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My Three Favorite Books for Career Changers

I'm often asked for my recommendations about the best resources for people thinking about a career change. Since it's the end of the year and many people find themselves considering a change going into 2016, I wanted to share with you  my three "go-to's" for people who want to make big changes. These could be fantastic gifts for yourself or for someone you know who is in transition.

Working identity

Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra is one of my top recommendations for anyone considering a career change. It is based on two very simple ideas:

  • Our work is not a hidden treasure, waiting to be discovered. Instead, it is made up of many possibilities--"some tangible and concrete, defined by the things we do, the company we keep and the stories we tell about our work and lives; others existing only in the real of future potential and private dreams." In other words--there is no ONE "follow your passion" thing that we are looking to uncover
  • Changing careers means changing our selves. "Since we are many selves, changing is not a process of swapping one identity for another, but rather a transition process in which we reconfigure the full set of possibilities." 

Essentially we have to ACT our way into new possibilities, changing our sense of who we are in the process. 

The book is filled with examples of how different people have embraced this transition and the steps you can take to make your own changes. 

My favorite section is at the end, when she describes her 7 unconventional strategies for making a career change--all of which have proven true for everyone I've ever worked with who has been able to make a change. They are:

  • Act your way into a new way of thinking and being. You cannot discover yourself through introspection. 
  • Stop trying to find your "one true self." Focus your attention on which of your many possible selves you want to test and learn more about.
  • Allow yourself a transition period in which it is OK to oscillate between holding on and letting go (of previous identities). Better to live the contractions than to come to a premature resolution. 
  • Resist the temptation to make a big decision that will change everything in one fell swoop. Use a strategy of small wins in which incremental gains lead you to more profound changes in the basic assumptions that define your work and life. Accept the crooked path. 
  • Identify projects that can help you get a feel for a new line of work or style of working. Try to do these as extracurricular activities or parallel paths so that you can experiment seriously without making a commitment. 
  • Don't just focus on your work. Find people who are what you want to be and who can provide support for the transition. But don't expect to find them in your old social circles. 
  • Don't wait for a cataclysmic moment when the truth is revealed (like when you lose your current job). Use everyday occurrences to find meaning in the changes that you are going through. Practice telling and re-telling your story. Over time, it will clarify. 

Working Identity is NOT for people who are looking for a "quick fix." It recognizes the reality of change, which is that it is a process that takes time. It shows you how to get the most from your time, how to mindfully work through the transition, and it resists the idea that there is a "magic bullet" for making the change. 

If you're really ready to change your career, this should be the first book you buy. 

Business Model You

Business Model You: A One Page Method for Reinventing Your Career by Tim Clark shows you how to use lean startup principles and the one-page business model planning process developed by Alexander Osterwalder to re-create your career. 

What I find most valuable about this process is that it gets you thinking in more entrepreneurial terms about your career by helping you think through how you bring value. There's a focus on multiple income streams  and on helping you visualize different ways of using your passions and skills to create a career. 

Ultimately, you are creating a 1-page career plan that leads to you completing this worksheet:


The book is filled with examples of how others have used this process and I think it would make an excellent weekend career project, possibly done with a mastermind group. It is particularly effective for anyone who is considering self-employment because it moves you in the direction of creating that business model you need to make self-employment a reality. 

In conjunction with Working Identity, this can be a powerful process for working through career change. 

Seasons of change

Although technically not a career book, Carol McLelland's Seasons of Change is still one of my most-recommended reads. It reminds us that the process of change is inevitable (even though we resist it) and it provides powerful advice on how to navigate each of the different phases of change so that we get the most from that particular phase. 

What I find most important about this book is McLelland's discussion of the "Winter" phase of change, which she breaks up into early and late winter. This is the phase that we most resist--where things are confusing and it feels like we aren't seeing much progress or movement. Most of us hate this phase and will do anything to skip over it entirely, only to find that in skipping it, we've landed in yet another change that isn't working for us. 

I have repeatedly encountered people who have jumped too quickly into a new career, only to find that they hate it as much as their previous work. I have also know many people who know they need a change, but continue to cling to their old work because they can't stand the thought of being in a place of "not knowing."

Seasons of Change offers important advice and support for navigating these phases in ways that will help you get the most from each season so that change sticks and you make better decisions along the way. It works for those who are "stuck" and for those who keep jumping from one new thing to the next. I can't recommend it highly enough. 

So these are my three "go to" books for career changers. What books (or other resources) have you used? What would you recommend? 


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Thanks for your recommendations, Michele. I'd add to the list "Callings" by Greg Levoy that focuses on intuitive clues that help us see what we're meant to do and "Do What You Are" by Paul and Barbara Tieger that explains how our personality impacts career choice and satisfaction.

Thanks, Barbara--I'm familiar with "Do What You Are," but hadn't read "Callings." I'll have to check that out!

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