All over the country, there seem to be a million career and job-hunting experts spewing out advice. But there’s only one authority on alternative approaches to job hunting: Richard Bolles. Most people know Bolles through his best-selling book, What Color Is Your Parachute? (Ten Speed Press). The book has sold 6 million copies since it first came out 27 years ago. Bolles still does extensive changes and rewrites on each new edition, which is updated annually with current statistics and resources. But it’s his own timeless advice that makes the book such a powerful tool in the job-seeking process. He recently spoke with writer Michael Pulley about unfulfilling jobs, how the government rigs the unemployment rate, and why the Internet is a very limited tool when it comes to job hunting.
MP: Why do most people in this country continue to stay in dead-end jobs, and why do they do so little to look for more fulfilling work?
Richard Bolles: It’s safer to stay in the job they know. There’s an old saying that goes, “Better to endure the evils that we know than to flee to others we know not of.”
I believe two things: I believe that when it comes to job hunting, we essentially want to take the easiest way the easiest way being whatever our friends have told us is the easiest way. That means you go after jobs where there’s a known vacancy. They are advertised in newspapers or on the Internet.
But if you look at the job market from the point of view of the employer, advertising is one of the least favored ways of finding an employee. That is to say, they prefer hiring from within or promoting from within. They prefer talking to their buddies about someone that they know and so forth. If it’s a good job, a really good job, they’re able to fill the vacancy without ever advertising. Advertising is in many ways their court of last resort. It’s the last place to look.
So, naturally, the kind of jobs that get advertised are the ones they can’t fill any other way. That’s why if you use ads or go after vacancies as your primary job-hunting strategy, you’re going to end up looking at a lot of jobs that nobody else wants.
MP: What advice do you have for people looking for work?
RB: One strategy I suggest to people over and over is to get a job as a temporary at a place you want to work. You can see the place from the inside and decide if you want to work there. The more time you’re willing to put in on your job hunt, the higher-quality job you’re likely to find. But there are two “ifs” to that. One of them is if you’ve done some homework on yourself. The second is if you’re willing to approach any place that looks interesting to you, whether they are known to have a vacancy or not. You do that by researching them and getting appointments through contacts.
MP: The Internet seems to have become the latest fad in the career-changing business. What do you think of it as a job-search tool?
RB: A friend of mine put it this way: “They took a job-search strategy that has never worked very well anyway, and made an electronic version of it.” Another career expert, Peter Weddle (at www.nbew.com) came up with these statistics regarding use of the Internet: On one job site, about 59,000 people had posted their résumés. Only 1,000 employers had looked at the site in 90 days. On another site, there were 85,000 résumés. But only 850 employers looked at them. On another site, 40,000 résumés were posted, but only 400 employers had looked at them.
The problem with Internet sites is they don’t keep records of how many people get jobs. Nobody raises the question of how effective it is. They only raise the question of how many visitors they have [to a Web site].
MP: But you just authored a new book, Job Hunting on the Internet, so the Internet must have something to offer.
RB: There are three good uses for the Internet. You can get some decent career counselors on the Internet; one [site] in Canada has live counselors you can talk to. There also are free tests on the Internet that allow you to do research on what to do with your life. You can research places you want to live. It’s not good for researching companies, because there are 16 million employers, and only the biggest employers are on the Internet.
The third use of the Internet is contacts through interest groups that have Web sites and chat rooms. Making contacts through the Internet makes a lot of sense. If the only thing you use it for is to look for jobs or put your résumé up, you might not have the best luck. My friend, Mary Ellen Mort, calls the Internet “a flytrap for the lazy.” It’s a very telling phrase, and it’s very true. She has her own Web site, Jobsmart.org. It has the best collection of salary surveys on the Internet.
MP: The government is saying the current unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in nearly 10 years. What does that mean for a job seeker looking for work in the current labor market?
RB: They rig the statistics, no matter who’s in office. If somebody worked only one day in the past month, that person doesn’t get counted as unemployed. That’s the kind of trick they use to keep the unemployment figure low.
Some people think the unemployment rate is twice the level of what’s been reported. If [the government] says the unemployment rate is at its lowest since 1969, it’s a certain number of people who are out of work. The number of people employed in 1969 was about 76 million. Currently, there are about 131 million people employed. So a 4.3 percent unemployment rate in 1969 meant that 3.25 million people were out of work then. A 4.3 percent unemployment rate in 1998 is 5.6 million people out of work. So you can see, the actual number of people out of work now is much higher.
MP: Any final words of advice for job seekers?
RB: My simple message is, if people will work harder at doing research on themselves, they will find better work and find it quicker. Depending on the amount of effort you’re willing to put in on [job hunting], you’ll deserve what you get.
I think the main reason I wrote What Color is Your Parachute? was to give people hope. Because they thought there was only one way to go about job huntingrésumés, ads, and agencies. I speak of them as though they were one technique. The job hunt typically lasts two to four months. One-third of all job hunters never find a job because they give up during that time. One study showed that if people use only one method of [job] search, 31 out of 100 of those job seekers abandon the search before the end of the second month. With one method, you give up hope. If you tend to use more than one method, you keep your hope alive.
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