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What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard N. Bolles.
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1-Page Summary1-Page Book Summary of What Color Is Your Parachute?

In What Color is Your Parachute?, career expert Richard Nelson Bolles (1927-2017) shares insights from over 40 years working in the career development field.

(Shortform note: The book’s title was inspired by a joke. When the author was told in a meeting that some people in his organization were “bailing out,” he wrote “what color is your parachute?” on a blackboard to remind himself to address the subject. Neither the parachute nor its color is a metaphor for the job-hunting process.)

The Current State of the Job Market

Since the 2008 recession, many aspects of the job-hunt have changed⁠—jobs take longer to find, don’t last as long, and involve technology. However, certain aspects of the job-hunt haven’t changed. There are still plenty of jobs available, and job-hunting is still fundamentally about compatibility between an applicant and an employer⁠—both parties have to like each other.

What Job Should You Try For?

The first step to finding a job is to focus on yourself⁠—what do you want to do? You can research career options online and take assessments and tests, but the most effective way to find out what kind of job you’d like is to self-reflect using the flower exercise.

The flower exercise involves looking at yourself from seven different angles: compatibility with people, workplace conditions, skills, purpose, knowledges, money, and location. In the exercise, each angle will be visually represented by a flower petal. When you’ve finished the exercise, you’ll end up with a one-page diagram of your flower that contains a visual summary of your personality as it relates to your career:

what-color-is-your-parachute-petals.jpg

Petal #1: Compatibility With People

The goal of this petal is to figure out the kinds of people you like or don’t like working with, whether they’re people who work at your company or people you interact with as part of your job.

The entries on this petal will be a list of adjectives that describe people and/or a list of Myers-Briggs or Holland typologies.

  • To find your Holland code (a three-letter code that describes the kind of people you like to work with), use the Self-Directed Search tool or O*NET Interest Profiler.
  • To create the list of adjectives, make a list of all the jobs you’ve had, and then a list of all the traits you didn’t like in people you worked with in priority order. Then, write the opposites of the unlikable traits on your flower.
  • An example petal might read: Holland Code: RIS, polite, elderly, Myers Briggs ISTJ, detail-oriented, team players.

Petal #2: Workplace Conditions

The goal of this petal is to figure out what kind of conditions and locations you most prefer working in.

The entries on this petal will be a list of descriptions of your surroundings.

  • To create this list, make a list of all the jobs you’ve had and then a list of all the working conditions you didn’t like in that job in priority order. Then, write the opposites of the unlikable conditions on your flower.
  • An example petal might read: somewhere with lots of natural light, flexible hours, standing desks, a short commute, air conditioning.

Petal #3: Skills

The goal of this petal is to figure out what your favorite skills are.

The entries on this petal will be a list of functional skills (verbs), optionally accompanied by adverbs or objects. Don’t include nouns⁠ (like “psychology”)—nouns are knowledges and will be addressed on Petal #5.

  • To create the list of skills, write seven stories about seven different moments in your life. The stories should be brief moments you enjoyed, and they should include a goal, obstacle, how you overcame the obstacle, and the outcome. When choosing, consider, for example, stories that: aren’t work-related, demonstrate you acting differently than you normally would, or are difficult, exciting, unusual, or fun. Then, look through the stories for patterns. The skills and traits that keep coming up are likely your favorite. Write the top ten on your petal in order of priority.
  • An example petal might read: write convincingly, mentor, accurately organize documents, teach adults, speak, analyze, coach children, edit, typeset, research.

Petal #4: Purpose

The goal of this petal is to figure out the mission or purpose of your life.

The entries on this petal will be a description of what facets of the world you want to improve and some details, or a philosophy of life.

  • To find out which facets you most care about, consider which of the following speaks to you the most: beauty, physical health, resources, morality, love, entertainment, environment, spirituality, or knowledge. Write what you want to do within these facets on your petal.
  • To write a philosophy of life, write what you think the meaning of life is. Why do humans exist and why do you personally exist?
  • An example petal might read: improve the lives of children living in unsafe homes.

Petal #5: Knowledges

The goal of this petal is to figure out what knowledge you currently have that most excites you.

The entries on this petal will be a list of nouns.

  • To create the list, make a list of what you know and enjoy from jobs and outside work, and a list of what you don’t know but that interests you. Compare the lists, focusing on the intersection of what you both know and like. Write the top five things you both know about and like on your petal.
  • An example petal might read: how to change a tire, Japanese language, gardening, psychology, beekeeping.

Petal #6: Money

The goal of this petal is to determine how much money you need and/or want to earn from your job.

The entries on this petal will be the level you want to work at, a salary range, and benefits.

  • To figure out...

