Updated on 12.03.07

What Color Is Your Parachute? How to Hunt for a Job

Trent Hamm

parachuteThis is the first part of The Simple Dollar Book Club reading of What Color Is Your Parachute?, a seminal guide to your career. These entries appear weekly, each Monday afternoon, and you’re invited to read along. This entry covers chapters one through four in the 2008 edition (earlier editions are roughly similar).

The book starts off by listing three essential life skills: how to choose and find a job, how to choose and find an appropriate partner, and how to think and make good decisions. I think it’s very rare when people succeed at all three – most of us usually have difficulty with at least one of these. I know personally that I didn’t give adequate thought to my career choices earlier on – and perhaps that’s why I find this book so interesting.

Chapter 1: The Five Best Ways To Hunt For A Job (And The Five Worst)

Most of the worst ways to find a job are rather obvious: using the internet, sending out your resume at random, answering ads in trade journals, answering ads in your local newspaper, and going to private employment agencies. All of these have one thing in common: there’s no active connection between you and the potential employer. All of these connections are passive – it’s quite easy for someone to just toss your resume in the trash can because there’s no investment. There’s also minimal investment from you – you’re just tossing stuff out there to see what sticks. If neither one of you are invested in the connection, it’s mere luck that causes one to be made.

If you want a job, you have to create that sense of investment with a potential employer and also with yourself, and the five best ways to find a job are all focused on creating that sense of investment: finding a job through family or friends or a social contact, knocking on the door of the place where you want a job, calling employers very specifically in the area that you want to work (by yourself as well as in a group), and doing a life changing job hunt.

That last one, the life changing job hunt, is the one that is the most effective, because you spend the time to figure out what you really want. When you’ve really got it figured out, you’ll be invested deeply in it yourself and you’ll chase it with a deep passion. In combination with the other tactics (and combination is key), you’ll have a huge advantage in moving forward to find the job you really want. This book is mostly about that life changing job hunt.

Chapter 2: The Nature of the Job Market

This chapter addresses most of the whining I hear from people who don’t like their jobs or are having a hard time in the job search. Although a lot of points are offered up, a few really stood out to me.

No one owes you a job. It doesn’t matter how great your resume is, no one owes you a job. It’s up to you to step up to the plate, go out there, and do the footwork to get a job. I know a lot of people who just show up to work and sit around, believing somehow that they’re owed a job, and if they’re fired you hear no end to the belly-aching – the same is true for at least a few friends of mine who seem to be engaged in perpetual job searching.

There’s always a “bogeyman.” Over the last several years, it has been job loss to India and China. Right at the moment, it appears to be the falling dollar and peak oil. Just remember that we were all panicked about Japan in the 1980s, for example. I find such sentiments to be amusing – of course we should facilitate some response to the falling dollar, but running around shouting “DOOM!” is not the appropriate one, and we also shouldn’t expect it to cause everyone to lose their jobs.

You can quit at any time. I see a lot of people simply married to their jobs. They’re very unhappy, but they can’t quit for whatever reason they’ve made up in their head. The truth of the matter is that they’ve either put themselves in a financial position where they’re afraid to make some sort of a leap or they like enough aspects of their job that they’re just upset about a small handful of negatives. I have found that building up enough financial security that I could leave my job and not worry too much about it has been amazing for my sense of freedom and independence.

Chapter 3: How to Deal With Handicaps

Part of the reason I wanted to read this book again in great detail is because there are so many little strokes of genius throughout it. The first one is in this chapter, where it suggests a really interesting exercise for job hunters with some sort of handicap. The book provides a list of about 250 action verbs, and then it invites the reader to separate these into two lists – ones you cannot do and ones that you can do (or at least potentially can do).

This activity is wonderful because most people with handicaps that might still be reading What Color Is Your Parachute? will have a much longer list of things they can do than things they cannot do. That’s incredibly empowering, as it takes the focus away from the handicap and puts it on the skills a person has, which is where the value is anyway.

For non-handicapped readers, there’s really only one point that should be brought out of this chapter: the idea that a handwritten thank you note is incredibly valuable to send after any interview, whether it be good or bad. A note like that shows that you actually care about the position in a personal way, which speaks a lot about your character to the people doing the hiring. You’ll also stand out distinctly from the horde that doesn’t bother to send one.

Chapter 4: How Much Help Is The Internet?

