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What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers
2003, Q4 (March 03, 2007)
by Richard Nelson Bolles

A book review by David Dick

The job market is saturated with talented technical communicators and usability specialists looking for employment. Possessing a multitude of skills, qualifications, and experience, these individuals do not have a chance if they do not have a solid strategy for job hunting. If you want to know the secrets of a successful job hunt, I recommend that you read What Color Is Your Parachute? A friend who knows that job hunting is a skill recommended the book to me as a source of inspiration and reference for a job hunt of my own. I am glad that he did. Reading What Color Is Your Parachute?, I learned that although the majority of employment opportunities are now published online, the same challenges apply as in the nearly 30 years since the first publication of this book:
  • The goal of the personnel office (human resources) is to screen rsums. You have to ask yourself, how do you structure your rsum to survive the screening?
  • The contact person may know little or nothing about the job for which you are applying. Ask yourself, how do you find the knowledgeable contact in the organization and get an interview with her?
  • The leads for employment opportunities are a result of networking and persistence. Ask, what is the most effective method to cultivate those leads and avoid disappointment?

The "Preface" has a statement that made me think back to 1991 when I was unemployed and despondent, and job opportunities were few: "Job losses highest since '91 recession, stocks fall as unemployment rises." In 2003, over nine million Americans were unemployed. That number is enough to make you hide under the bed and hope for better days. In times like these, Richard Bolles wants you to keep the following truths in mind:
  • There are always jobs out there.
  • There are a variety of ways to look for jobs, and some are more effective than others.
  • If you cannot find the jobs that are out there, it is because you are using the wrong method and need to change your job-hunting strategy.
  • If you cannot find the kind of job that you had before, you need to consider a career change--your functional skills are transferable from one field to another.
  • The key to job-hunting success is hope and perseverance.

What Color is Your Parachute? consists of twelve chapters and three appendices of strategies that you need for an effective and successful job search. Bolles provides suggestions on the following topics:
  • How to conduct a traditional job search (to find a job) and a career-changing job search (to match what you want to do with your life)
  • How to deal with geographic relocation
  • How to use the Internet to accelerate your job search, five of the best and worst ways to look for a job
  • How employers hunt for jobhunters; suggestions for a successful job hunt
  • How to start your own business
  • How to find your dream job
  • How to identify transferrable skills, how to identify who has the power to hire you
  • How to identify helpful contacts
  • How to interview
  • How to negotiate your salary
  • How to find additional jobhunting resources

Other reviews that I have read about this book suggest that everyone already has these skills. I do not agree. People who have been employeed for any duration, may not have a current rsum, may have forgotten the strategy of a successful interview, and may not know how to start the job search. Some advice may seem obvious, but many common mistakes are easy to make, for example, a rsum that omits either a telephone number or email address, and a cover letter that contains numerous grammar and spelling mistakes.

Bolles suggests not to be intimidated if a job requires a two-, three-, or four-year diploma. He describes why experience gained as a volunteer or on the job is equally as important. There are positions where advanced education is a prerequisitelike brain surgery but not all positions fall into this category. Bolles warns readers never to exaggerate credentials because it is not only unethical, but can easily backfire if transcripts are requested.

If you are not currently working as technical communicator and usability specialist, keep your skills active by volunteering. Volunteering is an opportunity to demonstrate your skills, knowledge, and talent. Volunteering keeps your skills sharp and making job contacts. (Editor's note: Volunteering for STC also keeps your technical communication skills sharp.)

My only concern about What Color is Your Parachute? is that it does not provide enough guidance about changing careers or starting your own business, how to participate in an effective interview, how to write a rsum and cover letter, or how to create a portfolio. However, Bolles provides three appendices on how to find trained counselors and coaches to help you in these areas.

How What Color is Your Parachute? helped me:
  • I learned the importance of a cover letter. I wrote a cover letter that describes how I can be a valuable asset to an organization.
  • I added my rsum to several online job posting services. Because I would like to relocate to the Northern Viriginia/Washington, DC, I am regularly checking the job database of the Washington DC Chapter.
  • I did the career change exercises and discovered that geographic change is as important to me as the job.

First written in 1970 (selfpublished), Bolles has revised the book every year except for 1971 and 1973. Other titles by the author that you might find help with your job search include The What Color is Your Parachute? Workbook, Job-Hunting on the Internet, The Career Counselor's Handbook, The Three Boxes of Life and How to Get Out of Them, How to Find Your Mission in Life, and Job-Hunting for the So-Called Handicapped.

All things considered, What Color is Your Parachute? is a classic. It is valuable reading even if you are not considering a career change now or currently employeed.

David Dick is a member of STC Belgium. He edits the STC Usability SIG's newsletter, Usability Interface. End

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