Take It from Me: A Guide to Guides for Grads
This month, college graduates are returning home to begin a new phase in their lives: being inundated with unsolicited career advice. Everyone’s got an opinion, and if you’re a grad you’ll find there are a lot of “experts” using this season to publish a glut of guide books that your meddlesome family and friends will pass off to you. Whether you’ve plotted your future or not, it can be annoying; but not all are wrong—some actually know what they’re talking about.
For a sense of the insights and pablum saturating the market, I checked Barnes & Noble’s recommended books for graduates. From those, I picked four dealing specifically with finding work and starting a career, breaking down the types of advice each book presents, and from whom you can expect to receive them.
101 Tips for Graduates, Susan Morem
In this market, the most lucrative tips for graduates are collected in jars beside registers. But Morem aims to inspire by establishing the severity of her tone from the start, with an “ABCs” for grads (“A is for Adult,” “D is for Dream,” “X is for X-traordinary”). Novel suggestions are given for job seeking and resolving early career woes, but at times their substance is up for debate. They range from honest tips (“Under-Promise and Over-Deliver,” “Life After a Layoff”), to hand-holding minutiae (“Turn Off Your Cell Phone,” “Always Have A Business Card,”) to clichés (“Everything Takes Time,” “Put People First”).
Who you can expect this from: Moms, overbearing aunts, owners of “Hang in There, Baby” kitten posters
The book in a nutshell: “Z is for Zoom.”
Three Feet from Gold, Sharon L. Lechter and Greg S. Reid
Proving Depression-era gold miner analogies never go out of style, Three Feet takes inspiration from Napoleon Hill’s Think & Grow Rich, and its story of a prospector who gave up just three feet from the motherlode. It employs a fictional narrative (and dialogue which quotes real professionals) to illustrate Hill’s tenets of determination and positivity as keys to success, but ends up with strawman characters and a generic plot when simply presenting interviews and analysis would make a stronger case. While it includes a handy lesson guide and appearances from luminaries like Miss America 2007 and Chick-Fil-A founder Truett Cathy, you’re better off reading Hill’s book.
Who you can expect this from: Dads with “Business Book of the Month Club” memberships, fellow graduates, aspiring motivational speakers
The book in a nutshell: “Stickability.”
Strengths Finder 2.0, Tom Rath
This is one of the more useful guides around, with assertions coming straight from the vast statistical resources of the Gallup Organization. More than four decades of research inform its 34 categories and “Ideas for Action,” which offer actual viable directives. Beyond the page, readers can access Gallup’s online “Strengths” testing, which may sound like those “personality quizzes” cluttering your Facebook wall, but actually discerns your assets. While post-college days are typically spent “finding yourself,” you can spare yourself a backpacking trip through Finland by analyzing yourself online.
Who you can expect this from: Overachieving cousins, career counselors, smarty-pants types in general
The book in a nutshell: “Overcoming deficits is an essential part of the fabric of our culture.'”
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future, Michael J. Fox
Less a guide than a pocket-sized sermon in the vein of Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, Fox’s book is an ersatz commencement speech, applying anecdotes as lessons from the “school of life.” Fox, a high school dropout, states his purpose “is not to offer advice,” instead presenting maxims (“Don’t spend a lot of time imagining the worst-case scenario”) as wisdom gained from a lack of formal education. It’s a breezy, enjoyable read overall; but from an advice standpoint, while some of it is applicable (like the “economics” of his financial struggles as a young actor), other points (the “physics” of filming Back to the Future‘s hoverboard scenes) aren’t quite.
Who you can expect this from: Back to the Future fans, Family Ties fans, that one loudmouthed uncle
The book in a nutshell: “I have remained a humble and grateful student of, if not the School of Hard Knocks, then at least the University of the Universal.”