Book Review: LEAN IN FOR GRADUATES

BOOK REVIEW SERIES: Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit action tank providing research to live, learn and work by, has launched a book review series that includes video and blog reviews about work-life related books getting people talking and thinking. We go beyond the noise and let you know how popular books on the topic of work can, or can’t, impact your life. We read them for you because you don’t have time to read everything.

By Sarah Batchu

lean in coverIn a time when Millennials make up 40% of those unemployed, today’s graduates are undoubtedly looking for some advice as they enter the job market. Unfortunately, they won’t find it in Lean in for Graduates, an expanded and updated version of Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 bestselling book Lean In. While the follow-up book includes 123 new pages, the expansion is poorly constructed compared to its predecessor and lacks the zeal that characterized Sandberg’s original self-proclaimed “feminist manifesto.”

When I first read Lean In, I had just finished my first year at Barnard College, where Sandberg delivered the 2011 commencement address, which coined the term “lean in.” I was still several years away from entering the job market and even more years away from dealing with the trials of being a high up executive women like Sandberg. Despite this removal, Sandberg captured my attention because, borrowing her words, she had a unique ability to make “the personal communal.” Consequently, while the conflicts she spoke of were not my daily reality, I had no trouble imagining that they might be in my future.

As I read Lean in for Graduates, I am now six months away from entering the job market and no longer looking to some abstract, distant future. Instead, I read this updated version of Lean In with the hope of receiving guidance to carry me through the present.

This edition begins with a letter to graduates followed by the original Lean In, in full. The letter from Sandberg offered a promising start: after several self-deprecating remarks, Sandberg began actually talking about her own entrance into the job market, and an embarrassing moment on her own first job in which she found herself stuck in an elevator with her male co-workers wearing the clothes for her night job … as an aerobics instructor. However, in reading Lean In again, I found the bestselling book actually offers little guidance to the newest additions to the workforce. In one Lean In anecdote, Sandberg actually tells her Facebook employees to either “ignore” or “fight” poor policy choices made by herself or Mark Zuckerberg, a tactic that I wouldn’t recommend to the new kid on the cubicle farm if they want to keep their job.

The new section, which is comprised of testimonials and essays written by other “experts,” departs from the original Lean In in its style and content. The testimonials, which are for Lean In and LeanIn.org circles, seem misplaced sprinked amongst the new chapters, and they generally do not have a focus on the experiences of recent grads involved in Lean In.

Setting aside the list-y manner of advice delivery in the new chapters, which were written by different experts and thus abruptly depart from Sandberg’s comfortable prose, the new chapters stood out for what they lacked rather than added. In fact, half of the new chapters didn’t seem aimed at graduates at all. Despite this drawback, some of this edition’s advice made up for what the original Lean In lacked. Readers have the most to gain from the tips that executive coach Mindy Levy provides on getting your first job. One bit of advice: demostrate that you are a “real person” on your resume by avoiding office speak. Compensation expert Kim Keating also provides a valuable guide to salary negotiation that instructs graduates not to negotiate until they have an offer.

However, graduates who are looking for more in-depth career guidance or more advice à la Sandberg should ultimately pull back from this edition. While the book offers some promising moments, there are undoubtedly better sources elsewhere.

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