How To

New Grad Syllabus: Four Books to Help Jumpstart Your Life

Graduation is upon us and it’s time to say goodbye to college bros, sorority sisters and soul mates, hello Mom and Dad. A new poll says that because of financial pressures a record percentage of college grads (85 percent) will head back home.

Not everyone is so excited about that arrangement, but for the Benjamin Braddocks of 2011 it does give time to think about the big questions.

And time to read.

There are some things that even a Wharton business degree does not tell you about entering the real word.  What do I do now? How much money do I actually need? Are they still hiring in plastics? How am I going to repay my loans ($26,000 average per student)?

I’ve put together a very short syllabus: Four books that every graduate should read about business. What? More books?  Indeed. But I purposely chose books that are not to be read but used. All of them passed a ‘thumb” test – the status given to books that are paged through over and over. There are no trendy intellectual books about Long Tails and Black Swans, long past their sell-by dates by now. Sorry Malcolm Gladwell and Freakonomics gurus Leavitt and Dubner. Like Thomas Friedman’s “Olive Tree,” you have been pruned.

Here are the books that could really make a difference in your post-graduate word. They are all available in paperback, so they can be read as you float in the pool this summer (Memo to parents who want the house back: a hardcover version might be worth the investment).

Zero-Based Budgeting 101

The Only Investment Guide You Will Ever Need is a book that nearly lives up to the bold claim of its tongue-in-cheek title. It was certainly the only guide author Andrew Tobias ever needed. It sold millions of copies and is still high on best seller personal finance lists three decades after it first appeared.

Tobias is the anti-Madoff of finance. His self-deprecating wit is meant to bring down the blowhards who promise riches. “If I’m so smart, how come this book won’t make you rich” is the title of Chapter One. He had me with that hello. He proceeds to dispense Ben Franklin-esque, common sense solutions to financial problems you might well face, like how to buy toothpaste, to higher-level problems like what to do with a million dollar windfall. He is a Harvard MBA with big journalism credentials (Time, New York magazines) who made thrift sound not so stupid in the Big Money era. In the PFC (post-financial crisis) World, he seems positively prescient.

Marketing Yourself 201

Your class has class. You used grooming products. So I am not starting with dumb stuff you already learned from Heidi “Auf Wiedersehen” Klum and comb-over TV tycoon Donald “You’re Fired” Trump. You know all about resumes and hiring networks from your college employment counselor. You are pumped with great ideas for Web 3.0, 4.0 and beyond. Your PowerPoints are sharp as knives. So we will jump right to the hard stuff. How do you sell yourself to The Man, or The Woman?  Can you convince anyone of anything?

Getting to Yes; Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, is another Harvard by-product. The authors Roger Fisher and Richard Ury ran the Harvard Negotiation Project. The tricks they unveil might help convince the powerful that they need you.  This is a step-by-step guide helps you understand the needs of people you deal with so you can become the solution. You will learn why the questions you ask are as important as anything on your impressive resume.

Human Resources-Mastering Self Appraisal.

The ultimate ‘thumb” guide, and one that flatters you by saying you are too skilled at some things, dial it down. I always like hearing that there is such a thing as Trying Too Hard. FYI, For Your Improvement, by Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger, is pricey if you pay the full cover price. But it is widely available in used book lists. Companies buy them in truckloads, and it is a book that is sometimes misused by overly diligent managers to replace real interaction and thoughtful discussion of goals. Still, it uses an ingenious method of listing behaviors and how to hone them. Often things that are healthy in the right dose are toxic if you use too much. Ambition, problem solving, ethics – who realized they could be measured like cooking ingredients? The lowdown on humor, for example?  Laughing at yourself goes on the plus side. Using bon mots to deflect serious issues is just not funny in a world of HR stiffs. Who knew? Laugh track please!

The Art of Managing Up

But seriously folks, once you get on the wrong side of the boss it might be no joke. Reading Katherine Crowley’s  Working for You is Not Working for Me: The Ultimate Guide to Managing Your Boss will help you avoid the pitfall. Much of what business school teaches is how to manage your workers. The reality is that everyone needs to manage the boss from Day One. Crowley is an MBA and a psychotherapist (Harvard, alas) and she is deft at sizing up corporate cultures and the drama that a toxic boss can create on such a stage. She will help you manage your role so you can stay on the right page with the bad actor you work for. An important skill.

Extra credit

Read one narrative book in an area of interest. Empire State of Mind How Jay Z Went From Street Corner to Corner Office By Zack O’Malley Greenburg will help you dissect the music biz. Katherine Graham’s remarkable Personal History is a clear-eyed view of how a woman persevered through hardship in two male enclaves, politics and publishing, to become a giant in both spheres.  Vivid stories are a great way to cast yourself into that role you hope to play  – one that no doubt starts with moving out of Mom and Dad’s house.

RJ Safra is a New York-based writer who specializes in finance and business topics.