There’s always a significant adjustment to make when transitioning from school to the workforce, with the sudden realization that no matter how smart or talented you are, you’re starting at the bottom.
To help you determine what you want from your professional life and how to make the most of it, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite business books.
If you want to bolster your networking, leadership, and time-management skills, it’s time to get reading.
‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’ by Cal Newport
Some of the most common advice you’ll hear when you’re starting out is that if you pursue your passion, the money will follow.
But there’s a big caveat to that, argues Newport, an author and professor. For most people, he says mastery of a certain skill can lead to finding your passion, since the mastery of this skill can open new doors and allow you to progress in your career.
He’s not suggesting you give up on your dreams, but ensure that you pair them with a dose of reality and make yourself valuable in the marketplace.
‘The Black Swan’ by Nassim Taleb
People love the illusion of certainty provided by predictions.
In “The Black Swan,” investor-philosopher Taleb diagnoses the way people misguidedly lean on prediction as a way of moving through the world, and reveals how the most structured of systems are the most vulnerable to collapse — like the financial system in 2007.
It’s rare to find a book that will change the way you think about the world. This is one such book.
‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg
Regardless of whether you agree with Sandberg’s controversial theories, “Lean In” is a must-read for anyone looking to join the conversation around women and leadership.
In the book, she combines compelling research with moving personal stories to examine how women unintentionally undermine their professional progress. Moreover, she offers guidance for women and men looking to promote women’s career success.
It’s a work that will make readers of any gender question their assumptions about what it really takes to succeed — and be satisfied — at work.
‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg
While a book about the science of habit change might sound like it’ll put you to sleep, “The Power of Habit” is anything but.
In fact, it’s one of the most useful and entertaining books for young professionals looking to set themselves up for a lifetime of health and happiness.
Duhigg, an investigative reporter for The New York Times, explains how the road to success — whether that means quitting smoking or procrastinating — is paved with tiny behavior tweaks you can implement today.
‘Give and Take’ by Adam Grant
Something in our culture tells us we need to be barbaric and backstabbing to grow professionally.
But in “Give and Take,” Grant, a Wharton organizational psychologist, outlines why that view is dead wrong. The research indicates that people who create the most value for others are the ones who end up on the top of their fields. And Grant shows you how.
‘#GirlBoss’ by Sophia Amoruso
Amoruso, founder of online retailer Nasty Gal, isn’t afraid to get personal.
In “#GirlBoss,” she shares stories from her wayward youth, including stealing and dumpster diving, and how it paved the way for her tremendous success.
The book is chock full of practical advice that will inspire you to follow your passion and forge your own professional path. The bottom line? It won’t be easy, but it will definitely be worth it.
‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill
Those who are just starting out on their own realize quickly that interpersonal skills are just as important as the skills they list on their résumés.
“Think and Grow Rich” is a pioneering personal success title that has become one of the top-selling books of all time since it was first published in 1937.
Hill was a journalist who developed a friendship with the industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who was the world’s richest man at one point. Carnegie spent days with Hill explaining all of the lessons he learned from his rise from extreme poverty to the pinnacle of wealth, and Hill then spent his career writing about those ideas.
“Think and Grow Rich” is a collection of timeless advice on building meaningful relationships and exhibiting leadership that anyone can practice immediately.
‘How to Win Friends & Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie
Along with “Think and Grow Rich,” “How to Win Friends & Influence People” has remained a bestselling book since the time of the Great Depression for its timeless wisdom.
Carnegie’s book, a favorite of legendary investor Warren Buffett’s, is more focused on the psychology behind daily interactions and how to use an understanding of how people work to emerge as a leader and influencer.
Carnegie’s language and references can be charmingly dated, but the core lessons on how to overcome conflict and inspire people to open up to you are just as valuable today as they were decades ago.
‘Strengths Finder 2.0’ by Tom Rath
The philosophy behind “StrengthsFinder 2.0” is that we should spend less time focusing on our flaws and weaknesses and more time focusing on what we do well.
Based on a 2001 book published by Gallup, this second edition features a strengths assessment as well as techniques for putting those strengths into action.
As you consider what career your personality and skill set are best suited for, this book will help you find your professional niche and figure out how you can best contribute to society.
