Parachute Lessons for the Job Hunt: Principles from ‘What Color is your Parachute?’

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On 31 March 2017, the recruitment world lost a very important individual. Richard N. Bolles, author of the best-selling manual for job hunting and career changing, What Color is your Parachute, passed away at the age of 90. In memory of Mr. Bolles, this article recaps some of the key job hunting principles in his famous book.

Job Hunting is a Survival Skill

In today’s uncertain world, job-hunting is no longer an optional exercise, but a survival skill that is repeatedly used over one’s life. Familiar and frustrating to many of us in the working world is how our employers sometimes hire people who are poor fits for the job. This is a cruel but unavoidable reality as the one who gets hired is not necessarily the one who can do the job best, but the one who knows the most about how to get hired. Rather than lament about this, we can learn how the world of employment works and how to use this information to our benefit.

Think like an Employer

The way a typical employer prefers to fill a vacancy is opposite to the way a job seeker prefers to look for a job. To illustrate, a typical employer prefers a low-risk strategy of employing from within the company, someone whose work has already been proven. In contrast, job seekers generally prefer to use the resume as a means to find a job. An employer’s main concern is risk, reducing the chances that the new hire would be more a liability than an asset; while the job hunter’s main concern is time, wanting to reach as many employers as possible with a single resume.

Useful Strategies for the Job Hunt

Hence, some useful tips for finding suitable employment, include:

  • Focus your efforts on smaller (fewer than 100 employees) and newer firms.
  • Write resumes to get invited for interviews, not to sell yourself.
  • At an interview, the question “Tell me about yourself” is another way of asking, “What experience, skills, or knowledges do you have, that are relevant to the job I am trying to fill?”
  • The best time to negotiate salary is between the time the employer wants you and before they have gotten you, anything before that is too early, and anytime after that is too late.
  • During salary discussion, never be the first to mention a salary figure.

Knowing Yourself

Another important strategy is to take stock of who you are. A self-inventory reveals your multiple skills and experiences, enabling you to look beyond specific job-titles. This includes finding out who you like to work with, your favourite working conditions, what you excel in and enjoy doing, your mission in life, your favourite knowledges, level of responsibility you would like and preferred places to live. Use this opportunity for change to also seek a truer and more coherent life for yourself. As Mr. Bolles says in his book, “Make this not only a hunt for a job, but a hunt for a life. A deeper life, a victorious life, a life you’re prouder of.”

Compassion for Job Hunters

More than providing strategies and revealing to us how things work, Mr. Bolles was most aware of what job hunters often most need – encouragement, humor, and lightheartedness. It is easy to become overwhelmed and depressed when the job hunt stretches. He tells us not to be discouraged by turn-downs, as every “no” gets one closer to a “yes”. No two employers are alike, a rock to one employer, is a gem to another. Lastly, he reminds job seekers to practice self-care and to “never give up”.

Boxed Story

Richard N. Bolles first self-published What Color is Your Parachute as a manual in 1970 for unemployed clergy members. Since then, Mr. Bolles had re-written the book yearly since 1975, updating it according to the times, covering major events that shook the job-hunting world such as the 2008 financial crisis and the invention of the Internet. Unique to Parachute is the focus not only on the process of the job hunt, but also on the emotional and psychological labour that is involved in the search. As to how the book got its enigmatic name, it was Mr. Bolles’ playful response to people who told him “they were ready to bail out” of their jobs.