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Interview with Dick Bolles
Author of What Color is Your Parachute? and renowned expert on career transition and job hunting for the perfect job

Dick Bolles originally wrote the best-selling classic What Color Is Your Parachute? over 30 years ago. It has since sold over seven million copies and been read around the world. Mr. Bolles revises and expands the book annually, and has developed a companion website: JobHuntersBible.com. The book has become the quintessential reference for those looking for information on job hunting, career change and anything else related to the job market.

Interview by Dennis Hughes, Share Guide Publisher

Richard Bolles photo

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Share Guide: Even though your book What Color is Your Parachute is not geared specifically to holistic careers, I think several parts of it would help people looking to create what the Buddha called "Right Livelihood," or meaningful work.

Dick Bolles: I agree. From the time my book was first published, which was in 1970, that term was being used at conferences that I attended.

Share Guide: I heard the phrase Right Livelihood in college long before I knew it was one of the eight steps of the Buddha's Eightfold Path to Enlightenment. It was years later that I found out where it came from. I just knew I was looking for meaningful work. Have you ever considered writing a book specifically on how to create a conscious career?

Dick Bolles: I have not written a book specifically on that, but I would say that any career can be a conscious career in many ways.

Share Guide: At the beginning of the book you talk about the difference between a traditional job hunt and a life-changing job hunt. Many of our readers are interested in the latter, because they find themselves in jobs that don't reflect their real values and they want to change this.

Dick Bolles: The particular exercises in the book, which people have been using successfully for 30 years, lend themselves to a conscious career. People can't possibly answer the questions in the back of the book without arriving at a job that is reflective of themselves, including their values.

Share Guide: There is a lot of soul searching in the exercises, which is what it takes to align your work with your inner self.

Dick Bolles: The real key is time. People can identify a career without doing the exercises in my book if they are willing to spend 150 years at it, but we don't have that much time to wander about the earth trying one job after another to see which ones are closest to our values and the things that we care about. The point is to speed up that process and not do it haphazardly.

Share Guide: How many people do you deal with who express concern about Right Livelihood?

Dick Bolles: They don't use that language. They say, "I want a life that has more of a sense of purpose." However, the way I talk to people is principally through the book. Of course, a number of people email me. But I have over 7 million readers and I am very grateful that not every one of them emails me! I would have wasted away to a shadow of Gandhi by now.

Share Guide: So people are looking for purpose and meaning in their work rather than just income?

Dick Bolles: Very much so, and more so since Sept. 11th.

Share Guide: I really like the map in the book. That gives a visual image of the many paths you can take in making career choices.

Dick Bolles: I drew that diagram one time for a class I was teaching. I used to teach a 2-week class every summer. I just stopped doing that this past summer but I did this for over 25 years. They wanted some kind of a map and I laid it out one day. I took it to an artist and had him do it up in a more elegant way for the book.

Share Guide: It's a core part of the book, the visual image of each fork in the road that you come to where you need to make a decision--such as working for yourself or someone else. It is a series of branching steps. Why do you think that most people stay in jobs that they don't like?

Dick Bolles: They are not willing to spend the time; it is as simple as that. I wish I had a more profound answer after all these years, but I have concluded that there is a lot of laziness in human nature and a lot of clinging to the status quo. I suppose it is the law of inertia, which is that "bodies in motion tend to remain in motion and bodies at rest tend to remain at rest."

Share Guide: I like your statement in the book, "You do have to get up off of your duff and do the work!"

Dick Bolles: Yes, I like to talk plainly to people.

Share Guide: The point is well made that you can't just have wishful thinking about making a change.

Dick Bolles: The more time people are willing to spend on this task, the better results they are going to get in terms of a match between what they are looking for and what it is that they find out there.

Share Guide: Do you think this book is geared more for people coming out of college just starting work, or toward people a little further on making a career change?

Dick Bolles: Both. It certainly is applicable to anybody in high school or college. However, the more life experience you've had, the more meaningful the book is going to be. For example, if you worked in high school at some kind of a job part-time and likewise in college, you have been out there in the world of work and you have a better idea of what it's shape is and what is or isn't offered. So you may be more willing to read the book and find it very helpful. I get letters from high school and college students as well as people of all ages around the world. They all say that they find it useful, but I do think it takes a certain kind of disposition. It's not a book that everyone can use. (I don't know a book that is.) It has to be someone that is searching--somebody that wants to find more meaningful work, or at least better than what they've had thus far. If you haven't had any life experience, you don't know why on earth you should spend time trying to figure this out. You think life will just serve it up to you on a platter.

