14 books every recent graduate should read on building a career and living a fulfilling life

Making the transition from being a college student to a working professional can be difficult — especially during a global pandemic. 

College students are about to enter the worst job market in over a decade. Though it might be tempting for graduates to hang tight and wait until the crisis is over, career experts recommended that job seekers leverage this time to perfect application materials, network with professionals remotely, and gather more information that will help them in their careers.

Business Insider compiled a list of 14 books that will help recent graduates perfect their application and forge their own career path. 

“The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph” by Ryan Holiday

"The Obstacle Is the Way" by Ryan Holiday

If you’re feeling like you’ve lost control of your life, consider drawing advice from Ryan Holiday’s book on undergoing hardship and challenge. The book is based on the Greek philosophy of stoicism. The philosophy focuses on enduring pain by focusing on the things you can control and letting your obstacles turn into opportunities to improve. 

Easier said than done? Maybe. But Holiday also provides examples of how some of the most successful people in history have applied stoicism to their own lives, from Steve Jobs to Amelia Earheart. The book provides inspirational advice that you can apply to your own life, even when you feel like things have spiraled out of control. 

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“The Beautiful Chaos of Growing up” by Ari Satok

"The Beautiful Chaos of Growing up" by Ari Satok

Ari Satok’s poetry collection can serve as a companion as you navigate the strange uncertainties of young adulthood. You’ll probably relate to Satok’s reflections on the freedoms of college life and look forward to his depiction of the adventures that immediately follow it. The poems explore everything from graduation to job interviews to first dates and apartments, and help you to reflect on your own path as you enter new stages in your life. 

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“Lean In For Graduates” by Sheryl Sandberg

“Lean In For Graduates” by Sheryl Sandberg 

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg devotes a new version of her bestseller “Lean In” to young women who are navigating the real world immediately after college.

This book includes Sandberg’s letter to graduates, as well as six additional chapters on résumé writing, interviewing, salary negotiations, getting the most out of your first job, and how millennial men can play a role in achieving gender equality. 

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“Becoming” by Michelle Obama

becoming by MO

The former First Lady’s memoir provides a deep reflection into her world and the experiences that have shaped her. Michelle Obama explores everything from her childhood on Chicago’s South Side to her years balancing motherhood to her time at the White House. 

The memoir provides a poignant account of life at every stage. You might relate to Obama’s account of her first few years out of college, navigating life as a young lawyer in an unfamiliar environment. 

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“Congratulations, By the Way” by George Saunders


Writer, journalist, and professor George Saunders made a speech at a graduation ceremony in 2013 that quickly gained popularity for its simple and uplifting message. The speech has since become a book of heartfelt wisdom, with encouragement you can take to heart to lead a more fulfilling life following your graduation and beyond. 

Saunder’s advice is not just for recent graduates, it’s advice we can all use to learn from our failures and approach others with kindness.

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“Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life and Maybe the World” by Admiral William H. McRaven

"Make Your Bed  Little Things That Can Change Your Life and Maybe the World" by Admiral William H. McRaven

Another book based on a commencement speech, “Make your Bed” provides life lessons from a Navy SEAL on making tough decisions, changing the world, and… making your bed. 

It’s a small start, but making your bed can be the first step to a meaningful day, week, and, ultimately, life. McRaven shares 10 principles that he learned to help him make the best of his Naval career and his personal life. The book draws on experiences from his own life as well as those he encountered during his military service who had to deal with hardship. 

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“The Defining Decade: Why your Twenties Matter — and How to Make the Most of them Now” by Meg Jay, PhD.

best books meg jay

This could be the most important decade of your adulthood, according to clinical psychologist Meg Jay.

Jay draws upon her work with hundreds of clients and students in their twenties to bring readers her best findings on how to make the most of this decade. 

Touching upon everything from brain chemistry to social networks to questions of identity, the book provides a compassionate take on how to use this defining decade wisely.

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“What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self” by Ellyn Spragins

what i know

“What I Know Now” is a collection of letters from 41 famous women — like renowned author Maya Angelou and the Today Show correspondent Ann Curry — who shared what they wish they knew when they were younger. 

Some hidden lessons in the book include stepping out of your comfort zone, learning how to celebrate your successes, and setting clear boundaries between your work and personal life. 

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“You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life” by Eleanor Roosevelt

 “You Learn by Living  Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life” by Eleanor Roosevelt 

Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote “You Learn by Living” as she reflected on her personal experiences as a daughter, wife, parent, and political figure.

She shared how everyone can take part in politics and the lessons she learned about becoming a public servant. Roosevelt also devoted chapters to overcoming fear and maturity. 

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“What color is Your Parachute?” by Richard N. Bolles

"What color is Your Parachute?" by Richard N. Bolles

“What color is Your Parachute” is one of the most popular job search books, and it’s also named one of the 100 best all-time nonfiction books. Bolles’ guide pretty much covers everything about a job search. 

While this book gives advice and concrete examples on writing résumés and cover letters, networking effectively, and negotiating salaries, Bolles’ incorporates a “flower exercise” diagram to help readers design a career that is catered to their goals. 

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“Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell

“Outliers  The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell 

In this national bestseller, Gladwell explores the determining factors of success, why some people end up becoming CEOs and others don’t, and what exactly make the high-achievers different than everyone else. 

“Outliers” is filled with research-backed examples on a wide range of topics including how the Beatles became the most famous rock band and how certain soccer teams breed the most impressive players. The author argues that success is less about innate abilities or talent. In fact, our upbringing and the environment we live in actually play a major role in life outcomes, he wrote.

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“How Will You Measure Your Life?” by Clayton M. Christensen

'How Will You Measure Your Life?' by Clayton Christensen

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, like having estranged children, or public, in the case of Jeffrey Skilling, the head of Enron.

The book investigates why some of most privileged people leave their lives in ruins while others continue to do well, and how readers can find fulfillment. 

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“Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future” by Peter Thiel

“Zero to One” by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters

It’s frightening to step outside of your comfort zone and explore new options, but your post-graduate years might be the perfect time to do it. 

Written by the American entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel, “Zero to One” provides readers with an optimistic view of the future of progress in America, and encourages young aspiring entrepreneurs to create. 

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“Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!,” by Robert T. Kiyosaki

rich dad poor dad

For many recent graduates, entering the professional world means entering into the world of financial literacy and responsibility. First will come learning the basics: paying bills on time, creating a budget, buying on credit, and saving for large purchases.

In time, though, newly minted young professionals will want to start putting their savings to work, and that’s where “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” comes in. The classic 1997 book, which Kiyosaki recounts using parables that contrast two different perspectives on wealth, translates complex financial realities into simple, useful advice.

It’s the perfect book for a young graduate who wants to gain a better understanding of how to best put their new income to work for them.

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