Opinion: Job fairs are useful for getting advice, not jobs

Tips from industry professionals make long lines worth the wait

Opinion: Job fairs are useful for getting advice, not jobs

Finding a job that suits you requires plenty of diligence and patience, as does navigating a job fair. Contrary to popular belief, job fairs are not a waste of time; their true value comes from providing excellent networking opportunities with potential contacts who work in your chosen field.

Chances are that companies tabling at job fairs will only consider offering interviews to applicants with eminent qualifications. In my experience, employers seem unwilling to consider applicants whose backgrounds do not fit neatly into their expected qualifications. This makes the process seem like a waste of time for applicants who may have developed compatible skills through different or non-traditional experience.

A recent job fair I attended consisted of long lines for popular booths, condescending stares from fancily dressed individuals, and the constant bother of receiving pamphlets from employers in fields incompatible to my own. Throughout the event, I had given my job application and information to most booths available and relatable to my field of work. Despite their assurances, I would ultimately hear nothing back from most of them.

Still, this experience was not a complete waste of time. Despite receiving no job offers, I did receive useful information and advice from employers. Some reminded me to always demonstrate enthusiasm, while others gave me tricks on how to hone my various skills and demonstrate my flexibility to stand out more. Perhaps the most interesting and important piece of advice I received, though, was to carry a mini-résumé with me at all times — opportunity may strike when you least expect it.

But when you most expect opportunity to strike — like during a job fair — don’t be surprised if instead, nothing happens.

How U of T could adjust to provincial tuition cuts

Ford government’s 10 per cent domestic tuition slash could prompt university to borrow from reserves, make cuts

How U of T could adjust to provincial tuition cuts

U of T is set to decrease its domestic tuition fees in 2019–2020 by 10 per cent, courtesy of the provincial government’s mandatory reductions, announced January 17. Tuition will then remain frozen for the 2020–2021 years. According to the Toronto Star, the plan is expected to eliminate $360 million from Ontario universities’ operating budgets.

The province’s previous tuition framework, effective since 2013, enforced an overall annual three per cent cap on undergraduate Arts & Science domestic tuition fee increases at U of T. Between the 2013–2014 and 2018–2019 academic years, U of T has increased gross domestic tuition by an average of 2.96 per cent year-on-year.

Based on this trend, U of T would likely have set tuition for domestic undergraduate Arts & Science students in 2019–2020 at around $6,980. Instead, tuition will likely be around $6,100.

U of T has increased its gross international tuition by an average of 6.1 per cent year-on-year between the 2014–2015 and 2018–2019 academic years. Between 2014–2015 and 2017–2018, the university has seen an average year-on-year domestic student intake decrease of 0.36 per cent while international student intake has increased by an average of 9.75 per cent.

The university signed the Strategic Mandate Agreement with the previous Liberal provincial government in 2018, which means it must decrease domestic undergraduate seats by 1,800 students through 2020. As such, U of T is unlikely to increase its domestic undergraduate intake, so any increases in recruitment to compensate would likely focus on domestic graduate and international student intake.

The 2008 economic recession is a useful comparison in determining how U of T could react to losses from the provincial government’s new policies. During the 2008–2009 academic year, the university’s endowment lost approximately 30 per cent of its value, with the university’s operating budget subsequently losing approximately $46 million. During that period, there were no endowment payouts.

In response to financial troubles, the university prioritized its funding to shared service areas and used carryforward and contingency funds to partially finance these areas in order to minimize use of new revenue for non-academic divisions.

At the latest Planning and Budget Committee meeting on January 10, Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr discussed some of the steps U of T took during this period, saying that “there was a combination of cuts, borrowing from reserves, and other kinds of mechanisms.” Regehr also noted the creation of a collective central reserves system from which divisions that did not have sufficient reserves could borrow to fund operating costs.

The university has yet to discuss what steps it will take in light of impending losses due to the government’s announcements, but similar financial management as in 2008 seems to be a likely option to limit losses to the operating budget.

Although the latest provisions will hinder the university’s operating budget, its external investments through the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation are unlikely to face losses to the same extent as those in 2008.

How non-essential fees at U of T work — and how they could change next year

Provincial government’s new Student Choice Initiative may make some of U of T’s ancillary, incidental fees opt-out

How non-essential fees at U of T work —  and how they could change next year

Among the sweeping changes to postsecondary education fees that the provincial government rolled out last Thursday is the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), which may enable students to opt out of “non-essential non-tuition fees.”

