Best Books to Read in Your 20s to Advance Your Career
The decade between adolescence and adulthood was a transformative one for me and the lessons I learned helped define my career path and what I do today. At the time, I was impatient and hungry for success that never seemed to come, but in hindsight, the foundations I set then were a big part of my success now.
I’m just a couple of years out of my 20s now and as an avid reader, there were a few books that made a big impact on my career and worldview. Here are some of the best books to read in your 20s that can help you discover your true self, advance your career, and live your 30s as a happier, more well-rounded person.
Kickstarting Your Job Search
Job hunting when you’re fresh out of school can be daunting. With hardly any experience in both career and life, it can be easy to get lost in the rat race. These books can help you discover your unique talents and strengths, so you can unleash your full potential.
What Color Is Your Parachute?
One of the first books I’ve read in my 20s, this bestseller by Richard Nelson Bolles definitely deserves a spot on your reading list. It’s been in print for five decades, but that doesn’t make it outdated. Its annual revisions keep it relevant to the ever-changing business and economic landscape.
This book offers a great mix of timeless advice, perspectives on new trends, and the latest resources for job hunters. It veers from the traditional concepts of job hunting and presents a different approach that involves some introspection. The author also provides some relevant insights on passions and skills, which takes the book from a mere jobseeker’s guide to a manual for life.
This book will help you discover your skills and strengths through self-assessment. By the time you finish reading, you’d have a better idea of who you are and what you want to do with your life.
“This book is extremely comprehensive…[It] dares you to believe that your dream job really exists, and that you can really find it. And that alone makes it worth reading.” - Geoff English
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Gain deeper insights into the growth mindset from renowned psychologist Carol S. Dweck. This book is a fairly easy read with plenty of narratives on how the power of mindset made an impact on the lives of real people.
This book does not offer specific steps to success or changing your mindset. What it does show is the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset based on actual social research.
The concept is pretty straightforward—your mindset has a significant effect on your future. The ideas presented are universal and applicable to your career, relationships, business, and other aspects. Some parts tend to be repetitive, but they underscore the importance of changing a fixed mindset to one that enables you to adapt, grow, and achieve your full potential.
“This book was not quite as scholarly as I had anticipated, but instead, it was a highly readable yet credible explanation of how our thinking can create traps that limit our behaviours, feelings, and thoughts. It’s a great companion piece to the wealth of knowledge out there in personal development. Read it and grow.” - Michael MacDonald
To find jobs that are ideal for you, you’d need to know your strengths first. Knowing exactly what you can offer puts you in a better position to find a job where you can shine and eventually achieve success. This book by Tom Rath lets you discover your strengths and find strategies to apply them in your career.
Use the unique access code to take the online assessment to know your strengths. Then gain a better understanding of these strengths as you read the book. There are 34 strength themes detailed in the book. These themes are based on Donald Clifton’s 40-year study about how finding our strengths and working with people who share the same strengths help achieve lasting fulfillment. Insights from this book will not only help you know your capabilities but also guide you on how to work effectively with other people.
“Though written in 2007, this book is timeless. It is useful for managers in developing an effective team or for personal use whether searching for a new career or finding your purpose in a current one.”
Connecting With People
Start growing your network and building your reputation in your industry. Learn the secrets to meeting the right kind of people, cultivating relationships, and influencing the community.
How To Win Friends and Influence People
Whatever career path you take, you’re bound to find Dale Carnegie books relevant and useful for growth. This particular one is an enjoyable read, as it’s full of timeless ideas that you can easily apply in your life.
Considered a classic, this book illustrates different ways to make people like you, influence their way of thinking, and change them without being imposing. It delves into developing key relationships and offers practical tips on how to interact with other people.
This is a book you’d want to read and keep for re-reading in the future. It’s also a great gift to give to your peers and juniors.
“This book is a MUST read for anyone, but particularly if you are in management or sales… I would highly recommend this book to ANYONE because it teaches everyone valuable lessons about human interaction… Get a hard copy and read it several times, then pass it on to someone you know who could use help with becoming a better “people person”.” - Steve Niedermeyer
Never Eat Alone
You can’t succeed without the help of others. This is basically the philosophy that Keith Ferrazzi shares in this bestseller. It tackles networking but takes a different approach than the usual system. Instead of simply building a typical network, Ferrazzi underscores the importance of creating connections that add value to both parties.
Anecdotes from his personal life are interspersed with tips and advice you can apply to your own life. Some concepts are bolstered by research studies and statistics that add credibility to his assertions.
This is a great read for young professionals who are still building their connections. Specific strategies outlined in the book can help you develop deeper and lasting relationships faster.
“This book is a must-read for anyone looking to build a consulting business or successful career, in today’s evolving economy with ever-increasing network effects and game-changing technology landscape.” - Boniface N. Osonwanne
Thinking, Fast and Slow
Daniel Kahneman’s bestselling book on thought systems isn’t an easy read, but it definitely is worth your reading time. This book lays out two different systems that drive the way people think. One is fast, intuitive, and emotional, while the other is slow, deliberative, and logical. It doesn’t particularly put more weight on one system over the other. Instead, it reveals the various circumstances where our intuitions can and can’t be trusted. It discusses how understanding these systems enables us to make better decisions in life.
The insights that Kahneman shares can be applied to both professional career and personal life. There are also practical tips on how to best make use of our intuition and tap the benefits of slow thinking.
