Richard Bolles was an unlikely guru of career advice. A physics student and former Episcopalian priest, he wrote What Color is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers in 1972 after enduring his own struggle looking for a job.
Bolles, who died March 31 at age 90, brought sympathy and sincerity to his advice, and readers responded. What Color is Your Parachute? became a staple of self-help bestseller lists, with more than 10 million copies sold worldwide, according to the New York Times (paywall). In 1995, the Library of Congress included it on a list of “25 Books that Have Shaped Readers’ Lives,” joining Gone with The Wind, War and Peace, and the Bible.
The book, which Bolles updated almost every year, is full of list, charts, and diagrams. Forty-six steps for writing a resume. Sixteen tips for interviewing. The “A – B = C method” for starting your own business.” A flower diagram for self-knowledge.
Much of the book is devoted to practical tips that have since become conventional wisdom for job seekers. When interviewing, don’t bad mouth your previous employer, do your homework, and ask plenty of questions. When negotiating pay, don’t be the first to mention a salary figure.
But the book’s enduring popularity comes from his deeper insights—that job hunting is dependent on a positive attitude and that there are jobs out there for anyone, if they just know how to look.
Some of Bolles’s wisdom is elementary. Looking for work is hard, he says, and often discouraging. To maintain optimism, job seekers most always have at least two alternatives for every situation. Don’t limit yourself to just type of job search, or one location, or profession, or type of employer. By giving yourself options, you’ll have reasons to be hopeful even if one path shuts down.
For job seekers looking for new directions, Bolles recommends they take a self-inventory, and catalog their skills, attributes, and desires. When they’re done, there should have a clear idea of what career fits them above all others. “Most job-hunters who fail to find their dream job, fail not because they lack sufficient information about the job-market, but because they lack sufficient information about themselves” Bolles wrote.
Bolles didn’t write like management consultant; his advice at times wanders into the pop-philosophical. He counsels the unemployed to take advantage of their time out of work, to consider what they want out of life, and to learn new skills to give themselves meaning
But he never loses track of the anxiety that can eat away at the unemployed, and he stresses the urgency of their mission: job-hunting is about survival, and it needs to be attacked with resolve, but never without hope.