Quintessential Careers: Q&A with Richard Nelson Bolles

Questions and Answers with Career Expert Richard Nelson Bolles

Please note: On a somewhat infrequent basis, Quintessential Careers asks noted career experts five questions related to their expertise and publishes the interview in the current issue of QuintZine, our career e-newsletter. Those interviews are archived here for your convenience.

Richard Nelson Bolles is the author of the perennial best-seller, What Color is Your Parachute, and its companion Website, JobHuntersBible.com.

Q: To what do you attribute the enduring success of What Color is Your Parachute? What makes it such a classic?
A: I haven’t the foggiest idea! There is a book out now, called The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, by Malcolm Gladwell, and he argues in that book that when a trend appears in society, gathers momentum, and then ‘tips,’ it’s due to a whole series of little things that would be — in some cases — very difficult to identify. What Color is Your Parachute didn’t become popular in the usual way. I never did the appearances or media events customarily done to plug a book. The book’s popularity began very slowly, and consequently developed a solid base, as it grew through word-of-mouth. When people used the book and found that it worked for them, they would tell their neighbor about it. It is a book that you can try out — you can empirically go out there and put the theories to the test.

People have told me what they love about the book, is my zany sense of humor. And the book’s compassion — people write to me and say they feel I really, really understand what it is like to be out there looking for a job… and, of course, I do. I’ve been there, and my compassion for job-hunters is due to the fact that I remember exactly what it feels like, to go through this process of job-hunting, again and again.

Q: If asked what you think has been the biggest change in job-hunting over the last few years, you would probably say the Internet. What directions do you see online job-hunting taking in the next few years?
A: I certainly would say the Internet, and I think online job-hunting will be going in two separate directions in the next few years. On the one hand, more and more people will be employing the Internet as an aid to their job-hunt. Hence, the Internet will be driven toward fine-tuning its offerings, so that they are of greater usefulness to the job-hunter. I think the Internet job sites will move more toward “content,” and not just “matching.”

Inevitably, I think, the Internet will divide job-hunters into two separate “classes.” The first class will be those who have access to the Internet, and who are in fields whose employers use the Internet for their hiring process, and who have skills which the Internet prizes, and who find themselves in great demand. The other class will be those who either do not have access to the Internet, or who are in fields whose employers do not use the Internet for their hiring process, or who are job-hunters who have skills which the Internet does not particularly prize in its job-listings, and who consequently are not in great demand on the Internet. The latter group will, I think, remain in the majority, and will not have access to some jobs because of this Some companies, for example, right now, will only list their job vacancies online — particularly those in the technology-related or Web-based fields. If you want a job, in particular with those companies, but you are not online, you will be left out.

On the other hand, this will not be as serious a handicap as we might imagine. A survey released in the Spring of 2000 A.D., found that only 4 percent of all job-hunters who go online looking for a job, actually find one online. In other words, the Internet as a job-hunting method currently has a 96 percent failure rate. What I want, and what has been my intention with my book, What Color is Your Parachute, for the past 30 years, is to tell people the rules of the game they’re playing in — so that they don’t think that every single one of their friends uses a strategy successfully, and they’re the only person for whom it fails. If you think that the Internet always leads to a job, when in your case it doesn’t, you come out with much lower self-esteem, feeling that there is something really wrong with you. I tell people that with a 96 percent failure rate, the Internet deserves no more than 4% of their job-hunting time. I say, “You must use other methods outside of the Internet for the rest of your job hunt. Don’t ever put all your eggs just in the Internet basket.”

Q: What trends and changes in job-hunting have you observed in the last few years that have little or nothing to do with the Internet?
A: The primary one, of course, is that every job has turned into a temp job — whether people are conscious of that or not. Employers have no reluctance now to let go of mass numbers of employees, if their organization is involved in a merger or takeover. Employees are increasingly seen as just part of the expenses of the firm, and when there is a need to balance the bottom line, they are regarded as expendable.

So, becoming a master of the job-hunt process used to be seen, for every one of us in the world of work, as some kind of dilettante exercise, but now it has become a survival skill. We have to know how to job-hunt before we get in trouble, or find ourselves ‘being made redundant,’ as the expression has it.

Q: What is the most important piece of advice you feel you could offer today’s job-seeker? What’s the biggest mistake job-seekers make that your advice could correct?
A: The biggest mistake job-seekers make is giving up too soon, when they go job-hunting. My advice would be: don’t give up on your job search. If you’re having trouble finding a job, keep searching, because finding a job takes time.

One study found that a number of job-seekers couldn’t find a job because they abandoned their job search after one or two months. You have to determine ahead of time that you are going to keep at your job hunt for as long as it takes without having a figure in mind — like, “I’m going to keep at it for six days,” or “I’m going to keep at it for six weeks.” I think people adopt unrealistic guestimates about how long their job hunt is going to take. Crazy advice floats around out there in the world of work, such as the one that claims ‘it’s going to take a month for every $10,000 of salary that you make.’ But no one has been able to substantiate that. Nobody even knows where that statistic came from. We should expect that our job-hunt may take months, but if we persevere, we will find a job. In sum: the biggest mistake that job-hunters make is abandoning their job hunt prematurely.

Q: Do you see today’s job-seekers (especially at the college grad/entry level) becoming too complacent about job-seeking because of the robust economy? How can job-seekers make the most of the strong economy and be prepared when the current boom subsides?
A: Absolutely! Many job-seekers, especially college and grad/entry level students are too young to have perspective. We are now enjoying the longest peacetime expansion of the economy that has been recorded in modern times. But, long term, the job market goes through cycles, cycles of recession and expansion and recession and expansion… this has just been a long expansion. Without this perspective, I’m afraid when a recession does come — especially if it is a doozey — many of today’s young job-seekers are going to be floundering. It’s not, however, a matter of their becoming complacent; the problem is they haven’t had enough life experience, yet, to understand how this all works, over the long run.

Richard Nelson Bolles, known the world over as the author of the best-selling job-hunting book in history, What Color is Your Parachute, is acknowledged as “America’s top career expert” by Modern Maturity Magazine, “the one responsible for the renaissance of the career counseling profession in the United States over the past decade” by Money Magazine, and “the most widely read and influential leader in the whole career planning field” by the U.S. Law Placement Association. Dick is listed in “Who’s Who In America,” and “Who’s Who In the World” and has been featured in countless magazines (including Reader’s Digest, Fortune, Money Magazine, and Business Week), newspapers, radio, and TV (CNN, Ted Koppel, ABC’s Nightline, Diane Sawyer, CBS News and many others). He has a companion Website, JobHuntersBible.com.

Check out all our interview with career experts in Quintessential Answers: Q&A’s with Career & College Experts.

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