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Book Review: Lean In For Graduates

What better source of interview and career advice could there be than Facebook boss Sheryl Sandberg? This new revised version of her famous 2013 book is just for students
BY Uttara Choudhury |   08-06-2017
Cover of the book Lean In For Graduates by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In for Graduates, by Sheryl Sandberg, published by Alfred A Knopf

In 2013, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Leadstirred debate on TV debates and in opinion pieces. It zoomed to No. 1 on the influential New York Times and Amazon bestseller lists, and sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide.

Lean In For Graduates is the sequel — an updated version of the original book, with some new content. It includes an inspiring letter from Sandberg, and six new chapters from experts on finding and getting the most out of a first job, resume writing, best interviewing practices, negotiating your salary, listening to your inner voice, owning who you are, and leaning in for millennial men. 

Sandberg, 47, who has a net worth of $1.59 billion, has worked at Facebook as its No. 2 since 2008. CEO Mark Zuckerberg lured her away from Google to help run what has since become a social networking powerhouse.

Of all the posters that hang on Facebook's walls — “Move Fast and Break Things”, “Done Is Better than Perfect” and “Fail Harder” — Sandberg says her favorite asks “What would you do if you weren't afraid?” Lean In for Graduates urges readers – especially women – to push past fear.

“If leading a project scares you, volunteer to do it. If you don't like speaking in public, start by addressing small groups. Look for ways to stretch yourself, both big and small,” writes Sandberg in her letter to freshly-minted graduates.

“Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face,” writes Sandberg. “Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.”

Photo of Sheryl Sandberg gesturing while speakingWomen receive about six in 10 college degrees in the US, but only 4% of CEOs in America's Fortune 500 companies are women. Sandberg, also a director of the Walt Disney Company, says that number needs to change, and encourages women to “lean in” and take action to reach the top of their professions.

Sandberg shines a light on sexism’s obscure nooks. She details the dissimilar cultural messages directed at boys versus girls. Girls are often encouraged to be “pretty,” Sandberg explains, while smarts and leadership are left to the boys.

“When a girl tries to lead, she is often labeled bossy,” she writes. “Boys are seldom bossy because a boy taking the role of a boss does not surprise or offend.” This small remark will resonate with women who have often been put down with epithets like “Miss Bossy Boots.”

“This is deeply personal for me. I want every little girl who someone says they're bossy to be told instead, ‘You have leadership skills’,” says Sandberg.

Career Advice from Google’s Eric Schmidt

Sandberg, who has two Harvard degrees, was handpicked by her economics professor Larry Summers to follow him to the World Bank, and then to become his chief of staff when he was Treasury Secretary. Not surprisingly, by 2001 Sandberg had several job offers.

Being MBA-trained, she resorted to a spreadsheet and listed her jobs in the columns and her criteria in the rows, and compared the companies and the missions and the roles. One of the jobs on that sheet was to become Google’s first business unit general manager, which sounds good now, but at the time no one thought consumer Internet companies could make money.

When Google offered her a job, it was in start-up mode with not too many employees. “Google had no business units, so what was there to generally manage?” Sandberg told an ABC News/Yahoo Newsmakers interview. “I was just like, ‘Eric, I– I love Google. I want to take this job. But I don’t know what this job is.’”

“But the next thing he said was, ‘If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, get on, don’t ask what seat.’ I tell people in their careers, ‘look for growth.’ Look for the teams that are growing quickly. Look for the companies that are doing well.” Sandberg said that when companies are growing quickly and are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. 

As Google’s first business unit general manager, Sandberg played a key role in building Google into the $250 billion business it is today. Nothing succeeds like success, and Sandberg was snapped up by Facebook’s CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2008 to become the social networking giant’s COO. Sandberg’s track record indicates that she has a talent for finding “rocket ships”. After all, both Google and Facebook are blasting away.

Sandberg said Zuckerberg gave her another great piece of career advice during her first performance review.

“He said, ‘Sheryl, your biggest problem is you’re trying to please everyone all the time. You’re trying not to say anything that anyone objects to. You don’t make change in the world; you don’t have impact in the world unless you’re willing to say things that not everyone will like.’ Really important advice for me,” Sandberg said. “I don’t think I would have written this book if Mark hadn’t said that to me.”

Grads, Prepare to Negotiate Your Salary

You must master the art of negotiation. Most experts like Sandberg will tell you that top performers negotiate and average performers don’t. If you are a top performer, employers expect you to negotiate.

Sandberg shares a hilarious anecdote of how she fumbled at negotiating her salary at her first job and it came back to bite her. “It never occurred to me to negotiate my first salary. I waited for someone to tell me how much money I'd be earning so I could figure out where to live. I ended up supplementing my income by teaching aerobic classes on the weekends. Yes, I turned to a world of leg lifts and leotards,” writes Sandberg.

"There was a downside: During my first month at work, I was riding an elevator with a group of tall middle-aged men in gray suits when one of them exclaimed, ‘Sheryl, I didn't recognize you with your clothes on,’ before exiting the elevator. The other gray suits looked down on me in shock. I quietly explained, ‘I teach an aerobics class’, which seemed even more embarrassing. The next time the door opened, I hurried out even though I was on the wrong floor.”

In other words, save yourself all kinds of embarrassment and negotiate. But only if you do your homework first, says Sandberg. You don’t want to just ask for a higher salary when securing a new job, or when requesting a raise or promotion. You want to make a strong case for why it makes sense for your employers to give you one.

This gem of a book, full of wit, clarity, inspiration, and practical advice, will speak directly to graduates.

Uttara Choudhury is a writer for Forbes India and The Wire. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London. 

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