Boomers Went on Job Interviews

It’s been called the Great Resignation. The last three months of 2021 saw more people quitting their jobs than ever on record. The word is that the pandemic has made people think twice about the time they spend earning a living. A good portion of those resigning, the story continues, have done so to accept better positions that pay more money, and afford more freedom to work when and where they choose.

That got Mister Boomer thinking about how incredibly different job searches are today compared to the boomer days. Even most part-time jobs require online applications these days; there were no personal computers when boomers entered the job market. Though the computer (and subsequently mobile phone) changed everything, there were other differences, too.

When a boomer went looking for work, there were three main resources upon which to draw: walking door-to-door and asking businesses in person whether they were hiring; getting a referral from a family or friend (called “networking” these days); or searching employment ads in the local newspaper Classifieds. In Mister B’s early searches, he tapped all three, with mixed results.

While still in high school, Mister Boomer got his first part-time job by walking into businesses and filling out applications. It took far longer than he had anticipated, trying both larger companies, like Sears or regional supermarkets, to smaller retail stores and burger joints. After two weeks of searching, he landed a job at a regional burger joint. A little more than a year later, he employed the same shoe leather method to find the job where he worked through his college years.

Nearing graduation, Mister B, like every other boomer, dutifully created a resume, and made dozens of copies. A friend gave him a referral for one interview, and his father lined up another through a co-worker. Neither produced employment. Mister B perused the employment ads in the newspaper every day, circling possible prospects. Then, taking to the family’s antique typewriter, he’d compose a cover letter to each one, pairing it with a photocopied resume before tri-folding the pages and sliding them into an envelope. Sometimes the ads requested a SASE; that meant you were to include a “self-addressed, stamped envelope.” The whole process required visits to a stationery store for envelopes and typing paper, a photocopy store to make copies of your resume, and the post office to buy stamps. Once the envelopes were addressed and stamped, they could be dropped into the corner mailbox. Then we waited.

Sometimes, the SASE came back within a week, and you knew you didn’t get the job before opening the envelope. Sometimes it took two or more weeks before there was any word. If you were lucky enough, your fishing expedition got a bite and you landed an interview. Phone calls were rare because there was no voice mail on the telephone secured to the wall in the kitchen.

Then there was the interview. Regardless of the level of the job, if you were seeking full-time employment, it was advisable to look your very best. In the 1960s and ’70s, many boomer males will recall their long hair was a problem for most of the business world. Some places would require trimming before employment. Others did not allow facial hair of any kind. Women were also subject to dress codes and were mainly required to wear dresses or pant suits with dress shoes.

When attending an interview — they were all in person, not conducted by telephone, and no video phones were available — the interviewer, usually male, would greet you from behind a desk, shake your hand and offer you a chair. The person would check out your resume and interrogate you about your life, job experience and general worthiness for the position.

After an interview, it was expected that you would follow up by sending a thank you note in the mail directly to the interviewer (more stamps!). In the note, which was expected to be hand-written, you were encouraged to stress any points you missed or wanted to reiterate to tip the scales in your favor. Then we waited. Sometimes, you would not hear back at all. Other times, two or three weeks later, you might get a form letter telling you there were so many qualified candidates, and thank you for your time, but you just weren’t a good fit for this position. One day, you’d get the envelope with the letter that congratulated you and named the day and time you were expected to report to work. Sometimes, a phone number was given to call and accept the job.

Where the post office was instrumental in boomer-era job searches, these days, it is no longer necessary. The computer (or mobile phone) has replaced the need for stamps, envelopes and typing paper. However, cover letters, and in most cases, resumes, are still necessary, but they now exist in digital form, whisking to their destination at the click of a button. It’s something that was only in the dreams of science fiction writers during the boomer years.

Newspapers are all but irrelevant to a job search as well. Online “classified” and recruitment applications make job searches a much simpler activity. Some will actually sort and deliver job possibilities directly to you, based on criteria you enter. At the same time, searching for information on a company, its officers and industry chatter is all available on personal devices. If company info was wanted in boomer times, it meant a trip to the library and consultation with a librarian to uncover even a tiny morsel of information.

In the boomer years, even George Jetson went to work each day. We could not imagine working from home, even in our wildest dreams. In 1960, one third of all jobs were connected to manufacturing, a statistic that changed dramatically in the two decades following the boomer years of the 1960s and ’70s.

What job search and interview stories come to mind for you, boomers?

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