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‘What Color Is Your Parachute?’ author Richard N. Bolles

Richard Bolles, known as a guru of job

Richard Bolles, known as a guru of job searches, in 2006, at his home in Danville, Calif. His book sold more than 10 million copies over four decades. Credit: AP / BEN MARGOT

Richard N. Bolles, who prodded, coached and inspired millions of job-seekers with his best-selling employment guide “What Color Is Your Parachute?” — a manual whose popularity, if not utility, was rivaled at one time on the bestseller charts only by “The Joy of Sex,” died March 31 at a hospital in San Ramon, California. He was 90.

The cause was a stroke, said a son, Gary Bolles.

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 now-classic volume — as a guru of job searches.

His winding career served as an example of what one could achieve through the principles he preached. 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, Bolles knew whereof he spoke. 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 burned down, and he, his wife and their four children were living in a motel.

Bolles 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 color is your parachute?’ ”

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.” He traced its enduring relevance not only to the vagaries of job markets, but also of personal fortunes. At all times, Bolles noted matter-of-factly, people are retiring, falling ill or dying. Those changes open up jobs for those who are seeking new or more-satisfying employment.

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