Book Summary – What Color Is Your Parachute? 2019 (A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers)

The book says that most job hunting happens online, and the internet features many “job boards.” It says job hunters must be aware that employers want to minimize their risk. They see many applicants for every job and try to eliminate every “no” applicant to find that one “yes.” Employers aren’t looking for you, the manual reminds you. You must contact them. They prefer to hire from within or to use contractors whose work they know. And job hunters prefer to minimize their job-hunting time. Looking for a job is the same exercise it’s always been: finding someone you like who likes you.

The “Parachute Approach” to Job Hunting

The “Traditional Approach” to job hunting involves looking through ads, sending out résumés and waiting for a response. Bolles’ “Parachute Approach” starts with you. First, systematically analyze what you like to do and what your talents are. When you know what you want to do, approach candidate companies – optimally through a “bridge-person,” someone who knows the company and knows your work. If you rely on internet job boards, the manual says, your likelihood of getting a job is only 4%.

Sending employers your résumé improves your odds to about 25%. Asking for job leads from everyone you know increases your chances to 33%. Door knocking increases your odds to 47%, especially with businesses that have fewer than 25 employees. Surprisingly, using various directories to identify companies and arrange interviews ups your odds to 65%. These are intriguing figures, but the manual stands by them.

The Parachute Approach, it claims, has an 86% success rate. It begins with a self-inventory and makes your job hunt part of your search for a deeper, more meaningful life. Bolles’ successors tell you how to begin with the “Flower Exercise”: On several sheets of paper, make the following priority lists and copy them together onto one sheet in the shape of a flower, with a center and six petals. The book cites brain expert Barbara Brown, who says that putting your inventory of yourself on one sheet of paper helps clarify your decision making.

Each list creates a “petal” about an aspect of your ideal job situation. Work through these exercises to focus your ideas. The petals are:

  1. People – What kind of people do you enjoy being around? Make a list of personality traits you value. Prioritize it by comparing each item to the next item on the list and circling the most important one. Distill your list to determine the five top traits of people you’d like to work with. This is your first petal.
  2. Conditions – The manual instructs you to be specific about the physical environment most conducive to your productivity. List conditions that negatively affected you in the past. Then, find their opposites or near-opposites, and list them.
  3. Skills – Focus on your “transferable skills,” which will be verbs, and your “self-management” skills, which are often adverbs or adjectives that describe how you work, such as “energetic” or “detail-oriented.” What skills do you use when working with data, people or things? Cleverly, the book urges you to write seven stories about times you enjoyed yourself so you step back from list making. Then, analyze your stories for the skills they illustrate. Organize them into priority order.
  4. Your life’s mission – To which “sphere” of knowledge would you like to contribute: “Senses,” “Possessions,” “the Body,” “Conscience,” “the Heart,” “Entertainment,” “Earth,” “Spirit” or “Mind?” Again, the book urges you to write, instead of making a list. Here, write a paragraph about the sphere that draws you. This is your basic purpose. Write it in the middle of your flower.
  5. “Knowledges” – Think of your hobbies, what you like to talk and read about, and what so engrosses your attention that you lose track of time when you do it. List what you’ve learned about your knowledge and interests from past jobs or elsewhere. Weigh each subject against your expertise and enthusiasm level. Choose a few favorite areas in which you have high experience and high enthusiasm.
  6. Money – Do you want to be the boss, a member of a team or work alone? Figure out your monthly budget to derive the yearly income you need to earn. Divide that by 2,000 for a minimum hourly rate.
  7. Place – The manual then urges you to consider the attributes of where you’d like to live, bearing in mind your relationships and obligations. Recognize if – and where – you’d relocate if the opportunity arose. Prioritize that list.

The book guides you in transferring these lists to the petals of your flower diagram with your mission in the center.

