Book Review: Books for College Students
From time-to-time, as we receive career-related and job-hunting books and other resources from publishers, the staff of Quintessential Careers will review them to help you make better decisions about the best books to use in your career and job search.
How to Get Any Job with Any Major, Donald Asher, $14.95, Paperback, 328 pages, 2004, Ten Speed Press; ISBN: #1580085393.
Should You Really Be a Lawyer?, Deborah Schneider, JD, and Gary Belsky, $21.95, Paperback, 239 pages, 2005, Decision Books; ISBN: #0940675579.
Reviewed by Katharine Hansen
College students face myriad decisions as they approach graduation. Students, especially liberal-arts majors, worry about whether they will be able to parlay their degrees into jobs. Asher’s book is, as the title states, for students in any major, but there is a bit of a liberal-arts slant to the book, probably because liberal-arts grads are the most concerned about their prospects. (See our article Ten Ways to Market Your Liberal Arts Degree).
Many students are thinking about law school, and Schneider’s and Belsky’s Should You Really Be a Lawyer? is filled with advice on the realities of getting into law school, surviving its rigors, and practicing law afterwards.
To help you decide if How to Get Any Job with Any Major and Should You Really Be a Lawyer? are a worthwhile additions to the college-student bookshelf, here are the top 10 things I learned from each book.
How to Get Any Job with Any Major
- From the get-go, Asher makes the point that getting a job is just a small piece of what college students should be doing. They may think they want a job, Asher asserts, but what they really need is career development — planning their careers from the outset to avoid misery in later years. “You have the opportunity to do this right at a juncture that can lead to a lifetime of increased happiness,” Asher writes. Presumably, however, since college students think that getting a job is what’s important, Asher wisely didn’t title the book “Career Development for Students in Any Major.” Yet career development is a major thrust of the book; in fact, Asher exhorts that “it’s not acceptable to fail to learn how to do career development.”
- Asher suggests that students start a career notebook, and he prescribes myriad exercises for the notebook, most of them designed to help the confused, overwhelmed college student figure out what kind of career to pursue. The exercises are absolutely wonderful, and I have no doubt that keeping this notebook and doing the exercises will prove extremely valuable to any student. I just wonder about busy students finding the time for the many exercises. I wish there were a magical way to convince students that this type of exploration needs to be a priority.
- Asher asks students to closely scrutinize their values with a 70-question Career Values Survey so they can match up what they value in a job with appropriate careers. It’s an important aspect of finding the right career fit and one that not only students, but all job-seekers, often overlook.
- The three main sources of career-planning error, Asher says, are:
- Confusing what you’re good at with what you like to do.
- Confusing avocations with vocations.
- Confusing one aspect of a job with the whole job.
When I prepare resumes for clients, I always ask them if there are skills they possess that they don’t want to use in their next job. It’s important to ask because there’s no point in touting a skill on resume — even if you’re really good at that skill — if you don’t want to use it in your work. The same is true in career planning, as Asher points out. There’s no point in basing a career on something you’re good at if you don’t like doing it.
The second point is sort of the opposite of the first — just because there are things you really love to do, you don’t have to build a career around them. Using music as an example, Asher notes that you can pursue music as a leisure activity for the “sheer joy of it” while pursuing other interests for a living.
The third point is that something you love to do doesn’t have to constitute the whole job. Using writing as an example, Asher points out that many jobs involve a lot of writing, so the student does not need to fixate on a career — such as being a novelist — that entirely consists of writing.
- Asher includes some interesting concepts — not found in most career books directed to college students — about not necessarily launching a career immediately after college and instead, perhaps committing to some sort of volunteer service, such as the Peace Corps or Teach for America. Another possibility is the post-baccalaureate internship, which I think is a great idea that many students don’t think about. I frequently hear from students and new grads who are having difficulty with their job searches because employers want them to have experience, and the students neglected to participate in any internships while in school. If you didn’t do it while in school, do it afterwards.
- Asher’s material on networking is excellent. He suggests that if you got a group of 50 people in a room and asked a question related to the kind of job you’re looking for (“Does anyone know anybody who ———–?”), two or more will give you the answer you’re looking for. The trick, Asher says, is that you can get the same results by simply asking the question to the next 50 people you meet.
- Another unusual concept Asher proposes is the “Entry-Level Exploratory Job. He says that if you’ve already graduated and need to support yourself right away, try to get a job in a field you prefer, but don’t be too picky about the specific job. Once you’re in the industry, it will be much easier to conduct career exploration, even if the job you’re using to support yourself isn’t all that rewarding.
- Asher also spends a chapter on something I’ve never seen addressed in this type of book — the high-risk career choice, such as being a professional athlete or an actor or starting your own business. Without quashing anyone’s dreams, Asher presents some reality checks, as well as some realistic ideas on how the student can pursue the dream job.
- The book spends much more space on career exploration than actual job-hunting, and that’s OK; other books, including some of Asher’s, cover the job-hunting aspect. But the Three Secrets of a Job Search that he offers are quite valuable:
- You get jobs by talking to people.
