Jobs guru Dick Bolles, author of the seminal What Color Is Your Parachute? talks with his son Gary Bolles, co-founder of eParachute, about how individuals can proactively manage their careers as if they were startups.
Gary: We’re going to explore some of the different ideas I think that have been reflected in earlier discussions today about some of the changing dynamic nature that technology has brought to the work arena.
I’m glad to be back in Detroit. I actually am a recovering event producer, as well as a recovering journalist. I produced an event here a year and a half ago called TED@MotorCity, for the TED conference folks. It’s a great opportunity for me to experience what tremendous vitality and energy is going into trying to help Detroit move into its next phase.
How many of you have heard of What Color is Your Parachute? How many of you have actually read What Color is Your Parachute? Still a good number.
Wonderful. So here is an opportunity I think for us to kind of explore some of the ways in which people can become more empowered in this era, the way job hunters and employers can think differently.
So Mr. Bolles.
Dick: Yes, Mr. Bolles.
Gary: Earlier today, Steve Case was talking about the need to be able to outsource talent more effectively, Vivek Kundra was talking about the need for people to sort of retool themselves.
How do you characterize the 21st century job hunt? What’s changed in the 40 years since you originally started writing Parachute?
Dick: Well, the most obvious set of people that look at the job hunt now versus, say, 30 years ago or more recently is the Internet. They think the Internet has dramatically changed the job hunt. Actually, what is different about 21st century job hunting is the roles of the employer and the role of the job hunter has altered. But they’re still trying to operate in the way they did back before the Internet began.
The employer increasingly, in the 21st century, has to be at least as part of their job description, they have to be an educator. They can’t just wring their hands and say I can’t find the skills I need. They need to start thinking out how they might produce or find such people or train such people.
And the problem that they run into is they’re often very impatient. They want results produced immediately. If you have to train people, it takes more time.
And then the job hunter in the 21st century, if they’re going to be effective, they have to see their — it’s been a shibboleth for years that finding a job is a job. Whether they’re going to look for becoming an entrepreneur or whether they’re going to look to work for somebody else, the job of finding a job in the 21st century, compared to before the Internet and all that, the job of the job hunter is to be an entrepreneur.
We’ve got to train job hunters how to go about hunting in a way that’s appropriate to the 21st century, which may mean they have to take some responsibility for getting trained with courses on the Internet and things like that, even if they can’t go back to school or go to college.
Gary: So Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn has a book called The Startup of You. He talks about entrepreneurial thinking, I guess for our careers. And Steve Case was talking about not just entrepreneurial thinking, but actually becoming an entrepreneur. It sounds like we’re not talking so much that everybody has to go out and start a company; it’s more you’re going to be more self reliant. You have to be more entrepreneurial in your thinking, right?
Dick: Well, here is a good example. The government produces two reports every month. The first report is called the current population report. Comes out on the first Friday of each month. It reports the change in the size of the working workforce compared to 30 days ago. So this month, it will be 96,000 more jobs are in the active workforce than a month ago.
They produce another report which is called Job Openings and Labor Turnover. Nobody pays any attention to that, and that tells you how many people found jobs during that month. When the workforce is 147 million or more, inevitably people die, people move, people get sick, people retire.
And it turns out in the second report, which nobody pays any attention to, it turns out that about 8 million jobs get filled each month or there are vacancies waiting to be filled during that 30-day period that the report everyone pays attention to is depressing people. They’re saying, oh, the unemployment rate is terrible and so on.
There’s a distinction to be made between the social problem of jobs in America and the problem of the job hunter. It’s a social problem if you — before the recession began, we had 8 million people out of work. Before the recession.
It’s a problem when you have that kind of a disparity in any society. It’s a source of unrest, changing political parties, all the kinds of things that we see as a result of that turmoil. But that speaks nothing at all to the individual job hunter. Because if 8 million people are finding jobs each month in this, even when the economy is really crippled, then the question for the job hunter is why aren’t I among them and how could I be among them.
That’s why I say in the 21st century, our whole society has to start thinking about the job hunter in a different way. They are helping to create the economy. They are partners with the employer, not just in an antagonistic role versus the employer.
Gary: Right. We definitely come from, I think, a more sort of industrial kind of mentality, I think, in a lot of the ways that our economy has worked. Where the employer sort of creates a slot, and then a person is a peg that goes into that slot. And instead, it sounds like the mentality is more. I think it’s true for every individual here, whether we’re working, not working, student, that the mentality is self inventory, better self knowledge is the key initially and then being more entrepreneurial in your thinking. Right? More self-reliant.
Gary: Go ahead.
Dick: There are three characteristics of the 21st century job hunter, or should be. One is they need to be much more familiar with the methods of job hunting, which ones work and which ones are terrible. Many job hunters can’t find work today because they’re still job hunting the way they did back in the 1990s, and they expect to get the same result.