The Hunt Begins

Now that you have this information, interpret which careers your flower diagram suggests. Make a list of the jobs where your skills and knowledge intersect. Talk to professionals who do the jobs you identified. Though job hunting can be solitary, the manual says to engage with other people and ask them how they chose their line of work, what are the best and worst aspects of their jobs, and if they know other practitioners who would speak to you. Find out what kind of training is necessary. Unless you’re discussing a profession that requires exams for admission, like the law or medicine, many people who have these jobs have already figured out a shortcut to entry. Those are the people you want to find.

Then, consider all the different places that need employees for the job you seek. For instance, the guidebook points out, teachers don’t work only at schools. Perhaps you’d like to do corporate training or develop workshops. Find specific companies or organizations that hire in the job category you’re researching. Learn about their workplace culture, mission and challenges. What knowledge or skills do their employees need? Ask everyone you know if they know someone who works at your candidate organizations, and arrange brief interviews. Don’t pitch for a job in these informal meetings, but seek job interviews. The book urges you to be aware that some “75% of companies now report that they sometimes do video interviews. Many via Skype.” After your interview, follow up with a thank-you note.

An interview helps you find out what it’s like to work somewhere before you try to get hired. Check out online reviews. Taking temp gigs and doing volunteer work let you try out a workplace or a task. If you find a place where you’d like to apply and you want an interview, the manual recommends looking for a bridge-person who knows you and whom your target company knows. LinkedIn is a great place to start.

Your Résumé

To build your résumé for job hunting, the manual suggests you first list your work and personal skills. Be specific. Include volunteer work. Mention scholarships, awards or jobs you held as a student. If you increased your previous employer’s business, state by how much. Did you bring in clients? Do you complete projects on budget? What were your responsibilities? Did you manage other people? What computer programs and apps do you know? Have you given presentations on an industry topic? “The higher your transferable skills,” the book says, “the less competition you will face for whatever job you are seeking, because jobs that use such skills will rarely be advertised.”

Bolles’ team says to search the internet for “keywords on an electronic résumé” to find the categories prospective employers want to fill. Post your résumé on online job boards and on the websites of companies that interest you. Target small and newer companies first, those less than seven years old.

Your cover letter, according to this advice, may be more important than your résumé. Tailor it to the job you want, and use it to cover the main points of your résumé. You may prefer to put together a portfolio. If you post your résumé on publicly accessible sites, to protect your privacy never include your address or phone number. The point of this effort is to get an interview at an organization that interests you. Most firms go through résumés before setting up interviews. But if your résumé comes with a personal referral, you’ll compete with, on average, only nine other candidates. Join LinkedIn and complete your public profile. Your job title, the text reminds you, should be a keyword that prospective employers might seek. Participate in forums, keep up a blog, or post to Twitter or YouTube.

Interviews

Interviews are conversations, and each one will be different. Look for employers who focus on “what you can do,” not on “what you can’t do.” The manual counsels that practicing your interview skills and holding preliminary informational interviews will help you overcome shyness. Don’t  generalize ideas about employers from only a few interviews. “Sooner or later, as you do this informational interviewing…you’ll find a career that fits you just fine. It uses your favorite skills. It employs your favorite special knowledges or fields of interest.”

At smaller companies, you’re more likely to interview with someone who can hire you. Research the company. Shoot for about 19 minutes if you schedule the interview. Your goal at the first interview is to get a second interview. And do your homework beforehand. “Bothering the boss…with some simple questions that someone else could have answered is committing job-hunting suicide.”

“Tell me about yourself.” When prospective employers say that, the book says, they want to know how your skills and knowledge fit their needs. Talk and listen in equal amounts, but limit your answers to two minutes in length. Show how you would reduce the employer’s risk. The manual recommends bringing in evidence that supports your skills and knowledge. Look people in the eye and speak with confidence. Don’t interrupt. Employers want to know if you will show up on time with a great attitude. They need assurance that you’ll give a 100% effort.

