Interview with "Parachute" Author, Richard Nelson Bolles

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Interview with "Parachute" Author, Richard Nelson Bolles

Postby Dave Jensen » Wed Dec 08, 2004 6:07 pm


I just read the notes from a ten-year old interview with the author of a book that has sold 20-million copies, "What Color is Your Parachute?" -- I found it remarkable how current his comments seemed, despite the ten years that have passed. Here's some snippets from that interview:

Jensen: ?Dick, there are some really unique aspects of a career in an entrepreneurial startup company. What advice do you have for the scientist facing the decision of going into either the ?security? of a Fortune 500 company, versus the excitement of a fast-paced startup? How does one choose between being comfortable in a secure environment versus being in a less stable but possibly more exciting career situation??

Bolles: ?There are no generalizations that you can make here, as it is a completely personal decision. Some people need adventure and constant challenge more than they need food and air to breathe. For those individuals, the one counsel we can give them is that they have to be skilled at the job hunt. If they feel that becoming entrepreneurs and taking these challenges is what they want, then they have to become better than the average person in the skills of the job hunt. It's been said before, but the people who get hired are not necessarily those who will do the job best, but those who know the most about how to get hired. Consequently, the scientist or engineer who wants to take the route of the young startup must take a better-than-average interest in developing these talents. Remember, job hunting is a learnable skill.?

Jensen: ?One of the false lines of thinking that I hear in this business is that big companies are somehow more secure and stable. We know this is not true because of the number of people and programs that have been stripped away from major corporations over the last few years, companies who just lost interest in certain research. Do you think that this will change in the future, or are we in for more of this??

Bolles: ?More of the same, for the rules that companies have to run by have not changed, and won't. No matter what aims they might also have, companies are run to be profitable. In order to be profitable, they have to take into consideration a number of factors. Unfortunately, the way the world of work is constructed it tends to be that the well-being of an individual employee is not one of those factors that is taken into account when making these decisions. If they can pare down some of the fat in the firm's expense account by discharging 54 scientists and still keep a viable company, then the fact that this may be a life-altering decision for some of those individuals is not taken into account.?

Jensen: ?Dick, one of the major companies in the business has recently announced that they would be ?trimming back? over 6,000 employees this year. Parachute is a very upbeat, positive book that makes a good point of how important it is to have the right attitude during the job search. Tell me, however, does attitude really help in a market that has turned soft, when companies like the one I mentioned have ?right-sized? to the point of making the competition for certain jobs quite intense??

Bolles: ?Let's go back a minute. Let's say that you are a 15-year old tennis player and you want to be a world-class tennis star. How do you get these skills? You would go and hire a coach and ask that person to teach you everything they know and have experienced. It is the same way for a person who really wants to learn the skills of the job hunt.?

Jensen: ?Use O.P.E., right? Other People's Experiences? Whether it?s first-hand or via books.?

Bolles: ?Right ? and when certain job markets turn soft as you have suggested, and there are a lot of people released into the market, the things that seem to separate the winners from the losers are how well the individual studies those job hunting skills and how much time they put into it. The average job hunter spends an average of 5 hours a week on the job search, and visits with two employers a month. We know that if you take that little time and see that few people, than the job hunt can take a long, long time. What we tell people when markets turn soft is to make a better than average time commitment, and to study and find a ?coach? for job-hunting skills. That's what Parachute is, a distillation of the experiences of other successful job hunters ? in effect a ?coach? for the inexperienced. Remember, the essence of the job hunt is competition, and what you want to do is to increase your ability to compete.?

Jensen: ?But that ability to compete also has a lot to do with that person's skills, doesn't it??

Bolles: ?Sure, and when a person has been let go from a company or is experiencing great difficulty in their job hunt, they should remember that their skills are not being stripped from them like the epaulets from the shoulder of a dishonorably discharged soldier. These skills are still in demand"

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Interview with "Parachute" Author, Richard Nelson Bolles

Postby Dave Jensen » Wed Dec 08, 2004 6:13 pm

Let's discuss this guy's comments . . . Do they make sense in today's world, or is it simply ten-year old advice that doesn't work any longer?

In particular, I really liked his comment that "the people who get hired are not necessarily those who will do the job best, but those who know the most about how to get hired." This is an honest and sincere comment, but what does it say about the hiring process? Is the hiring process that companies use set up to get the best person for the job -- or not???

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Interview with

Postby Ken » Wed Dec 08, 2004 6:37 pm

I tried to say this in another thread, but I'm not sure that it made as much sense as I wanted.

Anyway, I think that "those who know the most about how to get hired" is being used in a sort of derogatory way here. But, if you are the type of person who can step back, analyze the hiring process, adapt yourself to fit into it, and succeed at it, then maybe you ARE the best person for the job. Those are real skills that translate into other areas, particularly science (and particularly science in industry).

I'd rather hire a moderately successful scientist with this ability than a rigid "thinker".
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Interview with

Postby Andrew » Wed Dec 08, 2004 7:22 pm

A lot of people assume that because we are looking for a scientist, that the best candidate for the job is simply the best scientist. Its not necessarily so. Most things you do in industry are so much easier than anything you do in graduate school that we don't feel the need to select for brilliance. Its simply not a requirement, so we select for other things. The one that "knows how to get hired" is the one who understands that we value communication, leadership, teramwork, and other business skills as well as the technical areas. Not that the science isn't important, but its EASY to find technically qualified people. Its harder when you add in these other things. So, I agree with Bolles and I defend our processes which give this result.
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