The Best Books for New College Grads

a college grad contemplates her future

There’s been a lot of hoopla around here about “back to school” but not every college student is new to campus. Just as the new freshmen arrive yearly there’s a whole new batch of graduates ready terrified to face the work force. As fellow bookworms, we think the answer is always in a good book. Below are terrific books for recent college grads, whether you’re looking for yourself or for a graduation gift. Of course, if you’re a student now, get a head start and pick up one of these books before the going gets tough.

They Don't Teach Corporate in College book coverThey Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World

by Alexandra Levit

I wish I had this book when I first joined the world of working grown ups! While there are a ton of books on how to write a resume and get an interview, there aren’t so many books to teach you how not to get fired in the first week. That’s what this book is for. Some of the tips in this book will be obvious to you: network, get a mentor, invest your money. But most recent college grads will have gaps in knowledge on how to act in the workplace, and for that this book is invaluable.

Levit, a former writer for The Wall Street Journal, has written a number of books for those new to entering the workforce, including How’d You Score That Gig and New Job, New You.

Tip from the Book: Selling Your Ideas at Your New Company

To get an idea to fly internally, it has to be more than just cool. It has to resolve a critical issue that is currently costing your company money, or have the potential to make your company more money. At every stage, ask yourself: “how will this benefit the organization?” Include as many sample metrics as you can.

You Majored in What book coverYou Majored in What?

by Katharine Brooks

You Majored in What? is the only book on this list that I can comfortably call a workbook. Every page is filled with blanks and questions for the reader to answer. In fact, I’d say reading this book from cover to cover would be a waste of time—you really need to do the exercises for the book to benefit you.The book is especially targeted at liberal arts majors, as the title suggests.

It’s probably the only career book on the planet that is based in chaos theory. Brooks asserts that the typical advice to draft up a highly specific career plan doesn’t make sense, because life is way more chaotic and unpredictable than that. The right thing to do is to know what it is that you want, and to create a map that will send you in that direction. She’ll walk you through the creation of this mind map, and refer to it throughout the book. Meanwhile, she tackles questions like whether or not you should pursue a career in the arts and explains how reading Moby Dick prepared you for a job as an ESPN reporter. The second half of the book covers much of the typical career book territory: resumes, cover letters, and interviews.

Sample Tip from the Book

“Your major is not your end goal; it’s a series of classes that will help you accomplish your goal.”

Leave Your Mark book coverLeave Your Mark: Secrets from Fashion’s Favorite Insider

by Aliza Licht

First, note that this book is written by a professional from the fashion industry. That doesn’t mean the advice is only helpful for wannabe fashionistas, but I mention it because some people will think that a book on this topic is not for men. Personally, I think Licht’s emboldened “Insider Tips” would be great for anyone building his or her career, but to each their own. “Insider Tips” include gems like, “”If you have no one to show you the ropes, you have to build a ladder,” or “If you want a profession, you need to act like a professional.” The first seventy pages are about getting your foot in the door in your career, the middle section is about making your way up the corporate ladder and the final section explains how she became a social media celebrity. She peppers her advice with tales of her own rise through the fashion industry. This would be, in particular, a great book for anyone who is interested in a career in fashion, magazines or PR.

Sample Tip from the Book

When it comes to writing cover letters, always take the time to get the contact’s name. As Licht succinctly puts it, “To whom it may concern, never concerns anyone.”

adulting book coverAdulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps

by Kelly Williams Brown

It is what it says on the tin: a list of tips on how to be an adult. Unlike the other books on this list, the scope of this one is much broader than your career. It includes tips on cooking, laundry, and cleaning—and that’s all just in the first chapter, “Domesticity”! Yes, it has a chapter on career, but Adulting also teaches you to be a good friend, neighbor and family member. If reading about how to be a grown up sounds frightfully boring, fear not, because Williams Brown is a very funny writer. To avoid credit card use, she suggests keeping credit cards in the freezer and to put up with difficult people, she advises you imagine they are jelly fish. Like You Majored in What? this book is filled with charts and graphs, but they are almost all jokes. But just because the book is funny doesn’t mean the advice is fake. The tips Williams Brown shares take some of us a lifetime to learn, like “Don’t comment on things people are, comment on things people do” or, from the family chapter, “Remember that you’re the one who’s changed not them, and the burden of proof is on you.” Now if only we could make this book required reading for that terrible roommate I know you’ve all had at one point.

Sample Tip from the Book

When it comes to the workplace, “Live your life as though everyone in the office has plastic, featureless doll crotches. This includes you. You may reclaim your genitalia once you are on non-company time.”


If you didn’t find what you’re looking for here, our previous posts: “Seven Productivity Books to Make This Your Best Year Ever,” and “Four Books to Inspire Your Career” tell you about terrific books for wherever you happen to be in the career climb.

Loves nachos, Oakland, and books.

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