7 Great Career Books, from Classic to Current

By Martha Willson, Senior Career Transition Consultant


I have been a career transition coach for a very long time. Over the years I’ve had the great good fortune of reading and being educated, informed, and inspired by some terrific books.


Here are the top 7 career exploration books from the thousands I have read, some of which are still on my reading table. The books are listed from classic tried-and-true books all the way to cutting edge selections.

May this book list spark your imagination and even stir you to action.


1. What Color Is Your Parachute? 2022: Your Guide to a Lifetime of Meaningful Work and Career Success, by Richard Bolles book1

Originally published in 1970 and continuously revised and updated every year. One of the very first of its kind, the book continues to be the world’s most popular and best-selling career guide. Over ten million readers can’t be wrong! I read it when it was first published and have recommended it to my children, students, and clients ever since. Check out The Flower exercise.


2. Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment, by George Leonard. 1992 Book 2

Another remarkable book that thousands have read for a couple of generations and continue to find practical and uplifting. Becoming genuinely great at something takes time and intentionality. It takes energy, singular focus, and the willingness to accept that mastery is a long journey of plateaus with burst of progress. It also takes finding and following the right instructor, mentor, or guide.

Visualization is important. Practice is key.

Listen to George Leonard on YouTube.


3. I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, by Barbara Sher with Barbara Smith 1995 book3

Translated into 8 different languages, this is my favourite book from this engaging and inspiring author. You cannot go wrong reading anything by Barbara Sher, with seven insightful, irreverent, best-selling books to her name. From Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want (1978) to Refuse to Choose!: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love (2006) and more. You may want to check out her TED talk called “Isolation is the Dream Killer, Not Your Bad Attitude.”


4. The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success, by Nicholas Lore (1998)

This classic bestseller has been fully updated and revised for the 21st century. My old copy is dog-eared, wrinkled and still useful. Mentored by R. Buckminster Fuller, in 1981, Lore founded the Rockport Institute, an internationally acclaimed career-counselling network that has helped people worldwide. He coined the term “career design coaching” and ensured that effective ways to find meaningful, fulfilling work life is possible.


5. Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, by Jenny Blake (2017)

I am reading this right now and my hard copy looks like a porcupine with all kinds of bookmarks bristling in between its pages. I love it! Practical, engaging, active and innovative. I can see how new graduates, mid-career professionals and legacy career builders all will benefit from this book. Jenny Blake is a gifted speaker as well, here she is presenting at Google


6. Designing Your Life, by Bill Burnett and Dale Evans (2016)

This is the first book written by Burnett, the Executive Director of the Life Design Lab at Stanford and Evans, Stanford Professor and Co-Founder of Electronic Arts. It is a well-written and engaging introduction to design thinking and the whole life design movement. Although the book is full of useful exercises and practical applications of design thinking, the accompanying handbook, The Designing Your Life Handbook, can be useful too, especially working through it with a friend or a team.

Designing Your Work Life by the same authors applies design thinking to work and shows how to create the job they want.

An updated and revised version is now available, Designing Your New Work Life (2021), however I think the first book is the best.

Both authors have interesting TED talks. Check out Bill Burnett:

Dave Evans (NOT the AC/DC Dave Evans, by the way!) is here:


7. The Squiggly Career: Ditch the Ladder, Discover Opportunity, Design Your Career, by Sarah Ellis and Helen Tupper (2020)

I confess, the title drew me to the book. Then I watched the TED talk and finally picked it up. It speaks to the new way of finding meaning and fulfillment in work by two people who have done it. The old step-by-step career path of years ago does not fit anymore; work is much more fluid now, unpredictable, and future-focused.

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