“Daniel Kahneman summarizes how the mind works in understandable and applicable concepts. You will learn… an enormous amount of relevant information. Relevant to who? Everyone! We all have a brain, and having the most valuable information summarized for us is tremendously helpful! The quality of this book is off the charts.” - Elijah Logozar
Developing good habits and incorporating them into your life enables you to meet and even exceed your goals—both personal and professional. Here are some of the books that greatly influenced the habits I have developed over the years.
Great At Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, And Achieve More
Need advice that can be easily put into practice? This book has some solid tips you can implement straight away. Morten Hansen presents seven easy-to-follow practices that would have you work smarter, not harder.
If you’re a believer in multi-tasking, expect your views to be challenged by this book. Hansen’s approach is in minimizing your load to maximize your time and optimize your performance. The key concept is to select a certain task and apply targeted effort to accomplish it faster and more efficiently.
The book also has quizzes and questionnaires for self-assessment. These are designed to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. There are also strategies that you can adapt to become more productive at work and in your personal life.
“Morten’s book not only gives you the theory, but the case studies AND details on how to implement … I’m halfway reading the book for the third time; only this time I’ve been implementing selected items to implement in my organization and have been getting the results he’s documented at other organizations.” - Brian K. Seitz
Written for an audience in a distracted world, Deep Work presents a persuasive argument on what deep work is and why it isn’t exactly for everyone. It also provides a detailed action plan that you can follow to become a high-performing knowledge worker.
The book is divided into two broad sections. The first part focuses on why it is important to cultivate a deep work ethic and enumerates several reasons why many fail to do so. Then, it lists concrete steps you can follow to transform your mind and develop habits needed for deep work. If you often find yourself wasting hours on social media and other non-productive activities, this book is for you. It trains you to be more focused amidst all the distractions in the modern world.
“Newport has a very clear, concise writing style that helps you get what you need from the material and apply it readily… [H]e’s very practical in his recommendations and organized in his presentation. He’s also taken the time to provide fairly exhaustive references… Very highly recommended.”
Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, And the Myth of Total Efficiency
If you’re embarking on a career in management or looking to start a business of your own, Tom DeMarco’s Slack deserves a spot on your book list. With its rich insights on productivity, corporate culture, and people management, it becomes a handbook for real-world management.
Slack basically espouses the principle of giving people a certain degree of freedom to change, fail, and learn. It points out how the efforts of a company to be more efficient can instead slow growth. Most of the narratives are based on DeMarco’s vast experience as a management consultant, so many of his ideas are drawn from real-world scenarios.
With this book, you can gain insights on how to run organizations that thrive and grow no matter the business landscape.
“I have long believed the drive to long hours with people working under the gun and advocating multi-tasking in business is fundamentally flawed. Tom shows good basics and data to clearly illustrate why these practices can get you into trouble if not managed.” - Chris Crafford
Hone Your Leadership Skills
Whatever career path you take, leadership skills are necessary to succeed in that field. But leadership is a skill that requires constant nurturing and development. It’s a trait you continuously develop and improve as you go through life. Start honing your leadership skills with these books.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
In Drive, Daniel Pink debunks outdated beliefs that people are solely motivated by extrinsic factors. Here, he enumerates autonomy, mastery, and purpose as the elements of true motivation. His arguments are drawn from scientific research on human motivation that shows how internal factors affect the way people think. He also cites findings from other business management and psychology authors, such as Duckworth, Godin, and Kahneman.
Additionally, Pink suggests specific actions you can implement in the workplace to drive motivation and productivity. His strategies are interspersed with those based on Dweck’s Mindset and Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.
“Daniel Pink has hit the nail on the head! The work force of America is changing. How people are managed is changing as well. Daniel pleads his case with examples and studies to back it up. I have personally seen his ideas shared in this book happen in the work force.” - Grant Rosenblatt
The Decision Maker
Planning on starting your own business venture? Read this first to gain more knowledge on how to manage your team and lead your organization.
Dennis Bakke shares his own experiences as an entrepreneur in a fable about a fictional business. This presentation makes the book an easy read and the ideas more digestible.
The Decision Maker basically revolves around the concept of empowering people to make decisions throughout an organization. It encourages leaders to unlock the potential of every person at every level of a business enterprise.
What makes this a great read for young people is that the strategies presented can be applied to small businesses.
“Bakke preaches a radical approach to decision-making… The story, if you’re gutsy enough to read it, will convince you that ‘decision-making is simply the best way in the world to develop people.’” - John W. Pearson
The Effective Executive
Peter Drucker got the right thing done with this book. The Effective Executive offers business leaders a great read with valuable insights on leadership, management, and decision-making.
Drucker enumerates five essential practices that make business management more effective. These include managing time, choosing what to contribute, mobilizing strength, setting the right priorities, and making sound decisions. Drucker also stresses the need for executives to master these five practices.
While some references may be dated, the concepts presented in this book are timeless and remain relevant in today’s landscape. As a future executive, you ought to draw insights from this book and apply your learnings to develop your leadership skills further.
“This book gives you a very clear understanding of the effective executive…The defining of the EE, how to identify, analyze, decide, improve, develop the traits and behavior of this EE… I would recommend this to anybody who wants to take responsibility over [their] decision making, critical thinking and leadership knowledge and skills.” - Diana Cheung
A Defining Decade in Your Career
The decisions you make in your 20s will define your career path. This is the best time to start discovering your true identity. It’s the time to identify your strengths and hone the skills you need to achieve success. In this time of growth and transformation, feed your mind with valuable insights from industry leaders and experts.
If you have your own recommendations, let me hear about them on Twitter.