According to Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton, “These fees often get allocated to services students do not use or to support organizations they do not support.” Fullerton added that the new initiative will bring “predictability and transparency” to non-tuition fees.

The provincial government has defined essential non-tuition fees to include “walksafe programs, health and counselling, athletics and recreation and academic support.” Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities David Piccini told The Varsity that universities and colleges will determine which non-academic fees are essential “at their discretion.” U of T’s statement did not mention how this determination would be made. The government’s seemingly lax approach to regulating the initiative may mean that U of T could decide to make no changes to how ancillary or incidental fees currently work.

There are two main forms of mandatory non-tuition fees at U of T — ancillary fees and incidental fees. Ancillary fees are governed by the 1995 Policy on Ancillary Fees, while incidental fees are governed by the 2003 Policy for Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees.

In 2018–2019, the university is estimated to have received $210.8 million in ancillary and incidental fees. This equates to approximately 7.9 per cent of the university’s operating revenue. At the end of the 2017–2018 academic year, it projected that it would receive $217 million in 2019–2020 and $223.3 million in 2020–2021.

Ancillary fees

At U of T, ancillary fees are fees charged to pay for services, materials and activities not supported by operating grants, capital grants or tuition fees. These include fees for capital projects, course equipment, course field trips, library fines, non-credit course fees, and, for international students, the University Health Insurance Plan. A 2013 report revealed that there were nearly 1,000 unique ancillary fees as of the 2012–2013 academic year, “consistent with most Ontario universities.” Changes to existing ancillary fees are determined by the Vice-President University Operations Scott Mabury. The introduction and removal of ancillary fees must be voted on by the Business Board.

As non-credit courses do not factor into the university’s tuition fees, they will not be subject to the provincially mandated 10 per cent cut to tuition. These non-credit course fees range from $50–15,000.

There are three forms of ancillary fees: compulsory fees, fully refundable deposits, and optional fees.

Compulsory fees refer to course and program required fees. This includes course field trips, lab equipment and manuals, course or program application fees, and access to ACORN. Most course textbooks are not considered compulsory as they can be borrowed through the library system. There is no framework for students to opt out of compulsory ancillary fees.

Fully refundable deposits include access to fobs required to enter certain buildings or classrooms. Students receive their full deposits upon return of the items at the end of the corresponding academic term or program. Optional fees consist of any fines or penalties that students accrue, including late library and deferred exam fees.

Under the Policy on Ancillary Fees, certain ancillary fees — namely required course equipment and field trip fees — are charged on a cost-recovery basis, meaning that the university cannot profit.

Incidental fees

U of T’s incidental fees are a subcategory of ancillary fees. These include athletics, Hart House, Health Service, Student Services Fees and various campus-wide and divisional student societies. Incidental fees are charged to all U of T students except for students enrolled in non-credit courses, students in the Additional Qualification Program of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and Arts & Science students over 65.

Incidental fees require student societies to pass a vote among their constituents. These fees are collected by the university and distributed to the respective societies. The framework for establishing incidental fees was created in 1996 by Governing Council, the University of Toronto Students’ Union, the Graduate Students’ Union, and the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students.

To illustrate the effect of an opt-out option on all non-essential incidental fees, The Varsity calculated changes to incidental fee revenues, using the latest available 2017–2018 fees.

In 2017–2018, each of the 13,073 full-time undergraduate Arts & Science UTM students would have paid a minimum of $1,373.82 across 13 incidental fees. If the SCI were mandatory, the same student would have paid a minimum $839.06, roughly 61 per cent of the actual minimum. If every student opted out of all possible fees, a mandatory SCI would have seen UTM and its student groups lose approximately $6,990,917.48.

The 12,147 full-time undergraduate Arts & Science UTSC students in 2017–2018 had to pay a minimum of $1,501.34 across 11 incidental fees. Enforcing the SCI would have reduced the minimum to $813.24, or 54 per cent of then-minimum incidental fees. Under the conditions that every student opted-out of all possible fees through the initiative, UTSC and its student groups would have lost approximately $8,358,350.70.

The minimum UTSG students could have paid in incidental fees in 2017–2018 ranges between an estimated $1,088.63 and $1,800.15, depending on college and program. While UTSG colleges and programs have different incidental fees, essential incidental fees are identical across all full-time undergraduate and graduate programs. In 2017–2018, this consisted of $370.58 for KPE Co-Curricular Programs, Services and Facilities, $303.08 per year for Student Life Programs & Services, and $172.76 per year for Hart House — which provides athletics and recreation. As such, all full-time undergraduate and graduate UTSG students could pay a minimum of $846.42 under a mandatory SCI.

