Richard Nelson Bolles

Posted: November 4, 2015
By: Clay Cerny

I often cite Bloomberg as a great resource to understand the economy and job market. Today, it offers a report on tech jobs and MBA grads. Common wisdom is that Stanford is the MBA that produces the most grads who get jobs in tech (19%). That said, Arizona State, UC Berkeley, and other MBA programs in the Southwest and West are catching steam, producing 16% of new tech jobs. If you’re considering a career in tech, an MBA is one path. However, if 35% of tech jobs are obtained via an MBA (that number feels high to me), most tech jobs (65%) are landed by other means. I respect and value education. At the same time, I recommend that anyone seeking a job in an industry follow a strategy Richard Nelson Bolles talks about in What Color Is Your Parachute:Research how people without the "ideal" degree broke into the field.  Bolles asks this question:  “How did people without a degree in that field get into it?” Is the degree or certification necessary? For certain positions at certain companies, an MBA from a highly regarded school is a good way to get through the door. For other jobs, it is not needed. Think about where you want to work and what you want to do before investing in any kind of education or certification.

Posted: September 30, 2014
By: Clay Cerny


One of my clients recently said people won’t need resumes soon. He had read “something on the Internet” that said employers would “find” 80-90% of employees on LinkedIn or through profiles on job boards. The problem with this kind of thinking is that it leads to a passive job search, waiting for a job to find you rather than looking actively to find a job.

I don’t buy the claim that there will come a time where most hiring will come through recruiting. There are two problems with this approach. First, recruiters would spend a lot of time having to weed through people who are in jobs and don’t want to move. Second, what would happen to salaries? If employees knew employers had to come to them, they could ask for more money. Under the current employers have the ball in their court. They can set the terms of employment, especially if the person they are interviewing is unemployed or anxious to leave his or her current job.

My biggest problems with stories like the one my client read is that they give the wrong idea about how to look for a job. Executives and professionals at the top of their fields should work with recruiters.  They are most likely to be found on LinkedIn.  For the rest of us, a good job search must be active. Following the great advice of Richard Nelson Bolles, I recommend using at least three ways to look for work. For most people, that means networking, responding to posted jobs, and pursuing jobs with companies that you most want to work for. LinkedIn is a great tool for doing all of these things. Think of it as a resource for an active job search. If someone finds your profile and calls you for an interview, that’s a bit of good luck. Don’t count on it. Stay active and manage your career. That’s the best way to find a new job.

Posted: December 19, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

In his fine, concise job guide The Job-Hunter's Survival Guide, Richard Nelson Bolles list 18 different ways to look for work.  He also says that most people only employ one of them, which leads many job seeker to get frustrated and stop looking for work.  I won't list all 18 points (buy the book or borrow it from a library).  But here are a few alternative ways to look work:

1.  If you're a recent graduate, use your teachers as a resource.  Ask them for advice.  Find out where recent graduate have gotten jobs.

2.  Learn your profession by reading professional journals.  Many of these publications are online.  Become an expert in your field, and you will be better prepared to look for your next job. 

3.  Use the phone book, especially the business-to-business Yellow Pages.  This often forgotten resource is still a good way to identify local employers by category/industry.

Here's a tip I give clients:  Ask people who work in your field:  "How did you find your last two jobs?"  Their experiences might guide you to a new job.

Don't quit!  Try something new.

Posted: October 6, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

In The Job-Hunter’s Survival Guide, Richard Nelson Bolles talks about everyone having a “New Resume,” which is the record we leave online.  A person’s online reputation can make or break a job search as Andrew Sullivan demonstrates in the Daily Beast. I don’t believe that 50% of employers check all applicants, but I would put serious money on their checking people before scheduling interviews.  It’s important to keep your “New Resume” clean. 

How can you protect your reputation?  Keep personal social media private.  Ask friends to take down any information or photos that an employer might find objectionable.  Whenever you post something online, think about how a stranger might look at it and judge you.  Think twice about that person if he or she is a potential employer.

Posted: November 30, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

If you could wave a magic wand and create a job for yourself, what would it be?  There is no magic wand, but computers offer resources that can help us achieve our career goals.  Think about what you want to do and what companies offer that type of job.  The next step is to hit the keyboard.

Make finding your ideal job something you work on consistently.  Learn everything you can about that position: skills required, education, certification, and technical skills.  Find profiles of people who are in similar positions.  Study their career paths.  How did they get to where you want to be?  LinkedIn is a great tool to study how successful people got to where they are.  Find a  good role model and follow that person’s example.

