7 essential books for newbies in the workforce

Still looking to land that first professional position? Maybe you’ve landed a gig and you’re feeling your way. These works offer guidance and examples of personal courage. Read on.

Unless you’re really lucky, you’ll have some time between taking your last step out of college and your first step into a new job.

You can spend that time having as much fun as you can, prolonging the college experience. You can spend that time trying to figure things out, including yourself. You might travel, paint or volunteer.

You can do a lot of things, but what you can’t do is escape the fact that, unless you have a trust fund, you’ll have to join the workforce. It will be a big change, and it might be tough.

Luckily, there’s a tool we humans use to extend our knowledge to others and pass it down to coming generations: books. The right book at the right time can give you guidance, advice, inspiration or words of warning for this transition.

1. “This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life” by David Foster Wallace

In 2005 at Kenyon College, writer David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech titled “This is Water,” which was posthumously published as a book. If you can read only one book on this list, it should be this one. In a very smart and thoroughly human way, Wallace captures the post-college human condition of those entering the workforce, and it gives thoughtful advice about making the most of it.

2. “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie

A self-help book from the 1930s that’s as influential as ever, Carnegie’s tome is a must-read for everyone whose work will include any form of contact with people. From the title alone, you can imagine how helpful these skills might be with co-workers, clients and customers. Previous editions had sections about writing effective business letters and maintaining marital satisfaction, but those were dropped in more recent editions.

3. “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf

The sheer courage that Virginia Woolf displayed by giving lectures about lesbianism, feminism and gender inequalities is one reason to read this book. The fact that women are still paid less than men to do the same jobs around the world is another. It also carries the lesson that, no matter your gender or occupation or the hardships you face, you should fight to carve out a room of your own, a place for your passions.

4. “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain

Those who aren’t particularly outgoing and who tend to keep to themselves might think they won’t have a nice time joining the workforce. According to Susan Cain, they might be onto something, because it seems that today’s culture favors extroverts. In this book, Cain aims to show the folly of such an approach while giving introverts plenty of tips on how to find their way in this culture. This book is intended to change minds, so extroverted college graduates should read it as well.

5. “Personal Finance for Dummies” by Eric Tyson

Starting to earn money is one thing; learning how to manage it is a completely different matter. What to do and what not to do with your personal finances is best learned before you have personal finances, and Eric Tyson’s book will provide plenty of good advice about what’s ahead in your professional and financial life.

6. “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey

Another self-help classic, Covey’s seven habits have been so influential that they garnered him an invitation from President Bill Clinton for a chat about ways to implement them in his presidency. The book carefully balances independence and interdependence, giving advice on prioritizing personal goals and on listening empathetically to understand others.

7. “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do” by Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel’s masterpiece is a history that delivers exactly what it promises—regular people with regular thoughts about their jobs. The jobs the people in the book have are widely varied, so you’ll read the thoughts of a piano tuner on one page and the musings of a tennis player on another. Even though it was written in 1974, it’s still a valuable resource for anyone about to join the workforce.

A version of this article originally appeared on Grammarly.


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