‘Zero to One’ by Peter Thiel
Twenty-somethings today live in a world where startups turn young entrepreneurs into billionaires and tech founders have replaced Wall Street hotshots as what Tom Wolfe called “Masters of the Universe.”
Thiel, a billionaire investor and entrepreneur, pulls back the curtain on this world. It’s an enjoyable and concise guide to how game-changing businesses are built and managed.
‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen
Thirteen years after its publication, productivity guru Allen has released the second edition of “Getting Things Done.”
The book is a must-read for anyone relatively new in his or her career because it teaches you the basics of time management, at work and at home. The idea is to come up with an organizing system for daily to-dos so that you free up mental space for focusing on big-picture goals.
Case in point: the “two-minute rule” to keep an overflowing inbox in control.
‘Never Eat Alone’ by Keith Ferrazzi
Ferrazzi attributes much of his professional success to the personal relationships he’s forged and diligently maintained.
Years before he attended Yale or Harvard Business School, and before he was selected as one of Crain’s 40 under 40, Ferrazzi grew up in a small town, the son of a steelworker and a cleaning lady.
In the book, Ferrazzi lays out the easy-to-follow strategies he used as a young professional to reach out to people he admired, and you can use them to start becoming an effective networker.
‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ by Ben Horowitz
For those of you who can become exhausted by the dramatic optimism in some entrepreneur’s biographies, “The Hard Things About Hard Things” is a welcome change.
Horowitz is the cofounder of the renowned venture capital firm Andreesen Horowitz (whose investments include Business Insider), and his book drives home that there is no magical recipe to success as some would have you believe; the only way to make it as an entrepreneur is through sheer determination and paying attention to what worked and what didn’t.
‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ by Tim Ferriss
Ferriss’ first book has sold well over a million copies worldwide since it was published in 2007, establishing Ferriss as a premier “life hacker.”
The title, not meant to be taken literally, reflects Ferriss’ goal of finding the workflows and tricks like “fear setting” that can maximize your efficiency and make the approach to your professional and personal lives as effective as possible.
‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck
According to Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, the key driver of success in our personal and professional lives is the belief that we can succeed.
In the book, Dweck describes research that illuminates the difference between a “fixed” mindset (believing your talents and abilities are innate) and a “growth” mindset (believing you can learn and improve).
By adopting the latter mentality in your 20s, you can set yourself up for decades of achievement, no matter what career field you find yourself in.
‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain
If you’re naturally introverted, don’t feel like you need to fundamentally change who you are if you want to rise up the corporate ladder.
Cain wrote “Quiet,” the best-selling defense of introverts, because she was tired of seeing introverts treated as “second-class citizens.”
Whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, Cain’s research will help dispel the socially ingrained idea that to be successful you need to be loud, outgoing, and aggressively competitive.
‘Predictably Irrational’ by Dan Ariely
Whether you’re hoping to launch a company or a career, you’ll need to understand the complexities of human behavior.
And there’s no better place to start than this book by one of the world’s leading behavioral economists.
In “Predictably Irrational,” Ariely presents scientific research that helps explain everything from why we procrastinate to how we determine what a product is worth.
‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen R. Covey
Since its publication in 1989, this book has remained a business and self-help classic.
Whether you’re an aspiring politician or CEO, it will inspire and empower you to achieve your professional goals.
Each chapter explores a crucial habit, including proactivity and synergy. Each one is geared toward helping you become a more effective and compassionate leader and team member.
‘Liar’s Poker’ by Michael Lewis
In “Liar’s Poker,” Lewis offers a candid look at Wall Street in the 1980s.
Right out of college, Lewis landed a job at the prestigious investment firm Salomon Brothers, where he eventually became a bond salesman.
Through a nonfiction account that reads more like a novel, he paints a vivid picture of the trading room and the characters in it.
‘How Will You Measure Your Life?’ by Clayton Christensen
“How Will You Measure Your Life?” is a philosophical meditation disguised as a business book.
There’s a mystery at the center: When Christensen graduated from Harvard Business School in 1979, he and his classmates were on top of the world. But by their 25-year reunion, many of his peers were in crisis — whether it be private, in the case of estranged children, or public, in the case of Jeffrey Skilling, the head of Enron.
The book investigates why some of those incredibly privileged people leave their lives in ruins while others flourish.
