This 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.