genuine self is vital.
To accomplish this, Harvard professor Amy Cuddy teaches you how to tweak everything from your body language to the way you think about big challenges in her book, "Presence." This book is filled with brilliant research, but it's also written for the average person and you’ll be able to start using her advice from day one.
Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best leadership books.
Most Unique: So Good They Can’t Ignore You
Most people will tell you that to find a fulfilling career, you need to follow your heart and passions—and according to the author of "So Good They Can’t Ignore You," most people are wrong. Cal Newport makes the case that developing skills rather than focusing on the desires you already have is the key to successful job experiences. This book focuses on interviews with various successful people, from farmers and freelancers to venture capitalists, and helps you discover the strategies that helped them design amazing careers and lives.
Passion, Newport argues, comes from putting in tough work and developing skills. Would you consider turning down a promotion? Have you ever stretched beyond your comfort zone and asked for feedback? You will learn how to dig deep and create value versus focusing on a passion mindset. Following Newport's series of counterintuitive rules will help you advance in the marketplace at the right pace.
Best for Practical Advice: What Color Is Your Parachute?
"What Color Is Your Parachute?" is one of the most popular career advice books for a reason. Written by Richard Nelson Bolles, founder of the modern career counseling field, it delivers all of the advice you need to find the best job and career for you. It’s packed with information on job hunting strategies, and the newest version even includes social media and online tactics to help you land a job faster. The book walks you through every step of the process, from designing your resume to networking and figuring out which careers make sense for your personality style.
Check out our guide to the best networking books you can buy today.
Best with Interviews: The Third Door
"The Third Door" was the result of an 18-year-old’s five-year adventure tracking down the world’s most successful businessmen and superstars to figure out how they successfully launched their incredible careers. You will be gripped by the daring tales author Alex Banayan recounts, including how he hacked shareholder meetings, chased celebrities through grocery stores, and danced with some of the greatest dancers of all time.
In all his wild adventures, he learned that the one thing all of these people had in common is that they took the “third door”—they did not wait in line, and they did not buy their way into the “nightclub” of success—they barged their way in through hard work and determination. Learn how to build a network when you're just beginning, how to best approach someone online, and find out how to bounce back from rejection from some of the greatest minds in the country.
Best Classic: How To Win Friends and Influence People
Dale Carnegie's "How To Win Friends and Influence People" is a classic for a reason. With over 15 million copies sold, this best-selling book was first published in 1936, but the lessons in it still hold true today and it's considered a must-read for career development. In the book, you'll learn the six ways to make people like you, 12 ways to "win people" to your style of thinking, nine ways to "change people" in a civil manner, and much more. Carnegie, an important figure in the self-improvement field, has helped many people improve both their work and personal lives with his timeless advice.
Best for Women: The Confidence Code
While working women today are more educated and professionally advanced than ever before, men are still dominating the corporate world. In this New York Times bestseller, "The Confidence Code" points out that the main reason for this inequality is confidence. Authors Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, who also co-wrote the bestselling "Womenomics," offer advice on understanding and applying confidence for women of all ages and phases of her career. With research in genetics, gender, behavior, and cognition, as well as examples from the authors' lives and of other successful women, this motivational, yet practical guide will help women get the careers they want.
Still can't decide on what you want? Our round-up of the best negotiation books can help you find what you're looking for.