What Color is Your Parachute?

Front cover of the book "What Color Is Your Parachute?"
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Richard Bolles revolutionized the concept of job hunting when his book What Color Is Your Parachute was first published in 1970. Unlike traditional career guides, the book first helps job seekers understand themselves so they can then find the jobs that fit.

The book's title came from discussions Bolles had with people who were unhappy in their jobs. When people would say they were thinking of bailing out, Bolles “always thought of an airplane when I heard that phrase. So I would respond, ‘What color is your parachute?’ ”

Bolles was well qualified to write a handbook on changing direction; he had changed his own several times, from planning a career in the chemical industry to becoming a minister and then, at 41, being fired and enduring the anxiety of unemployment at a time when he and his wife had four small children.

Bolles said, “I was just trying to help people be better prepared than I was when I was fired and started looking for a job.”

The world’s most popular and bestselling career handbook has sold over 10 million copies. The Center for the Book at The Library of Congress has named it “one of the 25 books that have shaped readers’ lives.” According to Fortune magazine, “Ideally, everyone should read What Color Is Your Parachute? In tenth grade and again every year thereafter.”

According to Richard Bolles, “Being out of work, or thinking about a new career, should speak to your heart. It should say something like this: Use this opportunity. Make this not only a hunt for a job but also a hunt for a life. A deeper life, a victorious life, a life you’re more proud of.”

Bolles says that you are not powerless during the job hunt, regardless of whether the job market is strong or weak. “You control a lot of this process. Knowing that the employer has the ability to say yes or no can make you feel powerless, but that’s all the more reason to take charge of your search.”

According to Bolles, you can at least double your chances of success in your job search by doing six things:

  • Mastering job-search skills

  • Improving the way you present yourself in interviews and elsewhere

  • Being more aware of and confident about your skills

  • Taking action

  • Setting goals

  • Getting help when needed

Bolles has numerous suggestions about how to prepare for a key element in any job search–the interview. Before any interview, he recommends preparing to answer five key questions.

According to Richard Bolles, there are five Key Questions in Any Job Interview: 1) Why are you here? 2) What can you do for us? 3) What kind of person are you? 4) What distinguishes you from others applying for the job? 5) Can I afford you?

Bolles says that in today’s world, the person who gets hired is not necessarily the one who can do that job best; rather, it’s the one who knows the most about how to get hired. What Color Is Your Parachute is like a SparkNotes of everything you need to know about getting hired. 

The core element of What Color Is Your Parachute? is the Flower Exercise, a self-inventory that helps readers identify key passions, transferable skills, and traits so that they can identify the profile of a job that would most completely match and fulfill them. According to Bolles, if you develop a deeper knowledge of who you are and what you need in your job, you will have a much greater chance of finding work you really want to do. 

Author Richard Bolles says, “The best work, the best career, for you, the one that will make you happiest and most fulfilled, is going to be the one that uses your favorite transferable skills; in your favorite subjects, fields, or special knowledges.”
“...in a job that offers you your preferred people environments, your preferred working conditions, with your preferred salary or other rewards, working toward your preferred goals and values,” Bolles concludes.

Bolles says that completing Parachute’s Flower Exercise, which can be time-consuming, is worth it because doing this kind of homework will make it easier to describe exactly what you’re looking for to your contacts, identify companies who match you, and definitively see what new career or direction you want for your life. Plus, by ending up with a picture of a job that would really excite you, Bolles says you are more likely to pour more time, energy, and determination into your job search.

According to Bolles, completing an inventory of who you are and what you love to do before you set out on your search for meaningful work, helps you take full advantage of the opportunity your job search represents.

Bolles says that seeking new employment offers us a chance to contemplate why we are here on earth and what our unique mission is. While Bolles speaks from a Christian perspective, he encourages the reader to translate the ideas he shares into a form that resonates with their own belief system.

Bolles cautions that figuring out what your mission in life is will likely take some time: “It is not a problem to be solved in a day and a night. It is a learning process that has steps to it, much like the process by which we all learned to eat.”

According to Richard Bolles, “Your mission is to exercise the Talent that you came to earth to use–your greatest gift, which you most delight to use, In the place(s) or setting(s) that God has caused to appeal to you the most, and for those purposes that God most needs to have done in the world.”

Bolles says to begin deciphering your unique mission by studying your talents and skills, and more particularly which ones (or one) you most rejoice to use. He says your mission is to take one step at a time, even when you don’t yet see where it all is leading, or what the Grand Plan is, or what your overall mission in life is.

According to Bolles, “I have learned that the secret of living is not to set as our goal a happy life, not even a successful life (as the world measures ‘success’), but a victorious life, meeting the obstacles and challenges that life naturally throws into our path, and by grit, determination, and grace, overcoming them all.”

Richard Bolles says, “You may not be able to find all that you want down to the last detail. But you’d be surprised at how much of your dream you may be able to find…Get as close to it as you can. Then be patient. You never know what doors will open up.”