Share Guide: I first saw the book at Sonoma State, and I saw it as something people would use in college. I thought that once you figure out where you are going then you just go and do it. Now that I'm older, I can see how the book would be great for people who are in transition from one career to another.

Dick Bolles: It's used by both populations, those that are just job hunting and those that really want to make a conscious change. Again, it depends not so much on their intelligence, but upon their desperation. If they are desperate to find something better, then they are motivated and the book is tremendously useful.

Share Guide: Do you think that more Americans by and large are concerned with making money or making a difference?

Dick Bolles: I don't know anyone that could possibly answer that question. They don't do surveys for that kind of concept.

Share Guide: I am wondering if it is just the former hippies or cultural creatives as they are often called, that are the only ones that are trying to make a difference as well as make a buck.

Dick Bolles: Not by any means. A certain percentage 30 years ago would want a job with meaning or right livelihood, now that percentage is much greater.

Share Guide: You offer several exercises to determine your dream job. Which method do you think has been the most successful to your readers?

Dick Bolles: I have an exercise at the back of the book where I have people put together a picture of themselves and a picture of their ideal job as a flower. It's the same picture, because you are looking for a job that completely matches you. But there is no one exercise per se--people need to do all the exercises that are listed. The two that help the most if people are shy are the Practice Field Survey and Informational Surveying. The first involves not looking for a job, but actually going out in the world to try and find people who are doing the kind of work that they want to do and talking to them, getting the information from the workers not the employers. This has tremendous value for people who are intensely shy and are afraid of the whole job hunting process. The other exercise is where they sit down and do seven stories from their life to try to figure out what it is that they enjoyed when it came to meaningful work. It's about some kind of meaningful accomplishment, at least in their own eyes even if no one else saw it. That has a tremendous effect on people's self-esteem, which is in many ways the key to meaningful work.

Share Guide: You've written that in the search for a dream job, your attitude can be your greatest weakness or greatest power. Can you explain this for our readers?

Dick Bolles: If you understand the nature of the world and the nature of the job market, you know that every job today is temporary, and you know that every job is going to be a learning experience. Each job is going to be an adventure, and have it's own reward. If you know all that BEFORE you take any particular job, then whatever happens to you, you are ready for it. For example, if you know that any job is temporary in the world today, then what you do is start job hunting the day you take up this job. You don't have just one alternative. The attitude that is most important (in doing one's life as well as doing one's work) is that you understand the nature of the world you are in and you take it seriously and prepare to have alternatives. That is the key. If you have alternatives, you are in an entirely different position of power than if you put all your energy into the particular job you are doing and hold onto it for dear life, then act shocked when it suddenly dissolves out from under you.

Share Guide: You also wrote of an alchemy that has the power to transform any job into something enjoyable.

Dick Bolles: Very much so; it is all about transformation.

Share Guide: That is related to attitude…alchemy and attitude. A lot of people graduate from college with a degree that they don't use. As for me I left college before I got the degree because I found meaningful work. Why is it that so many people wind up with degrees that they can't use, and what would you do to fix that?

Dick Bolles: I would make all of them do the exercises at the back of my book before they chose a major. They are required to choose a major too early in life. That is one of the reasons. They don't have enough information about themselves to know what major to choose, one that would be congruent with who they are and what their values are. In high school and so forth, we put kids in a kind of emotional cast. We tell them what to do, when to be home, and we don't give them a whole lot of opportunity to exercise discretion and make important decisions on their own. Then we throw them out of school and they are lost trying to get the decision-making power going after we have had them in this non-decision making cast for a number of years. Of course it is hard to start making decisions when you haven't been given intelligent guidance about it when you were younger.

Share Guide: Many of us go to college right out of high school and have no idea of what kind of career we want. Should college happen later in life? I took a year off between high school and college.

Dick Bolles: I took a year off also. I happened to be in the U.S. Navy. When I got out of that I was much more clear about what I wanted to do. I enrolled myself in the course at Johnson-O'Connor Human Engineering Laboratories, which was and still is the best aptitude-testing place in the United States. I tried to learn what it was I already possessed by way of talent and skills, and what kind of skills I needed to acquire. Nonetheless, I chose a profession entirely different than what Johnson-O'Connor indicated I should go into. I wrote to them and asked what they made of this, but they could not explain it. There is always an element of will such as you had when you decided to stop doing the college thing. A friend of mine calls it prior agenda. You suddenly say, "I have a prior agenda to all this stuff and I need to exercise it, and I need to go after it." I don't know if making college later in life would do anything about that, since we can be just as unconscious at the age 30 as we are at the age of 22 or 18.

