The 10 Best TED Talks to Inspire Your Career Development

Illustration of a woman on a stage talking to room of people

Most people enter the workforce hoping to achieve great things, whether it’s a large salary, an important role in their industry or just personal happiness.

As the years go by, you hope to continue making forward strides in your career development, but it doesn’t always happen. You may get stuck in a dead-end job or change your mind about your ultimate goals, or even discover your skills lie in a completely different field.

It can be difficult to decide what to do next but turning to an expert can be immensely helpful.

To get you started, we’ve compiled a list of 10 popular TED Talks on a range of issues including career changes, dealing with stress, moving up the corporate ladder and finding that elusive work-life balance. Each video offers a unique perspective that could inspire your next successful career move, so scroll down and check it out!

1. Carla Harris: How to Find the Person Who Can Help You Get Ahead at Work

‘All the important decisions about your career will be made when you are not in the room.’ So said Morgan Stanley exec Carla Harris at the 2016 MAKERS Conference, and she follows that theme here in one of the best TED Talks for upwardly mobile workers in a corporate environment. In just a little over 13 minutes, Harris dispels the myth of the oft-touted ‘workplace meritocracy’ and gives clear steps for the true path to promotion and success.

2. Shane Lopez: The Secrets of People Who Love Their Jobs

Those workers just starting out or looking for inspiration for a new career are often told to find their passion. But what does that mean, exactly? Shane Lopez blends family stories and his own psychology research into an engaging discussion on what makes people happy at work and how to find your career bliss in a practical way. This is one of the best TED talks for those who hate their jobs and wonder if a job they’re ‘passionate’ about even exists.

3. Ruth Chang: How to Make Hard Choices

Should you relocate for a promotion or find a way to advance in your current city? Is it time to quit a job where you feel held back or wait until the job market improves? These decisions can often feel insurmountable, as pivotal moments that could either wreck your career or send you skyrocketing to success.

As a lawyer-turned-philosopher, Ruth Chang certainly has experience with making big decisions to change your career. Throw away that ‘pros and cons’ list and let Chang take you on a very specific journey that will completely alter your way of evaluating your alternatives and take personal branding to a deeper level.

4. Nigel Marsh: How to Make Work-Life Balance Work

A Gallup poll conducted during the coronavirus epidemic revealed that 59% of Americans would like to continue working remotely even after their workplaces reopened. Many workers who have had a chance to take a break from long hours away from home and family have realised they could do with more of a healthy work-life balance.

Using examples from his own life and some pointed humour, Nigel Marsh offers his perspective on finding that perfect balance. You’ll learn how to reconsider your idea of success in your career and the necessary steps to get more out life than a paycheque.

5. Leila Hoteit: 3 Lessons on Success from an Arab Businesswoman

Women on an ambitious career track still face many discriminatory issues in the workplace. Whether it’s the gender pay gap, extra pressure from trying to juggle motherhood and career or sexual harassment, it can feel like a continual upward climb.

Leila Hoteit is here to tell Western career women that they have no idea how tough things really can be. With a direct style and a bit of wry humour, she shares valuable and easily adaptable lessons she’s learned as a wife, mother and businesswoman living and working in the more culturally rigid UAE. ‘Arab women of my generation,’ says Hoteit, ‘have had to become our own role models.’

6. Jason Shen: When Looking for a Job? Highlight Your Ability, Not Your Experience

This is one of the best TED talks for employers to listen to as well as jobseekers. Jason Shen, a science major who went into tech instead, explains that many businesses who overvalue experience are missing out on quality applicants. He shares his own story and advice for convincing the hiring committee of your ability to do the job well and implores all employers to follow industry leaders in thinking outside the box on recruiting new personnel.

7. Carol Fishman Cohen: How to Get Back to Work After a Career Break

Popular TV Land comedy Younger began with the premise of a 40-year-old divorced mother pretending to be 26 so she could re-enter the workforce as an intern. While age discrimination continues to be an issue for those who have taken substantial time off work to raise children, deal with health issues or care for a sick relative, Carol Fishman Cohen assures her audience that new career opportunities are still out there.

Her TED Talk offers motivational success stories, advice on being a better job candidate and some good news about internships for career ‘relaunchers’.

8. Dr Alan Watkins: Being Brilliant Every Single Day

You’ve probably had moments at work, like during an important speech or a meeting with your boss, when all your knowledge and training suddenly flew out the window and left you scrambling for your words. Why do stressful situations render us incapable of even the simplest of tasks? Dr Alan Watkins has the answer, as well as an incredibly simple solution to regain control.

Part of the reason that TED Talks are so bingeable is the 20-minute limit, but neuroscience is a bit too complex to be so constrained. Thus, Watkins has been granted the exception of a two-parter video and, rest assured, the extra time is worth it.

9. Susan Colantuono: The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get

The best TED Talks are the ones that reveal unexpectedly powerful truths, and this is one of those videos. Susan Colantuono wants us to know that there isn’t a lack of women leaders in business; it’s just that most women can’t move past middle management. So, why can’t women who do excellent career planning and follow all the conventional career development advice make it to the top tier? The answer may surprise you.

10. Paul Tasner: How I Became an Entrepreneur at 66

When talking about professional development, motivational speakers continually return to the idea of finding something to be passionate about. Paul Tasner has taken that to heart, taking on two projects that are personally important to him: shunning retirement to become an entrepreneur in the field of eco-friendly products and serving as inspiration to others looking to start a business later in life.

We hope you have also been inspired and have gained some new ideas to approach your professional life. Which do you think are the best TED Talks for career development? Join the discussion below and share your favourites!