“Think global, act local”

U of T students Kehkashan Basu, Quinn Underwood discuss grassroots activism, launching startups

“Think global, act local”

Even as undergraduates, U of T students Kehkashan Basu and Quinn Underwood are already hard at work changing the future by innovating environmental protection measures and digital health technology.

From October 17–20, youth leaders and activists gathered in The Hague, Netherlands for the 2018 One Young World Summit, a platform aimed at empowering young people who are attempting to solve the world’s pressing issues. Among the delegate speakers: Basu and Underwood. 

Basu, the recipient of the 2016 International Children’s Peace Prize, spoke about her youth organization Green Hope Foundation and environmental activism; Underwood discussed his experiences as Director of Global Business Development for digital health technology company Advin. 

The Varsity sat down with both of them to discuss balancing school and charitable work, the process of launching startups, and why grassroots activism should never be neglected in the debate around global issues.

Youth leadership

Basu, a first-year student planning to major in Environmental Studies, was born on June 5 — World Environment Day. “I always thought that it was preordained that I should grow up to be a new eco-warrior,” she said.

At age eight, Basu began raising awareness about sustainability issues such as water conservation and recycling. Four years later, she was one of the youngest delegates at the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. It was there that her interests turned to youth activism. “Their outcome document was called the ‘Future We Want,’ but it was our future that was being decided,” Basu said, “by adults who wouldn’t even live to see that future.” 

She went on to found Green Hope Foundation later that year to engage young people in creating a healthier environment. The foundation’s central tool is the ‘environment academy,’ a workshop created by young people for young people on how to “take action in their own zone of influence.” The group has a focus on reaching marginalized communities, including Indigenous communities and children with incarcerated parents.

Underwood is currently a fourth-year student completing a double major in Immunology and Health Studies. When he was in high school, he founded Indian Umbrella, a charity that raises funds and awareness for grassroots organisations in India. He entered U of T with the intention of going to medical school to further expand his work, but “quickly realised that if helping people was the goal, then being a doctor and working with individuals on a one-on-one basis wasn’t necessarily the best way to do that.” 

After a research trip to Myanmar investigating digital health applications to child malnutrition, Underwood joined Advin, a Bangladesh-based company rolling out digital health care systems in remote areas. Its hardware and software diagnostic systems currently reach 80,000 patients across the country with plans to scale to five million in the next five years in markets including India, Myanmar, and Tanzania.

Life as U of T students

Balancing school and outside responsibilities can be a challenge. But experience helps, Basu said. “I’ve been practicing this whole time management thing since I was eight… and I’ve been able to do it very well. Yes, I complete my assignments on flights sometimes. I have to work a little harder than my peers to study or get stuff done, but it’s very fruitful.” 

“I wish I had the time management skills she does, or perhaps the discipline,” Underwood said with a laugh. For him, achieving balance is a matter of exploiting the intersections between school and his charitable work to optimize his time “to do as much as possible.”

“[For] professors like Joseph Wong in the Munk One program… Their number one rule is to be audacious, because in the rest of your courses and classes you have to worry about the grade you’re going to get, and audaciousness kind of comes second,” Underwood said. “At the end of the day, it’s not checking boxes; it’s a gamble.”

Philanthropic mentality

This audaciousness is what drives Underwood and Basu to go out into the field and tackle global problems, far beyond the boardroom. Philanthropic work with a grassroots perspective is directly informed by the real needs of people affected by problems, according to Basu. 

“When you go into the field you can see that, ‘Okay, these are the problems that are not talked about’ and this doesn’t reach the big conferences and officials.” 

Basu noted that integrating this top-down approach with bottom-up groundwork is paramount to understanding issues. “You actually need to go out into the field and do something physically. Even if you can’t physically do it, work with someone who [can].” 

Underwood likewise stressed the importance of a bottom-up approach, through understanding issues from the perspective of those affected. He shared an account of how smokeless cook stoves were brought to parts of Africa and South Asia to solve respiratory problems from smoke inhalation — only for them to go unused because people did not like the taste of the food. Bottom-up social work is about “actually understanding what needs to be done,” he said.

However, individualized grassroots work can only go so far, he continues. Effective solutions also require addressing systematic causes to problems.