Share Guide: So it is still a guess. You had a fair amount of career counseling; I had none, and wound up following my own drummer and got lucky and it worked out, because I worked hard and steadily. But it seems like a bit of guesswork deciding what you want to do.

Dick Bolles: Well, I think anyone could profit from taking a year off between high school and college. I do think that we get thrust into college too soon.

Share Guide: Perhaps what you said about having the attitude of a career being temporary is helpful--meaning it will change throughout your life, rather than picking one and that is what you must do your whole life. Then if you choose when you are younger something that you find out you aren't interested in, you don't feel as regretful when it comes time to make a change.

Dick Bolles: I agree. It's worth mentioning that they did a study at Harvard years ago, back in the1960's. They were trying to find out what was the greatest influence on a person's ultimate life's work. Surprisingly, they found out that the very first job a person has is the most influential thing. You may drop into it by accident and think to yourself that this is very temporary, but it often turns out to be the determinant of what job you are going to end up in. People do tend to have that attitude that if they find an interesting job right off the bat they can stop looking. I think that is a dangerous attitude. If you think of a job and career as a temporary thing, then you will be stimulated to keep your eyes open. I know someone who every Friday would go out and talk to a different industry or different company. While she was happily working, she would take her lunch hour on Friday in the city. She had lots of options of who to visit. She would take an early lunch hour so she didn't go visit them during theirs. She learned so much about the different possible options that were open to her that she was always confident that she could find another job. Therefore she felt that she was never tied to the particular career she was in at that time.

Share Guide: I would like to clarify one thing. When you say temporary, that doesn't mean like a temp job for 30 days or so. It could mean a few years, right?

Dick Bolles: Right. Nowadays, temp jobs don't necessarily mean 30 days even when you work for a temp agency. Contract jobs have gotten longer and longer.

Share Guide: So temporary could be a number of years. I find myself every decade or so getting a little antsy to change my position.

Dick Bolles: If you have enough decades, you can have a rich, full life.

Share Guide: Right, which could mean selling a business. I sold my first one at around age 30. In my case, I liked the second business, The Share Guide, a lot better than the first one that I started, but at around 10 years I found myself not wanting to sell it, but wanting to change the hats I was wearing in the business--at least partially, for more variety. This is so you don't get bored to death.

Dick Bolles: Boredom is the enemy of finding meaningful work.

Share Guide: What prompted you to write the first edition of "What Color is Your Parachute?" in 1970?

Dick Bolles: I'll give you the mini-version. First of all I am ordained. I have been for 48 years. I was Pastor at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. I got layed off from there because they ran out of money. It wasn't like they were terribly dissatisfied with my service to them. I got fired for what today would be called a downsizing, but that language didn't even exist in those days. I had to cast about for where to go and I got another job again for the Church. I was supervising all of the Episcopal campus ministers in the nine western states. At that time the Episcopal Church joined an entity called "United Ministries in Higher Education" where they tried to work with a number of denominations, not just with Episcopalians. So I was on the campus talking to all the campus ministers and asking, "What can I do for you? I don't have any money or control your budget. Do you want me to go talk to your superiors and tell them what you need?" This was in 1968 and they said that they were being let go because the money ran out. I said, "I know something about that! That just happened to me!" So they asked me to tell them what to do, and I said I didn't know. But I would linger an extra day or so in every city I went to and ask the question: If you are job hunting and agencies, ads and resumes don't find it for you, what is your alternative? Another question was: If you want to change careers, how do you do it without having to go back to college? Of course, nobody knew. The rare souls that did know, I would go interview at length. I slapped all the information I gathered together as a manual to help these campus ministers that I was supervising. They were facing having to leave the church, and they didn't want to go back into a parish. They wanted to go into secular life and I had to help them find how to do that. I slapped this idiot title on it because one time I was at a meeting and someone said, "We need to discuss these guys having to bail out" and I said, "What color is your parachute?" They all thought that was very amusing so I gave that title to the book. It's now sold over 7 million copies. My publisher years later said, "Had the book died, it would have been that title that killed it. Now that the book lives, it is that title that saves it."

Share Guide: It's a unique title. It stuck with me ever since college. I've seen the parachute on the new edition and thought, "Oh I remember that."

