Book Review: What Color Is Your Parachute? (2011 Edition)
Few readers need an explanation of the What Color is Your Parachute? series’ pedigree, or its ubiquity on the shelves of many professionals. As a manual for launching and furthering one’s career, the book has been a staple of graduation season gifts and a must-read for job-seekers since its first printing in 1970. However, with the latest edition of the guide hitting bookstores today, the 40-year old series risks looking long-in-the-tooth in light of the current economic climate.
Commendably, author Richard N. Bolles does his homework, returning each year to thoroughly revise the book’s content and address the ever-changing career landscape. As Bolles describes the process, his is not a job for slouches: “Four times a year, for five days in a row, I do nothing but interact with job-hunters, gathered in my home. I stay very up-to-date on the current problems men and women are running into, out there in the job market.” This research is employed to emphasize the troubled state of the job market, affirming the book’s scope and relevance, although his immediate lesson is that even a rocky economy can yield new jobs. To this end, Parachutes goes two steps ahead by pinpointing where the jobs are and leading readers to land a position on their terms.
These methods track, point-by-point, the path to professional success, dispelling initial discouraging mentalities along the way and finding optimal routes for submitting applications, preparing for interviews and conducting post mortem self-evaluation (after all, even a bad interview can offer positive results). The lesson doesn’t end merely with finding employment, as Bolles walks readers through the delicate art of salary negotiation and onward to preparing for a long and fruitful career.
It is at that point when Bolles introduces the interactive portion of the book. Forming the centerpiece of his advice (as well as informing the title) is the Flower Diagram, a circular chart which helps candidates determine their strengths, experience and interests. By measuring these factors, this mainstay of the series encourages the reader to pursue his or her professional priorities and find the ideal role.
However, what Bolles doesn’t touch upon in all this is the element of social media. Considering the increasing usage of Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin among candidates, this exclusion proves shortsighted—as Vault’s career experts have determined, companies now use these networks not only to connect with candidates but also to screen them for interviews and consideration. Thus, a developed social media presence becomes imperative to competing with fellow job seekers.
This is where Parachute shows its age: While it does make mention of applications such as Skype as a tool for counseling, few pages are devoted to using internet resources, with its analysis even pooh-poohing the practice of applying for positions online. Bolles, considered by many a veteran of the career advice trade, isn’t off the mark by suggesting that the tried and true methods are still the most effective, but his disregard for the global resources afforded by the internet will hopefully change in later editions.
Another note on Bolles: Readers will find that the author imbues Parachute’s more personal insights—particularly its workbook—with references to Christianity and spiritualism. Bolles acknowledges that his devout beliefs might not mesh with those of other faiths; as such, he “tried to be very courteous toward the feelings of all my readers, while at the same time counting on them to translate my Christian thought forms into their own.” So take it as you will.
Ultimately what earns What Color is Your Parachute? its lasting reputation is that very human voice behind the career lessons. This sense of personality separates Bolles from his many contemporaries, who more often rely on faceless, clinical bullet points to do the talking.
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