 “It needs to meet in the middle: top-down and bottom-up,” Basu said. “Think global, act local.”

What can Hollywood teach us about investing?

A guide to getting started on investing, and what to look out for

What can Hollywood teach us about investing?

In Martin Scorsese’s black comedy The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio plays the ambitious and bull-headed stockbroker Jordan Belfort, whose fall from grace at the hands of the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation is as sensational as it is stunning. In The Big Short, another Wall Street flick, Christian Bale plays Michael Burry, one of the few investors who predicted the housing market collapse in 2008. Outsmarting the entire financial industry, Burry shorts — that is, bets against — the housing market and emerges billions of dollars richer. 

However excessive the character or plot, if you’re like me, there is something undeniably attractive and glamourous about Hollywood’s portrayal of Wall Street and the world of investing. 

Among Hollywood’s idiosyncrasies is a fascination for the high stakes world of investing, finance, and stocks. Many people’s first exposure to investing is through movies, where a gifted stockbroker outsmarts competitors, or where stereotypes of excess, wealth, and power manifest to create complex characters and dramatic storylines. Despite being portrayed as morally flawed or corrupt, these characters, often based on real people, enjoy the finest luxuries, and seem fearless in the face of their demise. 

Let this article serve as advice to those among you who fancy yourselves the next Wolf of Wall Street. While it might be possible to extract solid investing advice from Hollywood, remaining tethered to reality is still of the utmost importance. Here are a few things you should take away from the movies that spark the investing fire in all of us. 

First, you do not need to have a lot of money to start. In fact, investing small, controlled amounts at a time should be your goal. The old adage ‘time is money’ holds more weight when a trade is worth a million dollars, rather than a couple hundred. Opening up a brokerage account at your local bank and putting in even a tiny amount of money is a massive step in the right direction. 

Investing is only supremely lucrative for a handful of people. The reality is that investing should be used as a tool to supplement your savings — you shouldn’t be risking everything on penny stocks, or expect investing to be your main source of income. If you pay attention, ‘the Wolf’ himself hardly invests large amounts of his own money in the stock market. He values only his commission because he knows that keeping complete faith in the market is nearsighted and foolish. Don’t take on unnecessary risk while looking for large rewards. Be frugal. 

Second, be cool and be patient. Hollywood tends to fast-track the archetypal rags to riches story. Unless you give up your life and become a day trader, investing is about playing the long game and being incredibly patient with your earnings. In The Big Short, the protagonists were forced to be patient with their position, as banks around them fraudulently manipulated the state of the collapsing market to save their own money. 

Basic investing lingo makes use of ‘buy,’ ‘hold,’ and ‘sell’ as indicators for stocks. Oftentimes, the most important move you’ll make will be to not do anything at all. Holding firm in your position and being patient, however hard it may seem, is the name of the game. Yours truly has too often seen a few bad quarters and sold early. The important thing to realize is that stocks can recover just as quickly as they can fall, and that no decision should be made on impulse or little evidence. Stay informed and be patient: don’t let huge profits or huge losses get to your head. 

Finally, do not underestimate the amount of time you’ll need to put in to actually see success. Unless you are prepared to monitor your portfolio every day and keep tabs on a specific industry every minute of every day, stay away from small to medium-cap stocks. Invest in large companies that exhibit steady and patient growth, and don’t try to pounce on emerging markets like weed or tech without doing exhaustive and thorough research. 

On film, stockbrokers are seen as either completely reliant on their gut, or on research and algorithms — like Bradley Cooper’s character in Limitless. The reality is somewhere in between. There will always be two sides to every decision or trade you make, but there should be no limit to the amount of research behind every decision. Put in the effort to look at every possible source of information. This may end up taking up more of your time than you anticipated, but the reality of stock is that more and more of your time will be occupied with reading and interpreting the news than with actual trading. 

There is a lot more we can take from Hollywood on investing, but as a student, these are some of the most important lessons you should have in mind if you want your foray into investing to be worthwhile. 

Opinion: U of T should be wary of Huawei partnership

Chinese government’s influence on Huawei may put the university’s partnership at risk

Opinion: U of T should be wary of Huawei partnership

Lyndon B. Johnson, the cunning, calculating 36th US president, liked two things more than anything else: politics and money. Occasionally — and not without suspicion — his passions melded. In 1963, a Wall Street Journal reporter described these crossovers, writing that “like two young oaks springing up side by side, [Johnson’s] careers in government and business grew mightily—their trunks rising parallel and branches intertwining.” The problematic mix never got Johnson into too much trouble, but it did call into question his integrity as a leader.