Let the computer be your tool box.  Use Word to keep notes and track your progress.  Create a favorites file for prospective employers and industry news.  Put a profile on LinkedIn and join industry groups that fit your career interests.  Use PowerPoint to make a presentation called My Ideal Job.  As you progress in your search, update this presentation.  Who is the audience?  You.  This tool is solely meant to help you understand, refine, and reach your goals.

One of the greatest lessons in Richard Nelson Bolles’s book What Color Is Your Parachute is that you can always find your ideal job.  However, you have to be realistic about what that ideal job is.  Then you have to work hard and work with persistence to get it.  Will you get the exact dream job at the exact company that you want?  Probably not.  Will you find a job that makes you very happy and puts you in a position to manage your career.  Absolutely.  The first step is to have faith in yourself – and start moving!

Posted: October 26, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

The challenge of every resume is to show employers that you are qualified to do a job.  As I have recommended in recent posts, you need to start by developing a market profile that will guide you in defining skills and experience that you need to show on your resume.  It will also give you the keywords that computer and human scanners will look for during initial screenings.

Richard Nelson Bolles recommends that everyone take an inventory of their career and skills.  Once you have taken that step, you will be better able to write a strong resume and, more importantly, present yourself in an interview as a highly qualified candidate. 

What else is needed in a good resume?  A good resume will sell what makes you different and more valuable.  Almost every job seeker can present achievements that show how she helped her employer make more money, save money, increase efficiency, and satisfy customers.  If a supervisor or senior manager has praised your work or accomplishments, include that success story in your resume.  If you are in sales or another field that values awards, describe them on your resume.  Be sure that the reader knows why you have been given the award.

What do you have that other candidates lack?  For some people, this quality will be language skills.  For others, it might be technical skills or some kind of certification.  Think about your special skills, and then look for employers that need those skills. Highlighting what makes you different can help you target and attract good employers.  Know your strengths, and practice selling them.

Posted: October 17, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Today’s Chicago Tribune features a short, but informative interview with Richard Nelson Bolles.  I don’t agree with everything Bolles says (especially about resumes), but his experience and perspective are invaluable to anyone trying to find a job or – more importantly – manage a career.  I boil Bolles wisdom down to this statement:  You can always find a job, but it will never be easy.  More deeply, Bolles preaches that anyone can find truly meaningful work if they make the effort.  The advice he gives in the classic What Color Is Your Parachute has lost none of its value (However, take what he says about resumes with a grain of salt.).  Bolles is a great teacher, and I urge you to learn from him.  I have and am grateful for his wisdom.

Posted: September 30, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

It’s easy to get frustrated when looking for a job.  In his book The Job-Hunter’s Survival Guide, Richard Bolles gives some great about what to do when your job search isn’t working: trying something else.  Bolles recommends that every job seeker have at least three alternative ways to look for a job.  When one path becomes a dead end, choose a new path.

For example, if your networking is going nowhere, it might be time to focus answering online posts.  If you’re not finding any job posts that fit your career goals, you can research companies, find those that need your skills, and contact them to see if they have an opening.  Bolles cites research that has found many job seekers lose momentum and stop looking for work after only one month if they only are only looking for work one way.  Bolles say that giving ourselves alternatives not only keeps our job search moving forward, it also gives us the most important resource in life: hope.

To learn more about Bolles, go to his website

Posted: August 24, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles remains one of – if not the best – guides to the job search.  Bolles uses illustrations to underscore his advice.  My favorite graphic is a three line description of the job search.  It lists two ten word rows of “no.”  The next row has “no” nine more times followed by one word: “YES.”

This illustration, like most of Bolles’ advice, is brutally realistic.  Almost every job search is filled with rejection.  To be successful, you have to be tough and persistent.  You have to give yourself every opportunity.  That’s where many people sabotage their job search: They disqualify themselves before prospective employers have a chance to evaluate them.

How does this happen?  Too many people look at the list of requirements in a job posting and fail to send in an application unless they fill almost every requirement.  Employers generally list more requirements than they expect any one candidate to have.  This behavior has increased in a time of high unemployment when candidates with multiple skills are available.

Be realistic.  Look at the job posting and compare it to your qualifications.  Don’t expect to fill every requirement.  If you can perform the key job functions, apply for the job.  Give yourself the opportunity to land an interview. In the end, you don’t know what the employer is looking for. 

Don’t disqualify yourself.  If you think you are qualified for a job, apply for it.  Let someone else tell you “no” – or, better still, let them say, “YES.”