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Uncovering tactics that will make your career fly high

by Fiona Christie on November 16, 2012

“The world currently is filled with workers whose weeklong question is “when is the weekend going to be here?” And then “thank god, it’s Friday”. Their work puts bread on the table…but they are bored out of their minds. They’ve never taken the time to think out what they uniquely can do and what they can uniquely offer the world. The world doesn’t need any more bored workers.”

 What Color is your Parachute 2013? (Richard Bolles)

My copy of What Color is Your Parachute together with post its


Well I can’t disagree with that…but what can you do as a worker, researcher, student or job-seeker do to make sure your work won’t bore you “out of your mind”. 

Based on careers adviser received wisdoms, I have been recommending the abovementioned book What Color is Your Parachute?  for years to people as a classic text which aims to get you thinking about how to plan your career.  And I confess, I had never actually read it till recently; and felt it a worthy topic for a blog post.

In case you are wondering about the title;  nowhere in the book is the title spelt out but my powers of deduction tell me that it alludes to what you can do to stop your career plummeting to the ground and instead allow you to float with grace and dignity to your desired destination. I do love a metaphor.

It’s a quirky, individual book, with some delightful illustrations and diagrams. Reading it, I felt I was being gently jollied along by a wise and trusted friend – the very one smiling from its front cover.

If you are in career transition which most students and graduates are and are looking for some inspiration about your future career, it’s a lovely book to read, though some of its content probably needs translation for a non-US readership. It would also be good to do the exercises it includes with somebody else acting as your mentor and guide. I think your friendly University career adviser/consultant would happily do this. You would be advised to pick the ones that resonate most with you, rather than doing it all.

Some of my favourite wisdoms from the book include:

Finding hope – (no, not the American sitcom) when you feel your career prospects aren’t promising

  • Hope depends on having at least 2 alternatives – so true; always have at least a plan B, and ideally a plan C.
  • However bad a situation, we can always find something that we can control, however small, work on that – agreed.
  • When you are ranting about an impossible situation:  assume that nothing happens for a senseless reason – consider what meaning you can draw from even the toughest circumstances.
  • Don’t let yourself be buffeted by miserable statistics which indicate there is no hope for job-seekers. Focus on what you can do.

The best and worst ways to look for a job

There is a fundamental disconnect between how employers recruit and how job-seekers look for a job. While job-seekers go straight to the job ads, employers think, how can I find somebody as easily and quickly as possible for a position?  I agree, this is why careers advisers like me go on about the hidden job market so much.

Bolles extrapolates from this truism and argues  that actually doing extensive homework on yourself results in an 86% success rate in getting a job, whereas just emailing your CV out to potential employers has only a 7% success rate. I am not sure where he has got these figures but he makes a sound point: too often job-seekers have a lottery approach to job search, thinking the more CVs they send out the better. Whereas thorough self-reflection which leads to making excellent and appropriate job applications just has to be more successful.

Designing a Life/Work plan of attack

Think really creatively about your approach to job-hunting. The book has a great grid in which it overturns some of the classic job search approaches.  It’s really helpful to not get sucked into traditional approaches to career planning and job search which too often turn jobseekers into passive job beggars.

e.g. Traditional approach: ”Do research to find out what the job-market wants.” “Fitting in will carry the day” vs. Creative approach “Do homework on yourself to figure out what you do best, AND most love to do. Enthusiasm will carry the day.”

How you can understand yourself more fully

The book has loads of practical exercises to help you understand yourself. If you are really struggling to evaluate yourself,  Bolles’ exercises leave no stone unturned.  One is creating your own “flower” in which you systematically evaluate yourself in the following areas:

  • What kind of people do you want to work with?
  • What skills do you most want to use?
  • Which “knowledge & fields” are you are most interested in?
  • What is your goal and purpose?
  • What is your preferred location?
  • What is your desired salary?
  • What are your favourite working conditions?

Specific approaches include the Party exercise for working out who you’d like to work with (what group of people would you naturally gravitate to), there’s also a seven stories exercise which aims to get you to really unravel your skills.

Let’s get practical about landing a job

And for those who find all this self-reflective stuff just TOO much or you really know yourself very well already – the book also has practical advice on very tangible aspects of job-hunting.

For example,  there’s a chapter addressing using social media for job search and making  the most of sites like Linked in (I certainly learnt stuff I didn’t know) .

It also has a section which many job-seekers will be drawn to about how to do well at interviews. I am always a fan of anything that boils down what people sometimes find daunting.  He does just this with what he believes are the only true interview questions which are in fact very rarely explicitly asked (funnily enough). I agree that interview candidates should definitely think about how to answer these questions.

  • Why are you here?
  • What can you do for us?
  • What kind of person are you?
  • What distinguishes you from everyone else applying for this job?
  • Can we afford you?  I don’t think I agree with this one in the context of graduate or post-University job-seeking – cross-Atlantic cultural differences perhaps. 

In conclusion, I am glad I read the book, and wished I’d read it before.

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