For the University of Toronto, a leader in education and innovation with numerous business links, it was only a matter of time before it stumbled into a similar situation. That time seems to have come: the university’s partnership with Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant at the centre of escalating tensions between China and Canada, is now of much greater significance — and controversy.

Three months ago, U of T renewed its five-year partnership with Huawei, with the company pledging further funds toward joint research initiatives. Since the original deal in 2016, Huawei has funded dozens of U of T projects, contributing roughly $3.5 million over the last two years.

In an interview with U of T News in October, U of T’s Vice-President Research and Innovation Vivek Goel said, “We’re pleased to extend this partnership. As a global institution, the University of Toronto enters into partnerships with a wide range of domestic and multinational companies in a bid to stay at the leading edge of research in Canada and around the world.”

In May, a Globe and Mail report revealed that, by contributing over $50 million to 13 research-heavy Canadian universities, Huawei has built “a steady pipeline of intellectual property” that the company is using to solidify its position in the 5G market. Over the last few years, “nearly 100 professors and graduate students worked on Huawei-funded projects,” and in many cases, “the academics, whose work is underwritten by Canadian taxpayers, assigned all intellectual property rights to Huawei.”

Even before the Canadian government’s detainment of Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou or China’s subsequent detainment of three Canadian nationals, concerns arose that this back-and-forth may not merely be in the spirit of cooperation.

Speaking to the CBC in July, Toronto technology analyst Daniel Bader asserted that “Huawei poses a security threat because it is required to listen to and provide information to the Chinese government. All private companies are (required to do so) in China. Because of a history of cyber terrorism and espionage, there is concern that Huawei may be working on behalf of the Communist Party.”

In an interview with The Varsity, Lynette Ong, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, downplayed these suspicions. She wrote that although university research such as medical science or engineering is not as politically sensitive as military or finance-related research, it could still attract interest.

These notions are prominent south of the border as well. During the summer, American lawmakers asked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to investigate Huawei’s investments in American universities, citing an intelligence report claiming that the company was funding research to scoop up foreign technology. Canada’s Five Eyes allies — Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and the US — have all put up barriers to halt Huawei’s 5G expansion.

In spite of these developments, U of T has been passive around its partnership with Huawei. Goel told The Varsity in October that the university’s partnership with Huawei is “as strong or stronger” than those with its other industry partners. In mid-December, he told the press that the university will “respect any direction it receives from the [Canadian] government.” But there’s reason to think that the university may have to be proactive in distancing itself from Huawei, and not simply wait for a call from Ottawa.

On December 12, the editor-in-chief of the Communist Party-run paper, The Global Times, posted a video in which he warned that “if Canada extradites Meng to the US, China’s revenge will be far worse than detaining a Canadian.”

Will the University of Toronto drift into the crosshairs? In an interview with The Varsity, Professor of Political Science Nelson Wiseman wrote, “The issue of the relationship of Canadian universities with Huawei is independent of [the current dispute.] It is related to the concerns of security officials, including former directors of [the Canadian Security Intelligence Service], that Huawei is a de facto agent of China’s security service.”

Ong agrees, writing that “the risk of the UofT being caught in the middle of the spat is very small.” However, she added that “the Chinese authorities are willing to go to great lengths to protect [Huawei]” and that the university “should wait to see the Canadian government’s position on Huawei 5G technology.”

“The Trudeau administration has not made its position clear on Huawei’s 5G network. Until the government does so, I see no reason why the UofT should change its mind about Huawei.”

Clearly, U of T is not in imminent danger. But the current climate is precarious, and vigilance pays dividends. U of T’s motto, “velut arbor aevo,” roughly translates to “may it grow as a tree through the ages.” As decades of development have shown, our foundation is strong, our connections myriad, and our growth boundless. We’ve joined arms with other universities, partnered with think tanks, and intertwined with powerful, multinational corporations. But with all the Huawei chaos whirling around, we’d be wise to stop, look around, and consider if any pesky, problematic branches need pruning.

A retail worker’s Black Friday

Being lionhearted, dealing with indecisive shoppers, tidying up to Lorde

A retail worker’s Black Friday

Black Friday — the time of year when even the most sophisticated stores are redesigned by former window shoppers to match the aesthetic feel of a flea market.