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What Color Is Your Parachute? Summary Chapter 1: The State of the Job Market in 2020

In What Color is Your Parachute? 2020, career expert Richard Nelson Bolles (1927-2017) shares insights from over 40 years working in the career development field. The original edition was published in 1970 and has been updated every year since 1975.

Because job hunting, at its fundamentals, is about learning who you are and what to do with your life, this book is valuable for people in all stages of life and career.

Shortform Note

What Color is Your Parachute was written in 12 chapters and three appendices. We've reorganized the chapter order to be more coherent and logical. As a reference, here's a mapping of our chapter numbers to the original book:

  • Chapter 1: Job Market State→ Original Chapters 1-2
  • Chapter 2: What Do You Want to Do? → Original Chapters 4-6, Appendix A
  • Chapter 3: Two Approaches to Finding a Job → Original Chapter 3
  • Chapter 4: Resumes → Original Chapter 7
  • Chapter 5: Interviewing → Original Chapter 8
  • Chapter 6: Salary→ Original Chapter 9
  • Chapter 7: Starting a Business→ Original Chapter 12
  • Chapter 8: It’s Not Working → Original Chapter 10, Appendices B-C
  • (Chapter 11 is woven throughout the summary)

The...

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What Color Is Your Parachute? Summary Chapter 2: The Flower Exercise

Chapter 1 covered the current state of the job market and some methods for finding a job. Chapter 2 covers Method #3, the flower exercise, in more detail.

To start the flower exercise, draw a flower diagram modeled on the graphic in Chapter 1 or purchase the companion workbook to What Color is Your Parachute?, which contains the flower diagram and all the worksheets involved in filling it out.

Petal #1: Compatibility With People

The goal of this petal is to figure out the kinds of people you like or don’t like working with, whether they’re people who work at your company or people you interact with as part of your job. This is important because the people around you either give you energy or drain it.

The entries on this petal will be a Holland Code (more on Holland typologies in worksheet #1) and a list of adjectives and/or Myers-Briggs typologies that describe people. Be specific with your entries. An example petal might read: Holland Code—RIS, polite, elderly, Myers Briggs ISTJ, detail-oriented, team players.

There are two...

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Shortform Exercise: Reflect on Your Flower Diagram

The flower exercise helps you determine what you’d like to do for work.


Think about your current or most recent job. How well does it meet the criteria of each of your seven petals? Did/do you enjoy this job?

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What Color Is Your Parachute? Summary Chapter 3: Two Approaches to Finding a Job

In Chapter 2, we explored different methods for figuring out what you’d like to do for work. In this chapter, now that you have a better sense of who you are and what you want, you’ll use this knowledge to find work.

There are two approaches to finding a job: the traditional approach and the parachute approach, which is far more successful. No matter which approach you take, you should spend as much time searching for a job as you would working a full-time job.

The Traditional Approach

The traditional approach involves searching the job market to find a job by using one, some, or all of the following ten techniques. They’re listed in order of worst to best:

  • Search for job postings online. This works 4% of the time in most fields. In finance, health care, engineering, or tech, it’s around 10%.
  • Send your resume to employers. This works 7% of the time.
  • Get help from an employment agency. This works between 5-28% of the time, depending on the quality of the agency.
  • Respond to ads in trade or professional publications in your industry. This works 7% of the time.
  • Join a job-search support group. This works 10% of the time, but...

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Shortform Exercise: Find Bridge-People

A bridge-person is someone you know who also knows people or organizations you’re interested in.


Think of a job you might like to do. Who do you already know who might know someone else who’s doing the job, who works with a company who hires for the job, or who is an expert in the field?

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What Color Is Your Parachute? Summary Chapter 4: Online Presences and Resumes

Now that you know what sorts of jobs you’d like to do, the next step is to secure those jobs. In this chapter, we’ll learn about how our online presence affects our job search and how to create a resume.

Before the internet, the only information an interviewer had about you was what you put on your resume. As a result, you had a lot of control over what you shared. These days, however, your internet presence will reveal a lot about you. Almost all recruiters will look you up online and almost 60% of employers have rejected job-hunters based on what turned up on their social media (bad spelling and grammar, prejudice, inappropriate content, and so on). Trying to stay off the internet won’t do you any good either⁠—47% of employers won’t invite an applicant in for an interview if she doesn’t have a social media presence.

However, the inevitable googling can work in your favor⁠—almost 45% of the time employers will like an applicant’s online presence and offer them a job. Therefore, you should take measures to make yourself more presentable online. There are four steps:

Step #1: Delete

In this step, you’ll take down or delete any information that doesn’t present...

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Shortform Exercise: Assess Your Online Presence

Many employers will factor what they learn about you online into their decision to interview or hire you.


Search your name. What comes up that you wouldn’t want an employer to see? Why? How can you get this content down?

