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Germans Discover the Color of their Parachute

For the past decade, American John Webb has turned traditional German job search methods on their head. With the country's unemployment rate sky-high, Webb told DW-WORLD the methods he teaches are more needed than ever.

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Most of Germany's open jobs aren't available in job centers such as this one

Germany has a massive unemployment problem and American John Webb thinks he has found a way to fix it.

For the past ten years, Webb, 50, has been teaching Germans either unemployed or frustrated in their current profession how to go after the jobs and careers they've always wanted.

Using the "Life-Work Planning" method developed by Richard Nelson Bolles - author of the worldwide bestseller "What Color is Your Parachute?" - Webb has turned the traditional job searching methods of the approximately 6,000 Germans who've come through his two-week course upside down.

Since 1990, Webb, who was born in Chicago, has offered his classes at an ever-growing list of universities throughout the country. His seminars, aready praised by thousands of German job searchers, are beginning to win fans in the country's employment offices as well.

This week, Webb took a break from teaching his 177th seminar in Freiburg to talk to DW-WORLD's Andreas Tzortzis.

What are the biggest differences in the way Germans and Americans look for jobs?

There are differences but they're not nearly as big as Germans like to believe they are. I've been in Germany for 27 years and it has become much more American in that time. I guess a big difference would be the belief in the German idea of order. And people are just shocked when you tell them that's not how it is (in the job market). I tell them, 'ask your parents how they found their jobs' and only a quarter of you will hear that it went orderly. Americans live in chaos and are much more used to the idea of things happening with a lot of randomness.

What else?

There are also differences in the value of professional titles. It's not that they don’t have them (in America), it's just that there's much more of an awareness that these things aren’t bound in iron. When someone in Germany has studied law, they see themselves as a lawyer. You can say 20 times, 'couldn't you see yourselves as a person who has these other skills and interests but also has a diploma in law?' And they look at you with panic in their eyes.

What, then, are people in your seminars most interested in learning?

There are three big questions. The 'What', which is often misunderstood because they think they it means if they want to be a doctor or be a teacher. But it’s actually what you want to do, the activities. The second question is 'where'; 'where do I want to do it, with what kind of colleagues, what kinds of rooms, what geographic area.' The last part is the 'how.' How I can do the things humanly possible for me (to get this job). How can I start to move towards putting myself into an employment situation that nourishes what I want to do.

Is that a foreign concept to many Germans?

Germans have this wonderful saying: Dienst ist Dienst und Schnapps ist Schnapps (work is work and schnapps is schnapps) - meaning there should be a definite separation between when you're working and when you're having a good time. This (job search) process is a pretty radical negation of this idea. Your ultimate professional qualification is going to be your interest.

Do you see this method taking flight in a country where job search traditions are so very different than they are in the US?

I hate the idea of the American cliché of we know everything better, we have the best system in the world. There are cultural differences to take into account and, yes, it does come from America and maybe they're afraid it will be blue-eyed Pollyanna superficiality. The message is: try it out. If you don't, you're not going to use it anyway. But if you do, then you can apply it. Many of the people that go through the course teach these methods to their neighbors, their younger brothers and sisters, their parents.

Can it solve Germany's unemployment problem?

There's no doubt in my mind. This is basically good preparation. They learn what skills they already have. There are a number of possiblities that life work planning can open up for people. The question is 'What do you want to do?' You can do anything you want to do. I have (people who graduated with) cultural studies degrees who work for symphony orchestras and cultural studies graduates who run soup kitchens in Hamburg. With your degree you can do any number of things, all depending on what you love.

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