If employers are desperate to find people, they will post jobs on their own website, they will have the HR department actively searching and so on. And in the period before the 21st century, job hunters would go and look in these familiar places for jobs and they would find them.
Now they go to those places, and they don’t realize the employer has changed their strategies by and large, so — because the employer’s dominant concern is always low risk. If you look up cost of a bad hire in the search engines, you will discover it ranges between one year’s salary for the bad hire up to five years, depending on what their expertise is.
So we have to get, first of all, the mentality that you’ve got to become more familiar with what really works in the 21st century. That’s one of the reasons I revise my book every single year.
And the second is that they’ve got to understand that the successful job hunt in the 21st century begins with self inventory, begins with their — figuring out more about what it is they have to offer.
Our job training has — I was called over to Spain a couple of years ago, and they were — had huge amounts of money for retraining people. But the problem is they would take an ex-construction worker and they would train them to do one thing, let’s say repair television sets.
We need another concept of training for the job hunter, whereby we help the job hunter to identify the building blocks of what it is they are talented to do, and then teach them different ways to rearrange those building blocks so they are being trained for a variety of possibilities, maybe two or three, rather than just the one. That’s been the defect of training in the 20th century.
Gary: Right. So if that’s the way the job hunter needs to think differently, that really they are looking more for — you’ll often talk about transferable skills and transfer of knowledge and things that can be used in different situations, so they can be open to more opportunities and obviously trying to find the things they love.
What is different about the mentality for an employer? How should an employer be thinking differently? You’d think employers would be ecstatic because the Internet allows them to be able to put out a request for resumes, and they just get flooded with opportunities with candidates. Right?
Dick: Well, one of the things the Internet has done that’s good is that you can contact a helper, if you are a job hunter. You can contact a helper, they are called career coach or career counselor, wherever you are. You could be in China, you could be in the remote regions of Tennessee. And you could be anywhere and you get access.
The problem that goes along with that is that there are a million people on the Internet that don’t know what they are talking about. And so they perpetuate the 20th century idea about how you look for a job, resumes, so on, when that just doesn’t work very well right now.
Gary: Obviously the job hunter needs to look for more credible sources.
Dick: I will deal with your question.
Gary: What about the employer?
Dick: The employer, as I said, they have to see education as a part of what their job is about, not a ghetto called education over there. And secondly, they have to get less fuzzy in their vocabulary.
You will hear employers say, I can’t find somebody with the skills I really need, when they’re using the word “skills” in the haziest of fashion. Because they may mean I’m looking for somebody with certain experience.
Well, that might produce skills, but the old joke about I had a job where I learned for ten years and I had a job where I learned one year’s learning for ten times.
The idea is when the employer is trying to be matching what they have with the available pool of applicants, the vocabulary used by the job hunters and the vocabulary used by employers needs a lot of help. We need to find a way to use the Internet to adopt a mutual vocabulary where each can understand that when one says skills, they mean transferable skills. I’m good at systematizing, I’m good at analyzing, or whatever.
And when the other person, the employer says skills, they mean experience. It would be wonderful if we could use the Internet to create a lingua franca for the two of them so they understand what they are both talking about.
Gary: Thank you for setting up exactly what we’re focusing on with a parachute, with our startup. Thank you for the commercial. I’m going to open up to questions in just a minute. If anyone wants to come up to the microphones, I would love to see if you have other questions to ask my father.
The — one of the challenges, it sounds like, is the Internet has enabled, I think, us to sort of replicate some bad practices. Where do you put online social networking, the LinkedIns and Facebooks of the world. How is that useful or not for the job hunter and how is that useful or not for the employer?
Dick: I mentioned earlier what the Internet has done is changed the form of the job hunt, but not the substance. Job hunting today in the 201st century is exactly like the substance of job hunting in the 20th century, which is it’s more like dating than buying a used car. So they’ve changed the ways we go about finding people.
Now to my mind, the Internet is so valuable not because of all the hype about social marketing and social media and social networks; it’s wonderful, because it lets you do the things you always wanted to do and do them better.
For example, we’ve talked for years and years in job hunting about networking. What is the key to finding a new career or new job and we’ve always said networking, networking, networking, which has turned into a thing like baseball cards, where I collect people’s business cards, and if I have a high-enough stack, that’s going to make my job hunt work really well.
Instead now with sites like LinkedIn, you can go find somebody who is — I don’t like the word “contacts” anymore. I like the word “bridge person.” You want to find somebody who knows you and somebody who knows them. Whoever you’ve chosen as the place where you would like to find work. And a bridge person is easy to find on LinkedIn, in a way that never was during the 20th century.
Gary: Right. Many of the people in the audience, one of the populations that’s been significantly affected by the current economic challenges have been young people coming out of colleges. Any different advice for them or ways that they should be thinking about the steps they take to come into this current economy and this job market?