Criticizing your last employer, Bolles’ successors advise, will make you look bad. Every question interviewers ask about your past springs from their fear about your future at their company. Figure out your interviewer’s fears as you answer questions, and allay them.

The book says that if an interview is going well, the interviewer will move to questions about your future. When this happens, ask what the job entails. Before the end of your final interview, ask for the job. If the employer needs time to think, ask when you can expect to hear back and if you can follow up. If the interviewer can’t offer you the job, ask for the name of someone else in the field who might be looking for an employee. Send a thank-you note. And, the manual warns, “Do not ignore your intuition if it tells you that you would not be comfortable working with these people!…If these people aren’t it, keep looking!”

Negotiating Your Salary

Do not start a job without knowing the salary. But, the book says, discuss your salary only at the end of the interview process, when the employer offers you the job. If an interviewer mentions salary earlier and asks how much you want, respond that until the company’s sure they want you, you believe that conversation is premature. Figure out the most an employer is willing to pay, and negotiate between the first figure they offer – which is what they hope to pay you – and the top amount they’re authorized to pay you.

Research typical pay levels in your industry for your specific position. If you can, the manual tells you to find out the salaries of people below and above you in the organization. Let the employer be the first to mention a salary number. This plays to your advantage. If they ask how much you’d like, say that they must have a number in mind, and you’d like to know what it is. Ask about benefits. When your negotiations end, ask for a letter of agreement citing the agreed-upon salary.

“Career-Changers” and Entrepreneurs

Use the Flower Exercise to gain clarity about the right career path for you. Figure out a two-step path – career and title – to the job you want. The authors remind you that trying to change your field of work and title is difficult. Doing it in two steps gives you the experience to move forward. Sometimes a career that seems glamorous isn’t. Often, you won’t know until you talk to people who do it. Don’t change your life when you change careers. One big change is plenty. If you’re thinking of opening a business, write out your résumé and see what you’ve done before that you now want to do for yourself.

Write a list of things you’re good at and a list of things you enjoy doing, and see where they overlap. Will people pay you to do them? Read about the pitfalls of being your own boss. According to this manual, good resources are available online about every aspect of starting a business. Interview other entrepreneurs, and learn from their stories. By exploring the experience and skills necessary for a particular kind of business, you can match the possibilities to your experience and skills and see what you still need to learn.

Your life’s mission, Bolles believed, is a process that evolves over time. Unemployment can give you the opportunity to contemplate your beliefs more deeply. To deal with the stress of being unemployed, get the sleep you need. Stay active. Stay hydrated. Maintain order in your living space. Spend some time outside every day. Volunteer to help people in worse shape than you. Keep in touch with your friends. Talk to people close to you about your feelings. Hit a punching bag. Keep hunting. Stay grateful for the good things in your life. “We are mortal,” states the manual. “So are jobs. Understand that truth and you will avoid a life of bitterness and blame. In today’s world, you must always have a plan B up your sleeve.”

Everybody’s Read It

The one small problem with the late Richard N. Bolles’ advice is that people have been buying for decades. Though his methods are sound – if purely common sense – they aren’t cutting edge. Everyone has been applying his method to job searching since this manual’s first edition, so following his counsel means being one of a crowd. On the other hand, Bolles’s guidance is sound and must be effective in the real world or nobody would keep buying this manual, a perpetual bestseller. He also published several other books of career advice for various audiences. Bolles was a clear, serviceable writer delivering a simple message, and those who follow in his footsteps under his byline have the same solid abilities.

Bolles was a former Episcopalian minister and his book includes several appendices addressing job hunting from a Christian point of view. The manual urges readers to translate that spirituality in a way that speaks to them. In Bolles’ philosophy, a vocation is spiritual: Even unemployment can be meaningful if it gives you the opportunity to reflect on your deeper beliefs. Whether you find the section on using Christian faith-based tactics in your job search worthwhile will depend on your personal religious feelings, but the manual offers plenty of other tools as well.