Read Between the (Unemployment) Lines

Need a boost? Sit down with one of these 20 books recommended by Fast Company’s cadre of career experts. Get smart. Get inspired. Get work.

Search for “career help,” and your results will include a list of 168 titles ranging from Zen and the Art of Making a Living to Bounceback Self-Marketing and much more. Help for the frustrated, frazzled, and fired has never been more readily available … or more overwhelming.


That’s why Fast Company has compiled the following “best of” index — recommended titles from four of the nation’s most highly regarded career counselors, headhunters, recruiters, and free-agent advocates.

Richard Leider

Founding partner
The Inventure Group

The best career books adopt an “inside out” approach to finding the right work. First, look inside yourself. Second, look out for tremendous new opportunities headed your way. Here are a few of my favorites.

How to Find the Work You Love
by Laurance G. Boldt
(Arkana, 1996)
This thin self-help manual provides an elegantly simple approach to defining what you want from life and work. Clear your mind to consider the author’s provocative, introspective questions, and you will likely walk away with new insights and ideas to rebuild your career.

Free to Succeed: Designing the Life You Want in the New Free Agent Economy
by Barbara B. Reinhold
(Plume, 2001)
A convenient tool for job searchers at every stage of the game, this book provides a fast, easy look at how to join Free Agent Nation. Reinhold, career coach for and director of Smith College’s career center, helps readers identify their personality type and then suggests complementary types of independent work.


We Are All Self-Employed: The New Social Contract for Working in a Changed World
by Cliff Hakim
(Berrett-Koehler, 1994)
Redeployed? Downsized? Outright canned? This book argues that a job seeker must view himself as “self-employed” to regain control of his career — and to steer it in a more desirable direction. Become your own boss today.

Downshifting: How to Work Less and Enjoy Life More
by John D. Drake
(Berrett-Koehler, 2001)
Hard times can bring soft landings — as you jump from the top rung of the career ladder to achieve greater balance and satisfaction in your life. Author Drake says that down times are the best times to find meaning and purpose — and then make the leap to a more fulfilling line of work. Geronimo!

What Color Is Your Parachute?: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers
by Richard Nelson Bolles
(Ten Speed Press, 2000)
This perennial classic still asks the right questions and provokes readers to take charge of their lives. Use the gritty exercises to hone your job-searching skills, and consider the inspirational text a source of career stimulation.

Richard Leider is a founding partner of the Inventure Group, a Minneapolis-based training firm that helps individuals, leaders, and teams discover the power of purpose. His own books include Repacking Your Bags (Berrett-Koehler, 1995, with David A. Shapiro), The Power of Purpose (Berrett-Koehler, 1997), and Whistle While You Work (Berrett-Koehler, 1995, with David A. Shapiro).

Nick Corcodilos

Headhunter, author, and Web host
Ask the Headhunter


The last thing job-hunters need is lots of career books. What they really need is perspective, so they can develop and communicate their value. That said, here is my list, with a personal favorite at the top!

Ask the Headhunter
by Nick Corcodilos
(Penguin/Plume, 1997)
The first thing any job-hunter needs is a solid debunking of America’s employment system. It’s an enormous racket that will waste your time as long as you let it. And you need to learn that to get hired, you need to demonstrate how you will produce profit for a company. That’s a tall order, but it’s imperative. This book gets you to profitability quickly.

How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less
by Milo O. Frank
(Washington Square Press, 1991)
This “incredible find” book was written by a Hollywood agent who knew what to say — and how to say it — to close a deal. People babble in interviews because they don’t know how to make their point. This book can change that.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
by Robert B. Cialdini
(Quill, 1993)
My mentor gave me this book years ago, and I’ve passed it along to many friends and clients. You can’t get hired or succeed at work unless you understand the parameters of influence in our society. This is the cookbook for human relations.

The Enlightened Mind: An Anthology of Sacred Prose
edited by Stephen Mitchell
(HarperPerennial, 1993)
You might know business and work, but if you don’t pause now and then to know yourself and life, you will never develop the ideas and perspective that lead to big success. When I’m at a loss for ideas, I turn to this history of spiritual readings — from the Upanishads (8000 BC) through Shunryu Suzuki — to find new ones.

A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative
by Roger Von Oech
(Warner Books, 1998)
This revised classic still sets heads spinning. Out of the spinning comes great ideas that will make companies want to hire you.


A veteran headhunter with more than 20 years experience, Nick Corcodilos is president and host of Ask the Headhunter and president of the North Bridge Group Inc.

John Rossheim

Consultant to free agents

For many free agents, 2001 means you’ve got nothing left to lose. So beg, borrow, or buy a used copy of one of these books for information, inspiration, or just plain diversion.

Consulting for Dummies
by Bob Nelson and Peter Economy
(Hungry Minds Inc., 1997)
Get back to basics with this ultimate compendium of checklists for the self-employed. Sure it’s pedestrian, but so is your top priority today: to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Soloing: Realizing Your Life’s Ambition
by Harriet Rubin
(HarperCollins, 1999)
Hold your nose through the name-dropping, and you may glean useful insights into why you want to be a free agent in the first place. Rubin’s book belongs on your bedside table.

Free Agent Nation: How America’s New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live
by Daniel H. Pink
(Warner Books, 2001)
Zoom out to the big picture of free agency with the guy who knew when to fold his cards as Al Gore’s speechwriter. Pink puts your daily grind into the context of what may be a major social trend of the 21st century.


Big Kiss: One Actor’s Desperate Attempt to Claw His Way to the Middle
by Henry Alford
(Broadway Books, 2001)
Participatory journalist and nonactor Alford makes us all feel better by showing us how to capitalize on a humiliating work experience (write a book about it). Very funny.

Jerry Maguire
by Cameron Crowe
(Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2000)
Having trouble collecting consulting fees from deadbeat dotcoms? Look into the mirror and practice shouting “Show me the money!” with the aid of this screenplay, written by the screenwriter of Almost Famous, about an odd couple of free agents.

John Rossheim ( writes about free agents, privacy, travel, and almost anything else that pays the bills.

Colleen Aylward

Devon James Associates Inc.

The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America
by David Whyte
(Doubleday/Currency, 1996)
A poetic look at spirituality in corporate America — yes, it really does exist.

It’s Only Too Late If You Don’t Start Now: How to Create Your Second Life at Any Age
by Barbara Sher
(Delacorte Press, 2001)
This book offers a straightforward, honest look at disruptive life change and advice for making the best of it.


The Power of Spirit: How Organizations Transform
by Harrison Owen
(Berrett-Koehler, 2000)
This book explores how spirit can transform a working environment full of toxic emotions into a place that is fulfilling for everyone involved.

The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business
by Thomas H. Davenport
(Harvard Business School Press, 2001)
Davenport introduces a very thorough understanding of where business is headed in the near and long-term future and how it will affect today’s companies.

The Experience Economy
by B. Joseph Pine, James H. Gilmore, and B. Joseph Pine II
(Harvard Business School Press, 1999)
This book provides a glimpse into the future business world from a marketing point of view.

Colleen Aylward is president and founder of Devon James Associates Inc., a fast-growing recruiting firm based in Seattle. She’s played the talent game for some of the best-known Internet companies in the Pacific Northwest, including and Visio Corp.

Anni Layne ( is the Fast Company senior Web editor. For a comprehensive list of books featured in Fast Company, visit the library in Fast Company Learning.

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