If there ever was a job seeker’s bible, it would be What Color Is Your Parachute?
Four decades after Richard “Dick” Bolles’ seminal title was published, the book continues to influence job seekers and the counselors who support them.
American Counseling Association member Rich Feller worked with Bolles and counts him as a mentor. Feller, a professor at Colorado State University and a past president of the National Career Development Association (NCDA), a division of ACA, wrote a section of Parachute titled “What the Parachute Flower Has Meant to Me.”
Years later, Feller says he gets at least one email per week from people around the world who tell him how influential the book has been in their lives.
Parachute is just as relevant today as it was when it was first published in 1972, according to Feller. “Even more so, considering how clients face an augmented workforce within a skills-based gig economy,” he says. “More than ever, clients must manage their career while navigating a lifetime of transitions.”
Bolles, an Episcopal minister and career counselor who studied chemical engineering at MIT and physics at Harvard University before his winding career path led him to write Parachute, passed away this year at age 90 in California.
Counseling Today asked career counselors from across ACA for their thoughts on Bolles’ legacy and how they have used What Color Is Your Parachute? in their work with clients – and their own personal journeys.
Dick Bolles and What Color Is Your Parachute? did more for counselors than any contemporary career development thought leader, bar none. Parachute popularized self-inventory, taught solid job-hunting skills, put color and fun into lifework planning and moved counselors from trait-factor to life-design practices.
Parachute nudged the field to stay current every year, not only about job searching but [about] how career development was a personal responsibility to stay fully alive. [Bolles] provided the framework for counselors to help people transfer skills into possibilities.
Without Parachute, we’d still be focused on “test and tell.” With it, counselors soon embraced positive psychology, life design, field research and job search as a body of knowledge.
I was lucky to have David Tiedeman send me to one of Dick’s first two-week retreats. Probably his first student to be a counseling professor, I later wrote the “What the Parachute Flower Has Meant to Me” section of the book telling how the book changed my life. A lifework planning champion since then, 90 percent of my “Flower,” published in Parachute, still holds true. Having taught the Parachute process to Colorado State University graduate students for 30 years, it has created counseling champions for career development.
Each principle found within Parachute can be seen in how I serve as witness to [clients’] own storytelling and meaning-making from formal or informal feedback. Self-inventory and clarification best precede intentional exploration, or clients end up chasing external motivation, interests shaped by an exposure bias and a hollowness and disengagement at work.
Self-disclosing my “Flower” to 11 million-plus readers has led to hundreds of letters received, suggesting it helped others gain clarity about their desires, assets and possibilities not identified through traditional sources. Each large-scale counseling project I’ve helped to create (lifereimagined.org, cdminternet.com, youscience.com or our Who You Are Matters! board game) are laced with sentences found within Parachute.
- Rich Feller
It’s a fair assumption that most professionals who practice counseling and psychotherapy have heard of, and many will have recommended to their clients, the best-selling job search book of all time, What Color Is Your Parachute? (10 million sold!). Richard Bolles, the author who first published the self-help book in 1972, refreshed or updated the book every year until the last time in 2017. He died at age 90 earlier this year.
For counselors like me who specialize in career, the passing of Richard Bolles might be more personally felt, like the loss of a dedicated mentor. Here was a man whose brilliant mind for several decades gave us an accessible how-to guide subtitled, “A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career Changers,” who knew from his own hard knocks of being laid off the importance of hope and humor and sprinkled that liberally in the book, and who as a one-time minister, always addressed the further reaches of human beings in the last chapter, [titled] “Finding Your Mission in Life.”
For these reasons and more, my first recommendation to every client, no matter what age or stage of career, is to send them to the source: Obtain a recent edition of Parachute, read it and do the exercises. The core of the book contains a self-inventory to help readers figure out what they really liked doing so that they could find the job that would let them do it.
This assignment did not make my job as a counselor redundant. Rather, it helped me do it at a more advanced level, with better-informed clients who understood the hidden job market, that heart is more important than intellect in choosing your best skills, and how and why to do informational interviews. Bolles, who also co-wrote a guide for counselors, forever transformed the career field, and his words will continue to guide many readers and counselors alike.
- Dave Gallison, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with a practice in Portland, Oregon, specializes in career and personal development. He collaborates with a guild of career counselors in Portland that also publishes a biweekly blog, Career Transition: The Inside Job.
I bought my first copy of Parachute in 1990 shortly after graduation from college. Having spent several months in a job that was less than meaningful on good days and completely disheartening on most days, I plunged into what became my first career guidance experience. I have clear memories of working through the prioritization grid and the flower exercise. I remember the realization that there were so many more possibilities for my career than I had previously considered.
