Books for managing your career

With so much emphasis on job search these days, it’s easy to forget that the majority of our working population is doing just that -- working -- and the workers could use a hand now and then.

It isn’t easy to manage your career in an age of constant change and economic turmoil. The following books may offer the advice you need to move forward, or at least maintain your equilibrium.

"What’s Stopping Me From Getting Ahead?" by Robert Goldfarb (McGraw-Hill, 2010, $18.95).

In an age of nearly relentless optimism and cheery support from motivational authors, Goldfarb takes a different path: tactful but directed honesty.

He builds his book around 12 problem behaviors that he claims are the foundation of most roadblocks encountered by employees. Ranging from a lack of integrity to harmful humor, the behaviors are not overly detrimental by themselves. But when they’re found in combinations, they create a toxic mix of clueless boorishness that can be lethal to one’s success.

Goldfarb’s solutions are presented in a series of case studies in which he details work situations from the perspective of both the boss and the worker, then provides recommendations for action.

I like this book, as much for Goldfarb’s clear writing as for his insistence on telling the truth about destructive work behaviors. If you suspect that your work style is holding you back, this would be a good book to study.

"The Unwritten Rules" by John Beeson (Jossey-Bass, 2010, $27.95).

While Goldfarb focuses on personal behavior, Beeson turns the spotlight on strategic career management as a way to move ahead. His premise is that there are unwritten rules in the business world that you must learn in order to advance.

The first step, according to Beeson, is to secure “feedback that really counts.” Once you have followed Beeson’s advice for getting that feedback, your next step is to strengthen six essential skills he has identified, ranging from demonstrating the capacity for innovation to projecting executive presence.

For my money, this last topic is reason alone to read the book, as too many aspiring executives make the mistake of trying to work their way to the top, at the expense of building leadership qualities. Like it or not, hard work is not the sole key to advancement. This book provides a good process for building the other critical skills.

"Games at Work" by Mauricio Goldstein and Philip Read (Jossey-Bass, 2009, $24.95).

What if your goal at work isn’t so much to advance as to survive? And what if the main obstacle is a system of office politics seemingly designed to drive you batty? Authors Goldstein and Read feel your pain, and they have some solutions.

But first they have some definitions to help you categorize the politics you’re experiencing. Gossip and blame are the low-hanging fruit in this process of naming -- we’ve all run into these particular motivation killers. But perhaps you haven’t been as aware of the demoralizing impact of bosses who underfund budgets or managers who suppress negative data to maintain an aura of positive energy.

Armed with this information, you are ready to apply the authors’ awareness-identification-mitigation (AIM) strategy to confront the games and rise above them. What about the idea of ignoring the games altogether? Only at your own peril; apparently standing on the football field with no pads and no plan provides very little protection from the folks who do know they’re playing in a game.

"The 5 Essential People Skills," Dale Carnegie Training (Simon & Schuster, 2009, $14.99).

If workplace politics isn’t your issue, you may want to focus on a more basic element of success: “people” skills. Following the clear and uncomplicated writing style established by their namesake, the writers at Dale Carnegie Institute have developed a process for asserting yourself at work without riding over the rights of others.

Luckily, the new generation of authors also has preserved Carnegie’s original emphasis on communication. Their tips on rapport building, conflict resolution and other people skills provide a blueprint for maintaining harmony while also achieving one’s goals.

"Thank God It’s Monday" by Roxanne Emmerich (FT Press, 2009, $19.99).

As you might guess from the title, Emmerich focuses on making your workplace into a place you love to go. Her approach is a combination of motivation and strategy, sprinkled liberally with anecdotes and case studies. Where each of the other books mentioned here goes into depth on a specific topic, Emmerich covers a little of each topic in a single volume. If you want a quick read with a lot of breadth, this will be the right choice for you.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at alindgren@prototypecareerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.