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Richard Nelson Bolles

Richard Nelson Bolles

Renowned author of the What Color Is Your Parachute? Series

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Bradley Richardson

Business author, professional speaker and career development...

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Tanya Flynn

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Richard Nelson Bolles on Job Loss

Richard Nelson Bolles on Job Loss

Richard Nelson Bolles has been a leader in the career development field for more than 35 years. His What Color Is Your Parachute? series has sold more than nine million copies since it was first published in the early 1970s, and the latest edition for 2008 is updated for the ever-changing job landscape. Here, Bolles explains why the first 30 days after a job loss is a vital time.

How did losing your job inspire you to write What Color Is Your Parachute?

In 1968, I was fired. I found an opening in Ministry and Higher Education in my parish, where you went around visiting various campuses. I applied and received the position. Eventually the ministers on these campuses were being laid off, just as I had been, and they were looking to me for leadership. They said, “You’ve been through this. What should we do?” I said, “I haven’t the foggiest notion.” But they said, “Can you find out?” I traveled about 68,000 miles asking two questions: “How do you change careers without going back to school?” and “If you try sending out résumés to agencies and they don’t get you the job, what’s Plan B?”

I finally found someone in Virginia, named John Crystal, who knew the answer. I interviewed him for hours and put together a semblance of the answers. I had a free newsletter and I sent it to the campus ministers. The ministers were happy to have the research. It had a distinct salmon-colored cover. Then, a domino effect occurred, where people started seeing this “book” on various ministers’ desks and ordering it. Later, I slapped a silly title on it, What Color Is Your Parachute? This title was in answer to their common phrase: “I’m gonna have to bail out.”

Should people expect to be emotional about a job loss?

A person is basically in shock as much as they would be if a bomb went off near them. They’re dazed by what’s happened to them. I’ve been fired twice. The second time, I didn’t see it coming and all I could think about was, “I have a family to support.” You can feel heavy pressure to move instantly to meet the challenge, but on the other hand, you’re sort of paralyzed.

Why is the first month such a vital time after a job loss?

Well, the job hunt typically takes as much as 19 weeks, so people can use the first 30 days as an opportunity. People need to rest and work through emotions with someone they trust. They can say, “Oh good, I face a new chapter in my life and I can figure out what I want it to be about.” After 30 days, that kind of thinking—and finding the time to do it—becomes a luxury.

How can someone turn a job loss into a positive change?

To turn a job loss into a meaningful experience, you need to get more information about yourself. Everyone assumes they know who they are, but that’s not necessarily the case. Take time to analyze what seven experiences you’ve had where you were enjoying yourself and had some sort of goal you wanted to achieve. Ask yourself, “What were the skills I was using when I was having such a good time?” You’ll quickly find you don’t know yourself well at all. Write these experiences out as stories.

Then, find two other people who are in a similar situation—which is not hard to do, incidentally—and agree to meet every week. You each write one of your seven stories at each meeting, and then let them tell you what they heard in the story. We’re excellent at seeing the virtues of other people, but we’re blind to our own excellence. The homework to turn it into a positive is to identify what it is that makes you unique and where and how you could use your qualities.

What’s the single greatest trait that employers desire in a potential new employee?

Today, generalizations aren’t always very useful. Show me an employer with one idea of desired characteristics and I can show you three who don’t want those characteristics in someone. What they’re looking for will vary and a lot will depend on how the employer got burned before: If they got burned by a liar, or someone who played fast and loose with his finances, they’ll be looking to fix that.

Behavioral interviews tend to be dominant these days. Candidates will have to give examples of what they did with those skills. So they need to ask themselves, “Who am I? What is it I have to offer? What is it I love to do?” Candidates should be clear on their strongest and favorite skills. In my book, I explain that skills that are verbs are transferable skills, meaning functional skills transferable to any field.

What are the three most important things for someone to do during the first 30 days of a job loss?

1. Rest.
2. Talk out their feelings.
3. Identify their favorite skills and their favorite fields or interest.

What advice do you have for someone who’s in the midst of the first 30 days of job loss?

Be very concerned with what’s going on with your immediate family, not just with yourself. You need to have communication with your family and ask how they feel and realize you’re all in this together. There’s a tendency to put yourself in a cocoon after you’ve been laid off. Those people around you are just as concerned as you are. They need to be reassured that you’re all in this together.


What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?

I have a motto: “Pray as though everything depended on God; and then act as though everything depended on you.” When I’m facing change, I find I need to remember that God sees farther into the future than I do, and that He cares a great deal about what happens to each individual that He’s created on earth. So I’m never upset by change. I figure I’m about to set out on a magic carpet ride. And I always figure that the gifts I’ve been given and the experiences I’ve had are going to be useful to me in whatever I do in the future.

“The best thing about change is...”

It helps each of us to grow and become more of who we were meant to be when we were first brought into this world.

What’s the best change you have ever made?

Immediately after I got out of college, I went to seminary for three years so that I could become a minister. Nine hundred churches were closing during that time for lack of ministry; and I felt I needed to make a difference in that trend. And I stayed with that vocation for many years. That was the biggest change I ever made and also it was the most satisfying, although eventually change and circumstance caused me to segue into being an author by age 43.

For more information about Richard Nelson Bolles, visit www.jobhuntersbible.com.

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