Dick: Self inventory, self inventory, self inventory. There’s no getting around it. We’ve studied job hunters now for 40 years, and we found out the people that sit down and do a self inventory of exactly what their gifts are and what their knowledges are that they’ve picked up along the way are infinitely more successful in finding not just work, but meaningful work, even when the job market is really tough.
Gary: A lot of the discussion today has been around, you know, some of the sort of higher-level policy sorts of things. We keep using the phrase job creation. I think especially the current presidential candidates tend to use it a fair amount. If you had the two presidential candidates here with us today and this topic of job creation came up, how would you want them to think differently? What would you want them to do from a policy level?
Dick: I would want them to help the Internet become a broadcast station for the idea that both the employer and the job hunter have to rethink their strategies in the 21st century. A lot of people are out of work today simply because the technology. I’m not talking about the way we normally use technology, but as a metaphor.
The technology of job hunting has been broadcast for decades as a certain form, and you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to write a resume. You’ve got to do networking and all of that.
If we could change people’s consciousness so that employers knew there was a different way they could go about finding more apt candidates, if we could change the thinking of the job hunter so they understand they have to put a lot more work into their job hunt as the entrepreneur of their own job hunt.
Then we did a survey in 2009. I haven’t seen more recent statistics, but in 2009 they surveyed all the job hunters who were college grads, couldn’t find work and went back to live with their parents. Asked them what was the average amount of time they were spending on their job hunt. It turned out to be one hour a week. I couldn’t find a lost dog in one hour a week. Job hunters have to spend a lot more time.
But first we have to frame the conversation, and the Internet could be a very powerful way of doing that. Where we raise the consciousness of both employers and job hunters as to what the real task is if you’re going to be successful in the 21st century. That would cut down a lot on the unemployment. It really would.
Gary: I’m going to assume no questions — oh, here we go.
Kirkpatrick: I’ve got one. I don’t need that. Dick’s point about understanding what you’re really capable of is so key to when you’re looking for a job, that kind of technology could potentially make a lot more people more actively and effectively aware of what they’re really capable of.
I’m just curious whether that sort of thing is provocative and interesting to you guys.
Gary: I would like to take that one first, if you don’t mind. As the interviewer, I’m not supposed to have a perspective. But I’ll go ahead and offer one anyway.
One of the tremendous advantages I think that Guy can bring is that — we are all extremely richly multifaceted people. Each of us is individually unique. There’s a unique mix of different attributes of each of us, and they tend to fall on a couple different categories.
What Guy is going to hopefully be able to uncover is more sort of in the character on — in the context of traits or characteristics of ourselves. There’s also what we can do in different arenas, which are often called transferable skills. Skills that can move from one place to another. If I’m good at working with people or if I’m good at analyzing things. I’m probably good in a variety of different situations. So those transferable skills won’t come out as easily from Guy’s research, at least not initially.
And then there’s also our special knowledges. Those are the rooted pieces of information. We know brain surgery. We know bike repair. We know things that are sort of rooted in different arenas.
And so actually — so there’s two other legs of the stool, I guess is what I’d say. And those two legs of the stool are where we’re more focused. So I think they’re very complementary, in that what we’re going to find is technology — I think this is a great period. We’re at a great inflection point.
Technology is going to provide us with the opportunity to learn more about ourselves, to uncover these different characteristics about ourselves. But the base requirement that my father was talking about, that we have to commit to that, we have to commit to that kind of self inventory is absolutely critical. Technology will give us some of that information, but we have to want it in the first place.
Dick: Guys, games or whatever we call them are very useful for identifying traits. In my book, one of the things I do is I have a flower as a representation of the kind of information you ought to be looking for in your self inventory.
And in the self inventory, one of the seven pieces is people environments. Traits speak to people environments. It speaks to one-seventh of what a job is all about. It becomes terribly important when an employer is trying to hire somebody that fits in with their culture. Because that’s when the traits become key. But it’s not the whole basis for choosing a job or choosing a career. Never has worked and never will.
Gary: Well, it’s useful information, but you need more.
Dick: Yeah. It’s a part of tremendously important information, but only a part.
Gary: It looks like we’re out of time. I just want to thank you for coming on the dais with us. This is actually one of the more fun things I’ve done in a long time.
Dick: We actually talk to each other outside these kind of venues.
Gary: Yes. But this has been a great opportunity for some quality time. Speaking of working together, do you want to tell that one quick anecdote about when people ask us about what it’s like to be working together.
Dick: We were at a meeting at my publisher, and somebody was presenting a new idea for us to think about. And Gary was present at the meeting, and my wife Marci was there, and I was there. And we each had — they had a break, and we each had to go out and use the men’s room.
So I encountered Gary in the hallway, and I said, I’ve been living in total anxiety that I’m going to say something that you won’t like that I said and I will embarrass you. And then he said, I’ve been living in total anxiety that I’m going to say something that will — you won’t like what I said or — we found out we were both suffering from the same anxiety, which was trying to read the other’s mind.
Gary: Now we’ve gotten over it. It’s going great. Thank you very much.