Five weeks prior to the day, the countdown begins. Calls are made daily to sales associates to ask not if, but when, we are free to work the notorious weekend. During this time, the excuse of ‘focusing on school’ is a luxury reserved for the lionhearted — those associates who, in the weeks leading up to the big day, can withstand the relentless pleas of stressed and understaffed managers.

I am not lionhearted.

Still, for the sake of my sanity, I try to limit the proportion of my shift spent dealing with customers. Last year, that meant working from 5:00–10:00 am so that by the time that we opened for business, I only had an hour left of work. This year, I worked from 5:00 pm to 1:00 am — less of a treat, since we don’t close up shop until 9:30 pm. Fortunately though, that meant that a decent portion of my shift was spent peacefully rearranging the store in the wake of the consumer hurricane that had swept through the store throughout the day to the calming tunes of Lorde’s Pure Heroine.

No purchases for me.

The “DOOR BUSTING SALE!” the store had offered was the employee discount I normally get, with the only difference being that any purchase I would make on this day would come with a complimentary 30-minute line-up paired with claustrophobia.  

The real disappointment: I didn’t even get to enjoy the mall food, my habitual break-time treat. Much like the rest of the CF Toronto Eaton Centre, the Urban Eatery — my third home — was infested with eager yet slow-walking shoppers who don’t have their orders memorized and also like to kick off their lunches with a million samples. Meanwhile, the decisive ones among us watch from the back of the line, frustrated.

No, thank you, I’ll settle for a chocolate bar from Shoppers and a cigarette.

Still, I can’t deny that there is a part of me that loves Black Friday. It’s a joy to hustle with my retail family, bringing good cheer to eager shoppers who probably care about material possessions more than they should.  

We’ll save that discussion for New Year’s resolutions. Just kidding; see you next year.

Opinion: How useful are business self-help books?

Despite extravagant claims, business guides can be a source of inspiration to consumers

Opinion: How useful are business self-help books?

The business world can be a difficult place to navigate — while some people are lucky to have their destination mapped out, others face a slow burn to find the right path to a business goal. In particular, we tend to seek guidance when various paths may be viable but each is laced with different degrees of uncertainty.

When friends and mentors fall short, a world of experience awaits on bookshelves — both physical and digital — with self-help books. The self-help industry was valued in the US at almost $10 billion USD in 2016.

While the focus for self-help titles cover almost every minutiae of daily life, considering how important a successful career is viewed in society, helping people navigate their way through their professional lives comprises a significant genre within self-help books.

Empty promises

The goal of the self-help guru, or the self-help books they write, is to be applicable and approachable to as many readers as possible. This increases the likelihood of the book being a financial success. The need to stand out from the competition and be noticed by the consumer is a reason why these works may reach to make claims and use hopeful language to attract buyers.

Among Amazon’s best-selling business titles are works such as The 10X Rule: The Only Difference Between Success and Failure, The 48 Laws of Power, The Laws of Human Nature, and Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence-and How You Can, Too.

These are enticing titles that confidently proclaim the secrets their pages hold, with promises of wealth and power. These false hopes and unrealized promises are what the business self-help industry is notorious for.

Self-help books can be analogous to, and as ubiquitous as, dietary fads. New information is quickly seized upon as the ‘next big thing’ with little evidence to support the claims made. Often, anecdotal tales are used to support certain behaviours and prescribed as the right methods that should be followed to achieve certain outcomes. Furthermore, each reader is likely to judge the relevance of information differently, interpret advice differently, or weigh the same sets of rules differently, based on personal factors.

A guidebook, not a bible

The issue with business self-help books is that there is no follow-up on the effectiveness of the particular methods preached. The people who succeed might retroactively misattribute the reasons for their success to a particular self-help method, while the blame for failure is burdened onto the individual.

Yet proponents of self-help books argue that keeping an open mind and applying the lessons described can be useful. After all, the literature in this category is not meant to be a sure-fire method to the top but rather a mixture of learned processes and opinions from ostensibly successful individuals. Rather than follow the advice to the word, consumers should use the available information to better educate themselves.

Not perfect, but valuable nonetheless

If you are interested in self-improvement through reading, billionaire and business magnate Warren Buffett recommends titles such as The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success and The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns.

Business self-help books can come in the form of a guide for self-improvement, like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey. They can also be well-researched works that try to explain the causation of success and question common misconceptions, such as Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by ‎Steven D. Levitt‎ and ‎Stephen J. Dubner.

Business self-help books can be great sources of foundational information and potential sources of advice, but the application of said advice should be at the reader’s careful discretion.