Dick Bolles: It was just a flippant remark I made. Someone said they had to bail out so I was picturing what bailing out means…like someone going out of an airplane. In other words it's a nonsensical title that doesn't mean anything.

Share Guide: On one level, yes, I see that, but now that you explained the origin, what I am getting out of it is that your parachute is kind of like your skills, what you have to work with.

Dick Bolles: For those seeking to find meaning in it, I've heard lots of theories. An amusing story is how the clerical collar got invented and what the Church said about it. I'm talking about the white thing that goes around the neck and the black thing that goes over it with a notch in the front. How that got to be the mark of the clergy is that in England, in the 16th or the 17th century, everybody wore that kind of shirt. Then fashions changed. Everyone stopped wearing that kind of shirt, but the clergy were too poor to go out and buy new shirts. They were still wearing this antiquated design that nobody else was using anymore. It began to be distinctive of their caste, if you will. They started to invent all kinds of reasons. They said it represented the yoke of Christ and made up all these wonderful explanations for why they were wearing these shirts and collar, but the actual answer is that they were too poor to embrace the latest fashion. In the same way, you look at the title of my book and add whatever high minded meaning you want to, but it is still in the same realm of the clerical collar as far as I'm concerned. It really doesn't have a meaning.

Share Guide: You talk about rejection shock in relation to job hunting--the despair people feel when they get told NO so many times. Does this cause a lot of people to settle for jobs they don't really want?

Dick Bolles: Yes, and surprisingly enough, it causes a lot of people to give up their job hunt altogether.

Share Guide: And stay where they are?

Dick Bolles: No, give up their job hunt and stay unemployed.

Share Guide: But what if you are hungry?

Dick Bolles: Well, it's amazing how many solutions people come up with. The most common one is that they throw themselves onto the mercy of their parents.

Share Guide: You mentioned stop-gap jobs as being sometimes necessary, but how many take these kinds of temporary jobs and then move on?

Dick Bolles: They often get stuck in them out of pure inertia.

Share Guide: There are lots of people in middle-age going back to school to train for holistic careers. Maybe they want to be a massage therapist, a psychotherapist, a nutritionist. Those are just three careers I see all the time where there are a lot of graduates, but they only have a vague idea of the next step after school. These people often don't really know how to support themselves in their new chosen career. They might call me and want to advertise in The Share Guide. and want to get going and be enthusiastic, but they have no direction. They don't know their target market; they have no business plan. Some of them are more tenacious than others, but some drop out right away and I often wonder what became of them.

Dick Bolles: Only a survey would ever tell you the answer.

Share Guide: That's true. I really like the advice in your book about the need to find new clients being similar to being in a perpetual job hunt. You need to be prepared for this if you want to be self-employed.

Dick Bolles: Absolutely. What I was striking at there was the misconception that self-employment is the road to the gravy train. It is not the final answer to the job hunt; it's like taking on a dozen job hunts at the same time.

Share Guide: If you consider getting a job after an interview to be like making the sale (you sold yourself to a given company), then in that sense I'm selling The Share Guide every day to different people, my potential advertisers. Anyone who is going into massage therapy, counseling, naturopathy, etc needs to constantly be in search of new clients. You will get some regular clients but you certainly get a percentage that come and go. You have to be ready for this practical stuff.

Dick Bolles: Yes, it is an important issue. The answer to the dilemma for many of these people, especially massage therapists, career counselors and psychologists for example, is they can sell their services to a particular place and let the place find the clients, a subcontractor if you will, that does the work of generating new business.

Share Guide: Right, then you are getting out of the sale part.

Dick Bolles: Yes, you are working only with clients already handed to you who want or need the services you have to offer. Many find that is a useful measure to embrace at a particular period in their career, like when they are just starting out. But they find over time that they chafe at the bit because they essentially wanted to be independent and now they have sold their soul to the company store, so to speak. It's a dilemma. You have steady clients but you don't make as much money because the company takes a good share of whatever's offered by the individual. It just isn't very rewarding in the long-term, but it is a good stop-gap measure for the short-term.

Share Guide: You need to invest energy in soliciting business for your new career.

Dick Bolles: If you are going to go independent, you have to get someone that has the skills you don't. I know many people that went for the right livelihood option, and they feel very rewarded that they were able to get into it, but then they suddenly notice that they are starving. They failed to sit down and figure out what it costs in terms of skills they don't have so that they can be successful. Most often it is the sales aspect.