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What Color Is Your Parachute? Summary Chapter 5: Interviewing

Once your online presence or resume has secured you an employment interview, the next step of the job-hunt is to ace that interview.

There are several guidelines for interviewing:

Before the Interview

There are four things you should do before the interview:

1. Research the organization. Employers are interested in how much you know about them, so if you come into interviews with a good handle on what the organization does and values, employers will be impressed and flattered. Read the about page and press releases on their website, look for a file on the company at the library, and conduct informational interviews to learn about the company.

2. Test-run technology. If your interview is via video chat such as Skype, practice using the chat software with a friend to sort out technical hiccups and any issues with how you come across on camera.

3. Prepare samples. Bring relevant samples of work you’ve completed in the past.

  • For example, if you’re a graphic designer, you might bring in some books you’ve laid out.

4. Prepare a list of general skills. No matter what kind of job you’re applying for (or trying to get created for you), there are some...

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Shortform Exercise: Prepare for the First Interview

It’s important to prepare for an interview in order to make the best first impression.


Think of an organization you’d like to work for. How would you find out more about them? Consider what parts of their website you should read, who you might conduct an informational interview with, and so on.

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What Color Is Your Parachute? Summary Chapter 6: Salary

Congratulations, an employer likes you, you like them, and they’ve offered you a job! Now, it’s time to discuss salary and benefits.

There are six secrets to negotiating salary:

1. Research industry-standard salaries. When researching, keep in mind that geographical region will play a factor. There are a few resources you can explore:

  • Look at sites such as Glassdoor, PayScale, or Salary.com, which will give you expected salary ranges for positions within certain industries.
  • Search job boards such as Indeed.com for similar jobs and sort them by salary range.
  • Read general job information resources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ salary surveys.
  • Look at similar government positions. Governments publish salaries, and most government agencies have positions similar to private sector positions.
  • Talk to people who are doing the same kind of a job, either at the same company or for a competitive company. (It’s better to ask about a range than someone’s exact salary.) You can even apply for a...

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Shortform Exercise: Negotiate Salary and Benefits

It’s your right to negotiate salary and benefits.


Imagine you’re about to be offered a job. How would you anticipate what salary range the employer will offer? Consider conducting informational interviews, researching online, and so on.

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What Color Is Your Parachute? Summary Chapter 7: Working for Yourself

Another option for a career change is to start your own business, an option 80% of people consider at some point. Some people want to start a business because they have a dream⁠—for example, they want to write music. Others simply want to be their own boss and don’t care what they do as long as they do it for themselves.

There are some things to know about starting your own business:

  • You don’t need a lot of money.
  • You do need to research.
  • You market yourself online.
  • You don’t have to franchise or hook up with any traditional methods for being self-employed.

If you don’t know what kind of business you want to start, follow these four steps:

Step #1: Brainstorm

There are a few options for brainstorming:

  • Review your flower diagram and see if it sparks any ideas.
  • Write down any general ideas on a sheet of paper and keep this sheet of paper for making further notes on.
  • Review your resume for ideas. Perhaps you want to do something you’ve already done before, but for yourself instead of an employer.
  • Try Daniel...

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What Color Is Your Parachute? Summary Chapter 8: What to Do When It’s Not Working

Let’s say you’ve tried everything in all the above chapters and you’re still not employed. Chapter 7 looks at what to do next.

Manage Depression

Throughout the job-hunting process, it’s important to take care of yourself. It’s normal to feel depressed or discouraged when you’re unemployed and job-searching⁠—one study found that the longer you’re unemployed, the more intense these feelings become. Additionally, the job-hunting process itself can intensify your negative feelings⁠—job hunting is a lot of mental work.

There are eleven ways to improve your mental health while you’re unemployed:

  1. Sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, you feel sad. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re sad because you don’t have a job or sad because you’re tired. If you’re feeling sad, try sleeping, and even if there’s some greater underlying reason for your unhappiness, you’ll probably feel at least a bit better.
  2. Maintain our physical health. Drink water, exercise, and eat properly (including vitamins).
  3. Improve our surroundings. A messy space can contribute to our feelings of sadness. Clean up your home and put things in their place.
  4. Go outside. Seeing...

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Chapter 1: The State of the Job Market in 2020
  • Chapter 2: The Flower Exercise
  • Exercise: Reflect on Your Flower Diagram
  • Chapter 3: Two Approaches to Finding a Job
  • Exercise: Find Bridge-People
  • Chapter 4: Online Presences and Resumes
  • Exercise: Assess Your Online Presence
  • Chapter 5: Interviewing
  • Exercise: Prepare for the First Interview
  • Chapter 6: Salary
  • Exercise: Negotiate Salary and Benefits
  • Chapter 7: Working for Yourself
  • Chapter 8: What to Do When It’s Not Working