Through Parachute, I gained so much awareness about the world of work, myself and the
mysterious job search process, and yet I still felt a vagueness regarding what I wanted to do with my life. My clients now share this familiar feeling with me. Indeed, Parachute was my first encounter with career counseling and guidance.
I recently co-taught a senior seminar – a course designed to facilitate healthy transitions from college to the “real world.” My co-instructors and I chose Parachute as one of the required texts. As I flipped through the book, I was flooded with memories. The blue pages in the back of the book, the résumé with the picture of the heavy equipment salesman and the picture letters pouring out of the mailman’s bag each reminded me of working through a pivotal and frustrating period of my life.
I was disappointed at the end of the semester when my students reported that Parachute wasn’t a favorite for them. A bit dated and “kind of blah” is how they reported their experience with the book. Ouch! I tried to disregard the glaring metaphor. I took my copy to my counseling office. Two weeks later, one of my clients asked to borrow the book. When he returned the next week, he raved about Parachute, insisting that it was just what he needed. It may still hold some relevance.
- Chris Pisarik, associate professor in the Division of Academic Enhancement at the University of Georgia and LPC with a private practice in Athens, Georgia
What Color Is Your Parachute has provided hope, insight and guidance to job seekers and career-changers for over four decades. I always valued the relevant and practical suggestions that came with each new edition. This was especially true for my clients and students after the Great Recession of 2008, when it seemed the rules of the job seeking game had changed. Richard Bolles consistently modified his book to reflect the current economic landscape and addressed how to thrive within this “whole new world for job hunters.”
In What Color Is Your Parachute, Bolles gave people permission and direction to reflect on what was most important in their lives. This reflection allowed them to discover how to leverage their skills, knowledge and networks to reach their career goals. I often directed my clients and students to the pink pages at the end of the book, which included resources [such as] how to discover your life mission and how to cope with your feelings while out of work.
Professionally, I appreciated that Bolles included a guide to choosing a career coach or counselor in his pink pages. Often, individuals who are unemployed or underemployed aren’t sure what steps they can take to improve their situation. I wonder how many people over the past 47 years have picked up this book, read through the pink pages and decided then and there to connect with a career counselor? This book will continue to have a lasting impact on our clients, our profession and ourselves.
Rebecca E. Michel, assistant professor at DePaul University, licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC) in Chicago and Gallup Certified Strengths Based Coach
Richard (Dick) Nelson Bolles brought career planning and job search assistance to everyone. He did so in a folksy, step-by-step manner that put people at ease and demystified a process that seemed, to many, to be unwieldy and unmanageable. Dick was very charming, both one-on-one and in his presentations. When he spoke, he had a charisma that drew you in and made you feel important. His seminal work, What Color Is Your Parachute? set the stage for numerous other self-help career and job search books.
He made interpersonal networking the key to professional success. The myriad of activities he developed have been so often used, modified and replicated that they have nearly become public domain. They are so frequently a part of career development and job search courses that most people who train them to others don’t realize from where they originated.
Dick Bolles not only made a lasting impact upon the field of career development but upon millions of job seekers throughout the world. While he will be missed personally, his legacy lives on.
- David M. Reile, NCDA president (2016-2017), licensed psychologist, National Certified Career Counselor and Master Career Counselor
Dick Bolles devoted his life to empowering people to find work that connects with who they are and who they hope to become. He was a formidable figure in the career development field and the impact he has made on the lives of countless people around the world is truly remarkable.
Personally, I recall when I contacted Dick to invite him to serve as a keynote speaker at the 2004 NCDA conference. Fully aware of his elite status in our field and also aware of what keynote speakers at this level tend to require for speaking engagements, I was bracing myself for an amount that was likely out of our compensation range. Instead, Dick simply replied, “please compensate me at the same level you do others, no more no less.” Moreover, he made every effort to make himself available to our members, providing crucial support and encouragement to beginning and advanced career practitioners.
Dick thought “outside the box” long before this was fashionable. His creativity, imagination, insights and commitment will be sorely missed.
- Spencer Niles, NCDA past president (2003-2004) and president-elect-elect (2018-2019) and a dean and professor in the School of Education at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia
See a tribute video Rich Feller made about Bolles and Parachute for the recent NCDA conference at youtu.be/qZhEzRl0er8
How has What Color Is Your Parachute? influenced your own career path and work with clients? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.