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- Finding your ideal career path is less about looking for a “dream job” and more about assessing the day-to-day tasks you enjoy doing.
- Below are 15 online courses, books, and free resources to help you find what you like, take steps towards a career transition, or improve a current job.
- Read more: At the start of this year, I could barely sell my writing. These 10 online classes, books, and podcasts helped me get published in The New York Times and land 2 literary agents.
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A few years ago, I was having what some call a quarter-life crisis, but, ironically, lacked all the trademark signs of chaos normally associated with a true catastrophe. I was in a stable job that paid me a perfectly livable salary. I generally liked what I did, got to work in NYC, and had college students email me from time to time asking how I got my exact position. It was all good, and I was wretchedly unhappy.
Simply leaving my job for a different company within the same industry (and lightly boosting my income) didn’t seem like it would help – there was a deeper issue beyond slight changes in compensation or company benefits. And fully switching fields or going to grad school felt scary, too – I knew I’d risk making an enormous commitment to start from scratch, with no guarantee it wouldn’t make me feel even more stuck in the end.
Little by little, I started to look up resources that could address this problem, which I learned is actually extremely common. Reading books like “Designing Your Life” or combing through Ask a Manager blog posts helped me slowly dissect my role to discover which parts I actually loved (and which ones I really didn’t), as well as reassess my job hunting process as a whole.
I started to dig beyond our society’s common (and tired) refrain of “dream jobs” and “following your passion,” which I realized led me further away from good, fulfilling work. Several years (plus more books, blogs, and online courses) later, I feel like I finally zigzagged my way into a job that makes all those pieces fit together, but I also wouldn’t have known where to look if I hadn’t taken the time to really understand what I want from my career in the long-term.
It can be extra hard to get unstuck in your career during a pandemic when many of us are at home and day-to-day life can feel repetitious. But it can also be a good time to gently explore the deeper aspects of what you want to do, beyond currently existing job titles or perk-filled companies. There is also the strong possibility of new, more flexible jobs in the future, one of which might be a great fit for you – if you know to look for it.
Here are 15 online courses, books, and free resources to help you figure out what you want to do, take actionable steps to break into a field, and/or make the best of your current work situation.
One of the hardest parts of a job hunt is knowing where to even look. What if your current work feels fulfilling and worthwhile, but your hours or pay don’t feel sustainable? What if your ideal job requires a master’s degree or Ph.D., and you just can’t swing school right now? Or what if you’ve been hustling to get to a certain career milestone for years, and though you’re totally burned out, are reluctant to quit this late in the game?
Luckily, there are many classes and books that can help you unpack a job into digestible pieces, so that you can not only make a decision based on what you like to do, but what will also keep you financially afloat.
1. A course on figuring out your whole life — including your career
Based on the bestselling book of the same name, this course takes a design thinking approach to structuring your life (which, undoubtedly, will greatly tie into your career). In over four hours of video content, Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans walk you through how to balance your career with the rest of your life, as well as figure out discrepancies between your “work view” (what you want out of a job) and “life view” (what brings you fulfillment).
2. A self-paced, free class to brainstorm job ideas
A spinoff of “Designing Your Life,” this free Stanford course takes the same principles and focuses specifically on your career. Self-paced and non-linear, this is an easy class to hop around in and explore whenever you feel like it, with personal reflection exercises to help you brainstorm some ideas at your own speed.
3. A manageable video class addressing your biggest questions
In this three-hour video course, thought leader Chris Croft helps you answer some tough questions about your career by first acknowledging that it’s normal to have these thoughts in the first place. You’ll go over the pros and cons of freelancing or starting a business, figure out what work-life balance means for you, and find a middle ground between a boring (but stable) job and an exciting (but risky) one.
4. A course that’ll help you pick a lasting future job
If you’re worried your career aspirations may not realistically align with job prospects of the future, this University of Exeter class is designed to help you pick a path you feel confident in. By understanding new trends and developments like 3D printing, cryptocurrency, and globalization, you’ll not only narrow down your search: you can spot growing opportunities to invest your time in right now.
5. A free class on how to be adaptable and flexible in changing job markets
Meant to be a career-focused companion to Coursera’s popular “Learning How to Learn” course, this free McMaster University’s course teaches you how to embrace change (especially in the context of rapidly morphing job markets), make informed career choices, and adopt a learning mindset so that you remain flexible in a world that’s constantly shifting.
For creating an action plan
If you generally know what you like to do, it still doesn’t mean you know exactly how to get there, whether it’s advancing in your current role or switching careers. Unfortunately, a lot of popular career advice is outdated, and navigating the world of LinkedIn applications can feel like a full-time job on its own. Luckily, there are plenty of great classes to help get you up to speed with things like resume writing and interviewing, and just as many on how to set up a job-seeking action plan that actually works.
