An Interview with Richard Bolles: The Lasting Power of 41 Editions of What Color Is Your Parachute?
By Jenn Long
Author Richard N. Bolles attributes the passion behind 41 editions of What Color Is Your Parachute?(Parachute) to “Keeping the book absolutely up to date! Rethinking and rewriting as much as two-thirds of the book every year, and watching the book turn people’s lives around.” In its 41st edition with 10 million copies sold to date, this New York Times Best Seller continues to serve as a guide for job-hunters and career-changers around the globe. In the 100 year history of the National Career Development Association, this book obviously impacts a significant number of those years! While it may not have been around as long as Frank Parson's “Choosing a Vocation”, it is the most frequently updated book used in our profession.
Revised annually to incorporate new concepts and remain relevant to today’s job-seeker, this manual continues to provide a practical approach for individuals seeking to take control of their next steps and serves as a tool for those in partnership with career counseling professionals. Hands-on exercises throughout the book keep the reader accountable to applying the words on the page to their unique self and circumstances, in order to move forward in discovering their hopes and career possibilities. In a changing world and ever-reinvented workplace, Bolles (2013) begins with hope as the first point of exploration for the job-seeker/career-changer, stating that, “it must be hope that we seek, above and before all else; the only question is, how do we find it?” (p.1). He goes on to explore the four key components.
As career professionals, we are tasked daily with helping and empowering our clients to uncover their passions, pursue their goals, identify opportunities, and break down potential barriers, while continually balancing the unique and immediate needs of each individual’s circumstances. Our clients must reach within to find the hope that propels them toward their next career steps, pairing that hope with resources, knowledge, and guidelines that make the process concrete and tangible. The newest edition of Parachute provides an opportunity to organize around and successfully move through the job-search process.
Key Insights From the Author, Richard Bolles
Explanation of the roots of What Color Is Your Parachute:
“When I had a job ministering to the campus ministers of ten Protestant denominations, all of whom were losing their jobs due to budget crunches, naturally my thoughts turned to writing another 31 page pamphlet to help them. But I didn’t know anything about the job-hunt, so I traveled all over the country, 68,000 miles total, asking two questions of whatever expert I could find:
If these guys want to leave the ministry, how do they go about changing careers without having to go back to college for four years?
If these guys try resumes, agencies, and ads in their job-hunt, and none of these work for them, what’s Plan B?
Finally, I stumbled across someone who actually knew the answers to these questions. I typed out my notes on a Selectric Typewriter, took them down to a local copy shop, asked them to bind the pages, and then I slapped a silly title on it – What Color Is Your Parachute? (apropos of a common expression in that day, ‘I’ve decided to bail out’) and distributed it to the people I was trying to help.”
Describing the major industry shifts/trends across 41 editions:
“During the forty one years I’ve been writing and rewriting Parachute, I’ve seen no change in the substance or essence of the job-hunt, but dramatic change in the form. The essence of the job-hunt is that the human activity it is most similar to is dating- You wanna try this, to see if we like each other? If that works, do you want to go steady? The job interview for forty years or more has begun with Do we like each other enough to try this thing out? It is a decision both parties must make. The form, however, can change and has changed, largely due to the Internet.
Best way to approach employers forty years ago was through a piece of paper, a resume. Best way today is by someone introducing you, who knows you but also knows them. Substance Change: Zero. Form Change: Dramatic.”
How readers can best use the 2013 edition of Parachute:
“Read just the first six chapters to get a feel for the entire career-changing and job-hunting process. Then go back and actually DO the exercises in chapter 5. Later, read the chapters on interviewing and salary negotiations.”
The book’s MAJOR take-away:
“Even if the cultural, economic, and geographical forces we are up against seem insurmountable, there is still at least 5% that is within our control, and we should work on that.”
Takeaway for new authors focused on writing career and job-finding books:
“The worst thing you could do is to write something just to make money. Always make helping people your first obsession. Within your chosen field or subject matter, write only about the subjects that you feel passionate about. Readers look for energy in the writing they love to read, and passion conveys that energy.”
Richard Bolles is a featured speaker at the NCDA Global Career Development Conference in Boston, July 2013.
Bolles, R.N. (2013). What color is your parachute (41st ed.). New York, NY: Ten Speed Press.
Jenn Long, M.Ed., is a Career Counselor in the College of Business Career Management Center at Colorado State University. Prior to her work in career counseling, Jenn spentfive years with the Corporate Executive Board, best practice research firm, serving senior-level executives of fortune 500 and global 3000 companies to promote strategic development and innovative thinking. Supporting the career development of high potential employees within a corporate setting led to her desire to help college students think strategically about pursuing their passions. She can be reached through e-mail at email@example.com.