Share Guide: I got into sales because it was the hardest thing for me to delegate to others. So I took the bull by the horns and went to a sales training school with a world famous sales trainer named Tom Hopkins. And I have followed his work for decades since then. I feel like I'm one of very few in the holistic health movement who's trained in that skill. I once considered going to work for Farmer's Insurance, believe it or not. They were actually using the same sales training program from Tom Hopkins, except they had the expensive video set, whereas I had bought the audio set. I played those tapes on my lunch break, so I could learn to be better at sales. I am telling this story for the sake of the readers. I think it's a very important point. I often meet practitioners or New Age business owners that are having trouble supporting themselves. Do you think the various schools and training programs are remiss in teaching people how to pursue the profession as an actual business?

Dick Bolles: Of course.

Share Guide: I think this should be the final part of the program at all these schools, so people know how to go make it happen. Folks need to have a realistic idea of how much savings they'll need, how much time they'll need to invest, and what specific steps to take. Otherwise they give their dream up too soon.

Dick Bolles: I want to say a little about giving up your dream. The dream is often missed, unachieved in a person's life because they keep it as a big umbrella term. Like I want to be a ---------, put in a name of some occupation. They need to think out clearly what are the atoms that make up this career? What are the individual skills a person needs to have in order to do this work? What fields do they need to know something about--as you were just saying, sales is one example. If the first idea doesn't work, they can build a different structure with those same components, whereby the dream as they first saw it may be unattainable, but now having rearranged parts of it they are able to find something that gives them all that they thought the other dream job would do, but with a different job title. For instance, maybe they don't become a doctor, but find another job in the medical profession. This is the hard work of taking your dream and not just leaving it as a big umbrella but sitting down and doing the exercises that are in the back of my book. At first these exercises weren't part of the book, and everyone was floundering saying that they didn't know how to deal with manifesting the dream. So I said let's figure it out, and I studied the work of people who had found solutions by breaking it down into these parts, and I decided that was the key. So since 1976 I have had this section in my book.

Share Guide: I think the exercises are one of the most important parts of the book because it is like doing your homework, which includes soul searching as well as looking out at the world and deciding what you want to do in it. I would recommend your book to any of my readers who are having questions about how they are doing in their path of self-employment.

Dick Bolles: The latest version of the book examines the internet and job hunting quite extensively. The five uses of the internet are testing, research, contacts, job postings and resumé postings. That is important to know because the job postings and resumé postings are the LEAST useful parts of the internet. There are millions of people that visit those job boards and such and only 10% actually find a job. So 90% are turned away empty. But people need to know there are other parts of the internet that can be very useful to them, even though the job or resumé posting boards may not be.

Share Guide: Exactly. On your website I read an article that you wrote called Job Hunting after September 11th. I encourage people to check that out because it seems that everybody is having to get a little more personal these days which is important.

Dick Bolles: Yes, very much so.

Share Guide: A few key phrases from the book: "What did you come into the world to do?" I thought that was a very meaningful question to ask yourself. "Work is love made visible." "Enthusiasm comes from entheos, being in God's spirit."

Dick Bolles: It literally means being in God.

Share Guide: Inspiration, I know, comes from being "in spirit."

Dick Bolles: The word vocation also springs from organized religion. During the Middle Ages vocare, meant "to call," implying God calls you to this. In other words, if you speak of vocation, the first question to ask is who is doing the calling?

Share Guide: Finding one's mission in life is not something that we solve overnight. It's a learning process that takes time. That's what we've been talking about. I think we can make more difference in the world by thinking about that rather than just money. Can you think of certain areas that are good fields to look into these days?

Dick Bolles: I don't know the answer to that and I don't really think there is an answer. The best fields to move into are the ones that match the particular God-given talent that each person has. Until you inventory those talents and know what they are, you are always going to be at the mercy of somebody selling you some pitch that says where to go. I do think this is a message that people need to take seriously. If you inventory what you've got, you often will save yourself a lot of grief by going to acquire new knowledge--because you may find that the field you love most is a field you are already very experienced in, because skills are transferable.

Share Guide: That's right. I want to end with a quote from your book which is "Life has deep meaning to me now that I've put time into my job hunt. I have discovered more than my ideal job; I have found my mission and the reason why I am here on earth." That is putting spirit into action.

For more information about Dick Bolles and his book
What Color is Your Parachute?, please visit his informative website: JobHuntersBible.com


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