6. A classic bestseller on the current job market, updated annually
A bestselling book for over 50 years, “What Color Is Your Parachute?” is updated every year to provide the most up-to-date information about the current job market (here’s the one for 2020, for example). Inside, you’ll find the most relevant tips on putting together a sharp resume, using social media to your advantage, and investing time in fields that are actually growing.
7. A course on all the trending career skills that’ll help you stick out
Led by the UK’s Coventry University, this course teaches you how to spot the skills you’ll need for future work, as well as your strengths and weaknesses. From there, you’ll learn how to put your best foot forward in applications while also troubleshooting any areas you might need extra work on so that you can feel confident that your job-hunting approach will yield results.
8. A short class on developing clear career goals
Successful entrepreneur Sarah Prevette teaches this 27-minute video course on laying out a logical career plan. Using design thinking, you’ll evaluate which work you’re best suited for (and like to do), assess stakeholders (whether it’s your current boss or an ideal future employer), and put together a list of actionable steps you can take to reaching your career goals.
9. A robust course covering everything you need to know about applying to jobs and interviewing right now
With over 7,100 reviews and a 4.5 rating, this course is taught through Eazl, an online school used by teams at Tesla, Harvard, the World Bank, and more. You’ll learn how to use the right keywords to get your resume spotted, create an eye-catching LinkedIn profile, and create opportunities throughout your job search. If you already have a good idea of where you want to apply (but know you’ll be up against hundreds or thousands of applicants), this course can help.
10. A multi-course program to help you learn broader career skills no matter what field you’re in
If you have the time and want to gain an in-depth understanding of what career success means in today’s world, this 10-course specialization may be worth pursuing. Taught through the University of California, Irvine, it covers important areas such as teamwork, time management, communication, problem-solving, and negotiation (to name a few), and 61% of students say they started a new career after finishing this specialization. It’s free for seven days with a trial, then $39 a month to keep learning.
For improving your current job
Maybe you know exactly what you want to do in the future but simply can’t leave your job right now. That doesn’t mean you have to settle for a less-than-stellar work experience. There are plenty of resources that can help you improve your present situation, whether it’s inspiring your team, dealing with difficult coworkers, or changing your mindset.
11. An iconic blog for all your career-related queries
The Ask a Manager blog, led by IRL manager Alison Green (who also has a podcast and several books), is a phenomenal resource for pretty much any job question you may have, no matter how niche it may seem. Feel confused about how long cover letters should be? Not sure if what your boss did was fair or appropriate? There’s an answer for everything, and if there isn’t, you can always submit your question. It’s great for validating your experiences as an employee or job-seeker, and can help you find small solutions to make your current experience better.
12. A fun program to help you be a better remote manager through laughter
If you’re in any kind of management position (or just want to learn about what makes teams motivated and collaborative), this professional program teaches you comedy techniques to boost closeness even when you’re all working remotely. By unlocking your own sense of humor, you’ll learn how to bring levity to all kinds of work situations, which will make you a more effective, engaging, and empathetic boss — and lead to all kinds of opportunities in the future. While the full program is $186.30, you can individually audit each class for free.
13. A few Berkeley courses that teach you how to be happier at work
Led by Berkeley, this three-course program covers research-backed approaches to building a happier, less-stressed workplace. Whether you lead a team or want to improve your own work experience, you’ll learn how to foster more cooperative work relationships, curb burnout before it happens, and look at each conflict with empathy and emotional intelligence. It can all add up to making your job so much more manageable, and perhaps even more fun. This full certificate program is $537.30, but you can audit individual classes for free.
14. A popular podcast about career, business, and living a well-rounded life
On our list of e-learning resources we loved in 2020, this show is much more than a business and career podcast. Famed hedge-fund manager, entrepreneur, and author James Altucher interviews guests on a range of topics related to both personal and professional success, from negotiating a higher salary to practicing real self-love. It solidifies the point that our self-esteem and career success are tightly interlinked, and these talks are sure to leave you with some inspiration on how to enhance your life as a whole.
15. A series of super-short interviews with the most successful people out there
With a LinkedIn Learning subscription, you can watch these super-short episodes of LinkedIn Editor-in-Chief Daniel Roth asking successful people for quick, digestible career advice. Guests range from famous CEOs like Jamie Dimon and Indra Nooyi to celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Priyanka Chopra, and Judd Apatow. Episodes rarely exceed five minutes but provide a great dose of career inspiration, whether you plan to stay put at your job or want to prepare for a new career.