If you start using online resources a lot and think about them critically, the answers in this chapter aren’t surprising. The internet is very good for connecting with people (and maintaining connections) as well as doing research into your potential career choice. Where it fails is in direct job applications: most of the online postings I see are usually met with a pile of spam-filled submissions and nonsense. Plus, most online job postings seem to already have a candidate in mind and the posting is done as part of procedure.

Thus, use the internet to talk to people and do research, but don’t use it as your primary mechanism to actually find a job. Use those people that you’re connected to and the other techniques identified as good ones from the first chapter.

I will say that every job I’ve ever had came about as a result of a personal connection with someone, either directly with the employer or via a friend who connected me to the employer. The internet only helped with doing some preparation for interviews and also with maintaining friendships and associations.

Next week, we’ll read chapters five through seven in What Color Is Your Parachute?, covering resumes, interviews, and salary negotiation. In my 2008 edition, these appear on pages 59 to 138.

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  1. Johanna says:

    I conducted my last job search solely by answering ads posted on the internet. I got six interviews and two offers, including one for my current job, which I love. So my resume was not getting thrown in the trash. Either I am extraordinarily talented (ha!), extraordinarily lucky (wouldn’t count that one out…), or else the internet isn’t such a horrible way to find a job after all.

    One thing worth noting, though: I didn’t search for jobs on generic job-listing websites. I looked directly at the websites of organizations I admired and wanted to work for, and I looked at job-listing websites that are specific to my field.

  2. Chad says:

    In reading this I found it interesting to see the number of jobs that churned so to speak. I don’t have the book in front of me but it was like 40 mil or something like that.

    Plus the bogeyman section. There is always something that has to be worrying so that employers get the upper hand. I have found that more outsourcing fails then succeeds but I am sure that trend will reverse itself as people are better at both managing and doing it.

    It boils down to maintaining frugality so that you can pick a job that doesn’t require huge paychecks to live the life you want to live.

  3. Chris H. says:

    I did something similar to Johanna, I looked at the jobs section of the websites of companies that I was interested in rather than the big job-clearinghouse sites and it worked great for me.

    I haven’t read WCIYP for quite a few years, but I seem to recall the edition I read warning about the HR department and how a major part of their job is to screen you out. So true! The HR department at my current job was a total dead end for me, I dealt with excuses from them for months (Oh I lost your resume, could you send another…). My wife told me to give up, but I tried one last time- what I did was to find a scientist at the company (I was looking for a scientific position) and contact them directly. They weren’t the right person, but they passed my resume to the scientist who was hiring and I got a call for an interview the next day. They ended up hiring me even though they wanted postdoc experience, which I didn’t have, because I was tenacious going after the job and because I worked really, really hard to prepare for the interview. In some circumstances, you CAN get past the old ‘no-job-without-experience-but-no-experience-without-the-job’ problem.

    I’ve participated in many interviews since, on the other side of the table, and I’m utterly shocked at how unprepared many of the candidates are. It’s scary to think that they’re the ones that made it past the resume screen! I love interviewing when I have a well prepared candidate that asks intelligent questions, I hate it when I have a ‘job moocher’ who clearly just sends a stock resume out to any job that even remotely matches.

  4. natasha says:

    The job search process has gotten more difficult to do without going online these days; it seems like just about everyone has their applications online, especially if you’re going for positions with larger companies or government entities. I got the job I’m just about to start at through online applications, and got two of the last three jobs I’ve had from online applications. The hardest part is when you have few to no connections, because then your method of “use your connections” doesn’t go very far– especially if your connections aren’t in a field you’re interested in or capable of working in. In the area I live in, the tourist industry is the largest industry in the area, and online applications are ubiquitous for even the most mundane or important positions. Then again, the jobs are mostly disposable and don’t pay a living wage. There’s definitely a lot to be said about what happens when most of the jobs in an area won’t pay enough for a person to survive on just one job alone.

  5. Laura says:

    I don’t think you can reiterate enough how important handwritten thank-you notes are to obtaining a job. Awhile ago I was by chance asked to help play host to a visiting lecturer while all the professors were busy (I’m in college). Even though I wasn’t searching for jobs in his city I sent a note thanking him for the conversation and lecture. Not a few days later I received a package in the mail containing a personal invitation to interview at his firm and some booklets. The remaining booklets were for the other students we dined with: who didn’t write thank-yous and whose names he couldn’t even remember, even though one of the students attended solely to network a job.

