Professional development books can make a big difference to your working life.
Whether you’re rethinking your whole career, or deep-diving into one specific skill you want to master, you’ll massively improve your chances of success by reading a new book.
Thankfully, there’s some rather clever people who’ve distilled a range of cutting-edge ideas to help you get the most out of your personal R&D time.
We’ve put together a list of the best books for career development, on the topics of learning, core skills, and business thinking. These are some empowering reads we consider to be the best professional development books out there.
No matter what industry you’re in or what expertise you have, these books on professional growth will help you understand where to focus your attention, how to learn effectively, and how to make better choices for your career.
(We’ve included some links for convenience - there’s no affiliation, we’re not making any money if you click, and you’re just as welcome to request them at your local library instead, or search Amazon, etc.)
The best books for learning and career development
1) "Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World" - Cal Newport
This book explains how massively valuable it is to be able to produce great work. Then, it tells you how to do it.
In the era of social media and countless apps, distractions are the worker’s greatest nemesis. Cal Newport, an American computer science professor, shares practical advice on maintaining focus in this New York Times bestseller. It’s a must-read for those seeking productive success in a notification-filled world.
2) "How to Win Friends and Influence People" - Dale Carnegie
This classic piece by American writer Dale Carnegie has a pretty self-explanatory title. While the tone might seem a bit old-fashioned, it’s based on sound principles that are easily understandable.
Its timeless advice on relationship-building and influencing others is critical for anyone taking part in successful business. It's a practical guide to developing top-notch communication skills; crucial for every professional life.
You could also supplement this with Simon Sinek’s famous TED talk on leadership skills to really figure out how to be influential.
3) "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" - Stephen R. Covey
Stephen Covey's treatise is a classic tool for personal development and building relationships in today’s world. Similar to Malcolm Gladwell’s captivating tales, Covey presents a compelling approach to success. This classic is an essential part of the professional’s library.
The book covers seven habits that are essential for personal and interpersonal effectiveness, and provides practical applications and exercises to help readers apply the habits to their own lives and relationships. The book is a classic in its field and has sold over 40 million copies worldwide, making it a must-read for anyone interested in professional development.
4) "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" - Carol S. Dweck
Business development is as much about your mindset as your business plan. In this popular book, Dweck teaches you to cultivate a mindset for career growth and personal growth. It’s the perfect blend of heart and mind, emphasising well-being along with the strive for professional success.
5) "Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service" - Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles
Blanchard and Bowles teach you how to create raving fans out of customers.
The book covers three key steps for doing this, which include deciding what kind of service you want to provide, discovering what your customers want, and delivering the perfect service. The book is suitable for anyone who wants to improve their customer service skills and create loyal customers who’ll recommend you at the drop of a hat.
This book offers some rather smart advice for employees, managers and startup entrepreneurs wanting to win the customer service game.
6) The Skills: How To Win At Work - Mishal Husain
‘From first job to dream job’, this guide by BBC broadcaster Mishal Husain is aimed at career-focused women but contains valuable lessons for everyone.
From building resilience to speaking up for yourself to developing expertise and authority, it’s full of the core skills that many of us aren’t really taught anywhere. So instead of learning these the hard way, this book provides a handy head start. It’s like having a friendly career coach guide you along the way. Really useful if you need some confidence and direction.
7) Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialised World - David Epstein
A welcome rebuttal to today’s reliance on highly specific and specialised skills, this book reveals how a varied education can lead to the same success - if not more - than a tightly-focused one. Are you getting enough range in your career education, or is your focus so narrow you’re leaving yourself with limited options?
The blurb explains the concept nicely:
"From the '10,000 hours rule' to the power of Tiger parenting, we have been taught that success in any field requires early specialization and many hours of deliberate practice. And, worse, that if you dabble or delay, you'll never catch up with those who got a head start. This is completely wrong.”
In fact, we mentioned this in our Top Ten Books on Company Culture post, but it’s such a valuable concept with regards to learning, it’s worth revisiting.
8) Rebel Ideas - Matthew Syed
As well as educational diversity, we could all benefit from more cognitive diversity. This is the theory behind Matthew Syed’s bestseller about the virtues of cultivating differing viewpoints, both within yourself and your company:
“The success of organisations, as well as societies, depends on harnessing our differences in pursuit of our vital interests.”
He has a fascinating journalistic style that helps you get a deep understanding of the concepts without overloading you with neuroscience jargon.
Pair this with Syed’s excellent other work, Black Box Thinking, which is all about how failure, and learning from our mistakes, will make us stronger - both individually and as organisations.
9) The Squiggly Career: Ditch the Ladder, Discover Opportunity, Design Your Career - Helen Tupper & Sarah Ellis
The age of having the same job for 30 years is over. We now take ’the scenic route’ through our careers, moving between roles, skillsets and companies much more than before. It’s taking a while for our educational institutions to keep up with this concept, but by understanding it now you’ll have an advantage in taking control over your career.
This book is a useful guide to figuring out what you’re really good at, what your values are, what you want to do, and what you want to learn.
10) The Personal MBA: A World-Class Business Education in a Single Volume - Josh Kaufman
Getting an MBA is one of the most prestigious business qualifications you can get. It’s also really expensive.
Instead, you might want to check out this cheaper alternative - a rundown of the most important principles you’ll learn for employment, leadership and entrepreneurship. Nuts and bolts like sales, marketing and finance are covered, as well as team-building, workplace psychology and cultural stewardship. Worth a read for anyone wanting to reach the next level in their business career.
You might consider pairing this with What They Teach You At Harvard Business School, alongside What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School - which together should - in theory - teach you all the knowledge in the universe. Good luck.