Even though the job-search environment has undergone substantial shifts over the last five years—accelerated more recently by the COVID-19 pandemic—core aspects are intact.
“The job search is ultimately a process of communication and that has remained the same,” says Katharine Brooks, Ed.D., executive director of the career center at Vanderbilt University and co-author of What Color Is Your Parachute? 2021, the recently released update of the groundbreaking work by Richard Bolles that was first published in 1971.
“Many of the basic mechanisms of the search continue: the need for strong social media, the need for a resume or other document that summarizes past experience, and the need to develop strong networking and interviewing skills. Furthermore, candidates need to develop good stories that explain their experience in a concise and cohesive manner.”
While these aspects remain crucial, despite an environment that is evolving at a rapid pace, there have also been significant shifts. Dr. Brooks identifies the three biggest changes to the job search in the last five years, including:
The expanding virtual world thanks to COVID-19—Colleges and employers had been transitioning gradually to more virtual experiences in interviewing and programming, but COVID-19 travel restrictions and working virtually changed everything. And it’s not just with college recruiting—many employers are transitioning to a virtual environment at least for the first interview. They are using more AI-based platforms to conduct initial interviews and review applications and resumes. We are seeing just the beginning of a major transition in the hiring process. These changes directly affect the job seeker because the type of resume they prepare for an applicant tracking system (ATS) is different from a resume that will be reviewed by a person. And interviewing to a camera on your computer requires different strategies than interacting in the same room with a person.
The greater commitment to diversity and equity in hiring practices—More employers than ever are seeking talent from a larger pool and are making greater efforts to not only hire diverse employees, but support them better once they arrive at the workplace. Programs aimed at hiring and supporting neurodiverse individuals represent just one example of the increasing openness on the part of employers to be more inclusive. Candidates in the job-search process will want to present their diversity as a valuable asset for an organization and be prepared to discuss how their background will provide broader perspectives and new initiatives for an organization.
The job seekers’ desire to find employment with meaning and purpose—The workplace is such a large part of anyone’s life that it is more important than ever to find work that is interesting and taps into one’s strengths, skills, and knowledge. This growing interest in work as a form of self-expression combined with the vast opportunities of the internet has fueled the entrepreneurship boom. Even if they are working in a more traditional environment, employees need to have an entrepreneurial mindset, stay curious, and be constantly learning new skills and information.
The groundbreaking element in What Color Is Your Parachute?—the “Parachute System”—places the emphasis on the individual first and then on the job market.
“Richard Bolles insisted that before you ever put yourself out on the job market, you do a rigorous self-inventory to identify your skills, knowledge, and interests, and then analyze what career fields and positions would be most appealing, the salary you hope to attain, the geographic area where you want to live, and more,” Dr. Brooks notes.
“Only after you have completed this thorough inventory should you venture into the market. In this way, you are more in control of the search than if you simply scan the ‘want ads,’ as he would have said in the 1970s, or go on ‘Indeed.com,’ which is what he would be saying now.”
Dr. Brooks says that this inventory—called the Flower Exercise—has been a hallmark of the book and one of its most popular features.
“Essentially,” she says, “much of the search is the same: Just the details and methodology have changed.”
Still, Dr. Brooks, points out that college graduates are entering an extremely challenging employment environment right now. Because the future is less clear than ever, she points out that it is more important that students be flexible, nimble, and willing to experiment. Although they might not be able to obtain their “dream” job right out of college, students should also consider positions that will give them more skills and knowledge that they can use to move into their “dream” job in the future.
“They need to build their written and verbal communication skills, practice interviewing, and begin developing a network that will help them connect to opportunities,” Dr. Brooks explains.
“It’s important for students to know their strengths and be able to advocate for themselves in the interview and through their resumes and cover letters and emails. Experience is key: Whether paid or unpaid, obtaining experience outside the classroom is imperative. And, it all starts with knowing themselves first—and what they aspire to in their employment.”