    Thank you notes may seem like something that gets thrown away with only a glance, but I’ve spotted my thank-you cards sitting on the desks of my employers months after I sent them! It’s amazing the power and rarity of a handwritten letter.

  6. Minimum Wage says:

    It’s not about hiring the best person for the job, it’s about hiring the person who is best at getting a job. I’m not into that inauthentic game.

  7. Brian C says:

    I have had a lot of success applying for jobs online. To obtain an interview (and eventual offer) for my last 2 jobs, I made the initial contact by applying at the company’s website; I did not have a contact at the company. Both jobs experienced engineering jobs.

  8. UltraRob says:

    In the past 12.5 years I’ve had 5 jobs without counting the new job I started last week. 3 of them make up 12 years and the other 2 make up 6 months combined. The difference? I had connections to the 3 companies I stayed at longer. The oher 2 I didn’t.

    I found the job that I just started on one of the big job sites although I was working some other opportunities through networking. I think the thing that made my resume stand out to the hiring manager was that I had started at one of her old jobs a couple years after she left. I have worked with a lot of people that she used to. Another long distance mountain bike racer I know works there although I didn’t realize it before I applied for the job. I may have found the job on a big job site but I think it was my connections that got me the job.

  9. I’m going to echo Chris H. that it’s important to be prepared for the interview. My husband had an interview today, and he said it seemed like the guy who conducted the interview was pleasantly surprised at the intelligent questions my husband asked.

  10. !wanda says:

    @MW: The trick is to be both- both the best person for the job and the best person for getting the job. People aren’t fair, and as long as people do hiring and not computers, hiring isn’t going to be fair either.

  11. KarenFLA says:

    I have helped people get jobs as part of my living for over 35 years. One thing has not changed. Want ads are one of the poorest ways to get a job. The best way is through someone you know and the next best is to contact a company directly. It used to be through the yellow pages, now it has expanded to include the internet. The concept has not changed. What kind of job do you want and what company hires people for that kind of job? If you work full time at finding a job (40 hours a week) contacting companies directly, you will get a job. If you just answer the want ads, you will be unemployed for a long time. I tell people to call the companies directly they find and ask if they can fax over their resume and to who’s attention. Often they are told to fax it to a specific department head. They can then call that person a week later because they have a name and the person has the resume. Also, the resume has to reflect the specific job they want like: to find a sales job where I can use my strong interpersonal skills. Resumes with goals like: “To work for a company that provides personal growth” get tossed in the garbage.

  12. beth says:

    has anybody used librarything.com

    it helps you catalog your books and network with others who have read same or similar books

  13. Kathy says:

    I have done both: got a very good job because I knew someone there who was an old friend, AND found a job via the internet. I really wouldn’t discount either one, because everybody’s circumstances are different.

    If you don’t have a friend where you are wanting to go, or if you unfortunately have enemies in that place, the old “network” idea is pretty useless to you.

    My job now is a federal job, and while I can’t say that I love it, it offered decent and stable employment in the “good ole boy” area in which I choose to live. If I hadn’t found it, the BS politics of this place would have kept me unemployed FOREVER.

  14. Ryan S. says:

    As someone who is currently looking for a job, I appreciate this review greatly. I’ll see if I can get this one from the library….

  15. razmaspaz says:

    @Thank you letters:

    “You’ll also stand out distinctly from the horde that doesn’t bother to send one.”

    When I was an intern several years back, I was talking with my then boss. She said that I was hired for the job because I followed up. I guess there was one other guy they were considering, but he never really did anything to show interest. I sent a letter saying I was excited about the job, and to this day I am under the impression that the letter is why I got the job.

  16. Danny says:

    Just picked up the 2007 edition at my school’s library. I don’t know if I can catch up, but I will try!

    It seems to be just what I am looking for. I just switched majors/minors, and am just trying to figure out what to do.

  17. I think it depends on the job you’re looking for. If you want to work in a big bank as na asset manager for example, the only way to do it is to send a CV via email to the HR dept, where it will be processed and send further and so on – no way to get a connction with the company before the initial interview.
    But, if you’re looking for a job in a smaller firm or somewhere, where relations are more important, well that may be different..

  18. Cherokee says:

    Informative and entertaining. I’ve added your blog to my “reading material.” Keep me updated!

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