- You need 100 leads at all times.
- A smart seeker looks for work in channels.
His supporting information for how to carry out these secrets is excellent, including a terrific illustration of the cycle of how jobs are created that graphically demonstrates why it’s so important to talk to people (because the job-creation process is going on long before a job is advertised, so if you talk to people, you can often find out about jobs early in the cycle — before anyone else knows about them). He also offers great information on persistent cold-calling and getting past gatekeepers so you can maintain those 100 leads at all times.
- A lead-generation method that resonates with me (because I detest making phone calls) is Asher’s postcard system in which the student “cold-calls” employers with letters sent by postal mail and accompanied by a reply postcard in which the employer merely has to check off a box indicating interest (or lack thereof) in the student.
Bottom line: One thing I especially love about this book is its rich collection of case studies, which absolutely sucked me in. College students will get a lot out of reading these illustrative stories from peers who have been through the graduation-to-real-world transition. The exercises are also excellent, as are the job-hunting strategies. One slight deficiency is that, even though Asher provides many resources (books and Web sites) throughout the book, I would have liked to see a larger Resources section at the end. Overall, however, I would really consider this book a must-have for college students approaching graduation, as well as new grads. You can get a taste of what’s in Asher’s book by visiting our Get a Job with Any Major Section.
Should You Really Be a Lawyer?
- This book is really three books in one, and some material is repeated in each section, particularly sets of exercises. The structure of the book enables the would-be lawyer to enter at various decision points in the process: Deciding to go to law school, deciding whether to stay in law school, and deciding whether to actually practice law.
- The book’s organizing principle is a set of 12 highly analytical (and thus appropriate for prospective lawyers) decision-making traps the authors call “The 12 Choice Challenges,” such as the self-explanatory “Herd Mentality” and “Anchoring,” which means attaching oneself to a fixed position regardless of evidence to the contrary. The set-up enables students to truly analyze their decisions about pursuing a career in law.
- The authors offer some great suggestions about finding out more about what law school is really like. They seem like obvious things to do, but I’ll bet most students contemplating law school don’t do these things: Read the books that law students read, talk to current law students and grads about the academic experience of law school, and spend some time at a law school. The authors also interestingly delve into the psychological experience of law school.
- The book offers an extremely helpful chapter explaining in detail the various practice areas that attorneys pursue. Even students who know a lot about the law and are sure they want to be lawyers may not truly understand the nuances of these practice areas, so this chapter is highly informative.
- I also appreciated the chapter that suggests various ways students can get some exposure to the world of law in law-related positions, both so they can try before they buy and so they can get some practical experience. Schneider and Belsky suggest positions in large and small law firms such as paralegal, litigation assistant, library assistant, proofreader, litigation support person, and legal temp. In corporations, they suggest assistant to the contracts administrator or legal department assistant. Positions in government include agency intern, legislative intern, criminal law intern, and judicial intern. Positions also may be available in public-interest organizations (staff assistant) and academia (teaching assistant, legal intern at academic institution). Fair game also for exposure and experience are law-related fields, such as mediation, lobbying, alternative dispute resolution, government relations, and non-lawyer positions in law firms. The authors offer sound advice about also spending some time in a job completely unrelated to law.
- Another lawyerly touch is a set of “Devil’s Advocate” boxes sprinkled throughout the book and offering food for thought about other ways of looking at the decisions to be made.
- I was surprised yet not surprised at the part of the book on whether to stay in law school. Law school is indeed depicted in the media as a grueling experience, but I guess I didn’t realize that thinking about giving up on law school is such a common experience. It’s great that students going through that painful decision-making process have a resource like this one to turn to.
- Similarly, the book offers help to those who complete law school and perhaps even practice law but decide that being an attorney is really not for them. That aspect didn’t surprise me because I’ve prepared resumes for several professionals with law degrees who are no longer practicing law. Many attorneys probably stay with the law because they are not sure what else they can do. This book helps answer that question.
- The book offers what Asher’s book doesn’t — a copious section of resources — called “The Tool Kit” — in the back of the volume that offers a guide to information interviews, an explanation of job shadowing, the case for career counseling, thoughts on choosing a law school, money matters, and an extensive collection of books and Web sites.
- A section on the cost of law school provides an invaluable reality check.
Bottom line: Like Asher’s book, this one is replete with short case studies and quotes from law students and attorneys who have been through the process. The sets of Decision Assessments (Skills Preferences, Subject Matter, Work Environment, Career Priorities, and an overall Self-Assessment Grid) are helpful, although, as with Asher’s book, I wonder where students, especially those already in law school, will find the time. I know that I’ll be suggesting this book to a former student who, after a series of career explorations, has decided to go to law school. I think she and every other prospective attorney will find information and advice here they won’t find elsewhere.
Check out all our book reviews in Quintessential Reading: Career and Job Book Reviews.