I first received this book as a gift for my high school graduation, and it served as a bible during that fateful summer between high school and college. Based on the cover, I expected this book to simply be a guide on how to find a job and when I first opened the cover, I didn’t anticipate it to be much more than tips on how to write a resume and such.
By the end of the first chapter, though, I realized that this book was something entirely different: rather than simply being job advice, it was a guide to figuring out who you are and, based on that, defining your career goals. Basically, most of the book is a series of activities that you can follow to help you decide on a career, or select a different one if you current career isn’t working out for you.
I’ll say it right now: if you’re secure in your current career or are very sure of your future career, this book isn’t particularly helpful – but it isn’t written for you. However, if you’re unsure of your current career or have no idea what to do with your life, this book has the potential to be quite powerful.
What Color Is Your Parachute? is updated on an annual basis, so in order to write a review of this book for The Simple Dollar, I picked up the latest revision and went through the book again. In some ways it was eye opening, in others it was a walk down memory lane. But the real question is whether or not the book is useful for you.
The Things School Never Taught Us About The Job Hunt
The first section of the book was also the most boring one – it was basically a generic job-hunting guide that didn’t really offer anything surprising. The parts of the book that were really effective were the second and third sections – but those will wait until tomorrow.
Chapter 1: The Five Best Ways To Hunt For A Job – And The Five Worst
This chapter basically outlines a wide array of ways to hunt for a job – and then ranks them (approximately) according to their effectiveness. The least effective (unsurprisingly) is the internet, and the most effective? Re-evaluating your career goals and using those results to highly target your job search.
Chapter 2: The Nature of the Job Market
The moral of the story is that the world doesn’t owe you a job, but you also aren’t your employer’s slave, either. In other words, the best job for you is one that has personal value for you, so that you enjoy and want to work effectively in the job.
Chapter 3: How Much Help Is The Internet?
In a nutshell, it’s good for self-evaluation, for research, and for making contacts. Outside of these, the internet is largely rubbish in terms of advancing your career. The Simple Dollar focuses on two of these areas, self-evaluation and research.
Chapter 4: How To Deal With Handicaps
Focus on maximizing what you can do, not what you can’t do. The idea of making a list of your skills, starting each one off with an action word, is a very good one for building up your confidence.
Chapter 5: Resumes: How To Get In To See An Employer
This chapter is actually not about resumes – it’s more about a variety of ways to get your foot in the door with an employer of your choosing. The idea I found useful was the one of persistence: ask everyone you know if they know someone at the company, then ask anyone who does know someone at that company if they would make the contact for you.
Chapter 6: Interviews: The Employer’s Fears
This is one of the best single pieces I’ve read on preparing yourself for an interview. In fact, it may be where I became convinced of the value of personal appearance and of etiquette. The best advice I’ve ever heard for an interview is to end that interview by directly asking the employer, “Can I have this job?” It exudes the right kind of self confidence.
Chapter 7: Salary Negotiation: Getting Paid What You’re Worth
This section closes with an overview of the salary negotiation process, which basically boils down to letting the employer state that they want you and also having them state how much they want to pay you. Information is the key, and you should maximize it.
When The Unexpected Happens – How To Deal With Change
The second section of What Color Is Your Parachute? is substantially more interesting than the first. It’s broken down into three chapters, each one dealing with a major life change that you will likely face at some point in your life.
Chapter 8: How To Pick A New Place To Live
I thought this was a very interesting chapter to include in a job on careers, especially given that this chapter basically states that the best reason for moving is not for a job, but to find a place that’s safe and potentially surrounded by familiar things and people.
Particularly powerful (for me) is that the chapter gave significant attention and weight to the idea of “going rural,” meaning that you’re moving to the country to escape the rat race of the city. This would fly completely in the face of a typical career guide, but it goes to show why this one is more worthwhile than most: it looks at a whole life approach of determining where you should go.
Chapter 9: How To Choose A New Career
This chapter is very compressed, but the information that is there is tight. It also had one of my favorite exercises in the whole book, which I’ll repeat here:
Take a large piece of white paper, with some colored pencils or pens, and draw a picture of your ideal life: where you live, who’s with you, what you do, what your dwelling looks like, what your ideal vacation looks like, etc. Don’t let reality get in the way. Pretend a magic wand has been waved over your life and it gives you everything you think your ideal life would be.
Now, of course you can’t draw. Okay, then make symbols for things, or create little “doodads” or symbols, with labels – anything so that you can see all together on one page, your vision of your ideal life – however haltingly expressed.
Try it – it can be quite powerful and enlightening. I first tried it, intending to spend about ten minutes on it, but I found myself doodling for hours and adding details over days. It made me really figure out what I wanted to be doing with my life – and incidentally, it was writing.
Chapter 10: How To Start Your Own Business
This book is not a guide on how to start a small business; if you’re hoping for that, look elsewhere. Basically, this chapter is about self-employment – and it’s not motivational, either. Much of it deals with reasons why you shouldn’t take the leap, in order to convince people that self-employment is fraught with risks. If you want a cheerleading session on being an entrepreneur, look elsewhere. On the other hand, it does have some very realistic and useful advice for leveraging your risk if you do take the leap into self-employment.
Resuming The Search To Find Your Dream
It’s this final section that kicks What Color Is Your Parachute into high gear and really sets it apart from all of the other career books out there.
Chapter 11: The Three Secrets To Finding That Dream Job of Yours
This single chapter goes on for more than a hundred pages, and it’s perhaps the best hundred pages on the true art of finding the right job for yourself that I’ve ever read. The entire chapter ends up revolving around detailed evaluations of a number of exercises, one of which is perhaps the best thing I’ve ever seen for honest evaluation of career goals. Here’s the exercise in its entirety:
1. Take ten sheets of blank paper. Write, at the top of each one, the words: Who Am I?
2. Then write, on each sheet in turn, one answer to that question. And only one.
3. When you’re doin, go back over all ten sheets and expand upon what you have written at each sheet. Looking at each answer, write below it why you said that and what turns you on about that answer.
4. When you’r finished with all ten sheets, go back over them and arrange them in order of priority. That is, which identity is most important to you? That page goes on top. Then, which is next? That goes immediately after the top one. Continue arranging the rest of the sheets in order until the least important identity is on the bottom of the pile.
5. Finally, go back over the ten sheets in order and look particularly at your answer on each sheet to What turns me on about this? See if there are any common denominators or themes among the ten answers you gave. If so, jot them down on a separate piece of paper.
Those things you jotted down in step five are the very core of what you should be doing with your life. I did this very exercise just now, and it revealed to me what I’ve believed all along: I should be a writer.
The remainder of the chapter is full of similar exercises that are each quite effective at bringing out important aspects of yourself that are vital for correctly determining the career that’s right for you. The above exercise, though, starts off the chapter and felt incredibly powerful to me.
Chapter 12: How To Find Your Mission In Life
This final chapter is almost like a coda to the book, with the preceding chapter being the book’s climax. Basically, the idea to finish the book is that your career is merely one piece of your life, and that it should be in line with the overall goals of your life, a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with.
Buy or Don’t Buy?
When I sat down to read What Color Is Your Parachute? again to review it on this site, I opened the book and recalled reading it more than ten years ago when I was trying to decide what to do with my life. I was a country kid who had basically thought he was going to work in a factory most of his life until, out of the blue, a full scholarship was dropped on me almost unexpectedly. I didn’t have any idea of who I was or what I wanted to do.
What Color Is Your Parachute? revealed to me two essential truths about who I was and what I ought to be doing: that I was very strong with logical skills and that I should be a writer. I wound up going off and majoring in mathematics (at first) and I somewhat left the writing idea in the dust.
So, this past week, I went through all of those exercises again, and what did they reveal more than anything else? I should be a writer. Time and time again, this book pointed me in that natural direction, even though in some ways I’ve been fighting against that current for most of my life.
The success of this site has been the first real encouragement (outside of this book) I’ve ever had in my life towards being a writer. Whenever I’ve even hinted at the idea in the past, people have encouraged me not to do it, that it’s a poor man’s road unless you’re very lucky. Even my high school English teacher, who did more to shape my writing (and especially my quick drafting) skills than anyone else, discouraged me from following it as a career.
Somehow, again, I am at a crossroads, and again this book has pointed its finger in the direction of being a writer. Maybe I’ll finally follow that path.
So, do I recommend What Color Is Your Parachute? If you aren’t completely confident about your career and your goals in life, this book is an incredibly powerful read. It’s loaded with various exercises for teasing out what you should really be doing with your life. Even though some of them seem redundant, silly, or archaic, if you just dive into it for a while and really allow yourself to do some self-discovery, this book might be one of the most powerful things you’ll ever read in your life.
As for what it did for me in terms of making me consider a life of writing… stay tuned. I may have something big to announce soon.
What Color Is Your Parachute? is the eighteenth of fifty-two books in The Simple Dollar’s series 52 Personal Finance Books in 52 Weeks.