‘The Intelligent Investor’ by Benjamin Graham
Billionaire investor Bill Ackman is one of countless Wall Street power players who cite “The Intelligent Investor” as a book that changed their life.
Published by Warren Buffett’s mentor Graham in 1949, it’s an in-depth introduction to value investing.
Even if the industry you work in is far removed from finance, Graham’s advice will help you make the most of your money in the long term.
‘Crossing the Unknown Sea’ by David Whyte
There’s relatively little quality writing about the place of work in our lives.
That’s why Whyte’s “Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity” is like an oasis.
In it, Whyte, a British poet now living in the US, frames a career not as a quarry to be captured but as an on-going conversation one has with the world and one’s self.
‘Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson
The late Apple cofounder and CEO Steve Jobs has become a mythical figure who still looms over Silicon Valley.
Isaacson’s biography is the best way to understand what made Jobs tick, and offers a look at the two most notable sides of the man: the powerfully inspirational visionary and the ruthless and difficult businessman.
Jobs’ story of being cast away from the company he created, only to return to transform it into one of the world’s most successful companies, shows the value of rebounding from one’s mistakes and tapping into unyielding determination.
‘Choose Yourself’ by James Altucher
Altucher is a hedge fund manager, entrepreneur, and outspoken writer and podcaster. In his signature fearless and deeply personal voice, he writes “Choose Yourself” as a guide to professional self-liberation before abandoning your loftiest long-term goals.
You may have no inclination to quit your day job and start a business, but Altucher’s message is that even those who work for someone else need to be more self-reliant than at any other point in history.
Through his own story and the stories of other entrepreneurs, Altucher illustrates why the only way to achieve success on a large scale is by choosing yourself.
‘Creativity, Inc.’ by Ed Catmull
As you develop your career, you may find that your job has killed the creativity that you’d previously held precious.
Pixar cofounder Catmull tells the story of building the computer animation giant, arguing along the way that everyone is inherently creative, but most people stymie their creativity because of a variety of social forces and personal inhibitions.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently selected it for his book club because he wants Catmull’s story to inspire people to let their creativity free, whether you’re a programmer or a banker.
‘Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader’ by Herminia Ibarra
The early stages of your career are the ideal time to develop your personal definition of leadership.
And “Act Like a Leader” will help you do that. Ibarra, a business professor and leadership expert, offers advice on everything from expanding your professional network to being open to new ideas. Her basic philosophy is that there is no one way to lead — it all comes down to what’s working well for you.
The opposite of a traditional guidebook, the book will inspire you to achieve success and satisfaction in a fast-evolving workplace.
‘The Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Gladwell
Twenty-somethings today have grown up with social media, but they’re tapping into a timeless form of communication.
Gladwell is a master of using data and reporting to illustrate an explanation of a certain aspect of society’s mechanics.
His debut, “The Tipping Point,” came out 15 years ago, but its insights into how and why people distribute ideas and information until they become an “epidemic” is just as relevant and interesting today, especially since the idea of going viral has long been part of the zeitgeist.
‘Flow’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
After growing up hearing so much about the pursuit of happiness, one of the weirdnesses of adulthood is the discovery that so little empirical research has gone into uncovering its mechanics.
Thus the necessity of Csikszentmihalyi, whose “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” is the distillation of decades of research into how happiness works.
For Csikszentmihalyi, happiness is a product of a life lived at its frontiers, where one is constantly expanding and exploring the sense of self.
‘The Power Broker’ by Robert Caro
Not understanding how powerful people work makes you vulnerable to their will.
This is why “The Power Broker,” Caro’s immense biography of the New York urban planner Robert Moses, is so essential.
If you want to see Machiavellian principles in action, read this.
‘The Fire Starter Sessions’ by Danielle LaPorte
LaPorte’s “Fire Starter Sessions” is a collection of essays that will inspire you to take a look at your whole self, overcoming the fear of confronting the habits or beliefs that have previously held you back.
The one theme that runs through the book is that you must ultimately be responsible for your identity, and that you cannot fall into the trap of shaping yourself to someone else’s desires or perceptions as you grow older and develop a career.
This article is published in collaboration with Business Insider. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
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Author: Richard Feloni covers management strategy and entrepreneurialism for Business Insider. Shana Lebowitz is a Strategy reporter for Business Insider.
Image: A woman with a book sits on a bench at the departure area at the Fraport airport in Frankfurt. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner