Job coach to millions


WASHINGTON • Richard N. Bolles, who prodded, coached and inspired millions of job-seekers with his best-selling employment guide, What Color Is Your Parachute?, died on March 31 at a hospital in San Ramon, California. He was 90.

The cause was a stroke, said his son Gary.

Bolles entered adulthood as a physics student at Harvard University, was ordained as an Episcopal priest and became known to generations of Americans - after the publication in the 1970s of his nowclassic volume - as a guru of job searches.

His winding career served as an example of what one could achieve through the principles he preached. Distilled to their essence, those principles included the importance of discovering one's strengths, of identifying an employer's needs and of uniting the two through creative determination.

When addressing the desperately out of work, he knew what he spoke of. In 1968, after serving as pastor of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, he was let go in what he described as a "budget crunch". His house had recently burnt down and he, his wife and their four children were living in a motel.

He eventually found work with United Ministries in Higher Education, a job that took him to campuses where he met chaplains who also feared for their professional future.

With them in mind, he researched, wrote and self-published in 1970 What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual For Job-Hunters And Career Changers. The titular parachute, he said, was inspired by the expression, common at the time among people weary of their jobs, that they wanted to "bail out".

"I always thought of an airplane," Bolles told Workforce magazine, "so I playfully would respond, 'What colour is your parachute?'"

To Bolles' surprise, the book drew readers far beyond the clergy. In 1972, the book was picked up by Ten Speed Press in Berkeley, California. It went on to sell more than 10 million copies over four decades.

As Bolles described it, his volume was "a book of hope masquerading as a job-hunting manual". His most meaningful guidance was philosophical in nature.

The most common mistake a job-seeker can make, he told public radio network NPR in 2014, is "assuming the employer has all the power".

"In reality, an interview should be viewed as a conversation," he said. "It's two people - the activity's most analogous in other human behaviour to dating. Do we like each other? Do we want to try going steady?"


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2017, with the headline 'Job coach to millions'. Print Edition | Subscribe