The Interview – Part 1: Remember When?

Welcome to another edition of

The Funny Side of HR from the Desk of a Woman of a Certain Age


It is nothing short of amazing how the business of human resources has changed overall during the last 25 years.  And…certainly, if we look back at the job search and interview process 30+ years ago, there is less and less recognition of the art as we know it today.  (Remember, I am a woman of a certain age, so I can discuss this aspect quite thoroughly).  Both the job search and interview process has changed for the HR professional as well as for the candidate.


As I mentioned in my introductory piece last month, HR has its hand in a myriad of responsibilities and understanding the job search process from the candidate’s perspective is a key element in the attainment of the ideal candidate.  Given the amount of time it takes to conduct a candidate search, however, many organizations utilize agencies to expedite the process.


Today, I am going to do a backstory and take a look at the job search and interview process through the eyes and actions of a candidate seeking a job in years gone by.  This is almost cathartic for me since I have had many experiences job searching.  I will use the pronoun “you” to refer to all of us because we all have been in the job search marketplace at one time or another.


So…..walk down memory lane with me…

[Picture a blurred dreamy screen…Yes, I am also budding film producer!]


It is the 1980’s, back in a time when you could work your way up the corporate ladder and in essence, were expected to do so.  Many of us started somewhere near the bottom and made it to the top or very near the top.  (If only our boss would have left,  we could have made it to the top!)  Anyway, some of us made our way via education, certification, preparation, dedication, determination, innovation, recommendation, motivation and perspiration.  Some others made it by perpetration, falsification, association, relation, expiration, degradation and quite possibly, incantation.  However you made it, the force was with you, so congratulations are in order!


In any case, at the beginning, you found yourself in a situation to seek employment.  What kind of job?  Let’s see.  You have some experience and some education in your field of choice.  Most importantly, though you can type and know how to use a word processor, IBM computer.  You can type 60 words a minute.  (Actually you can type 70 words a minute…but unfortunately, only 60 words are correct).   You know how to use the arduous “cut and paste” and “find and replace” options.  You do not get a headache by looking at the word processor screen that has a dark green background with day-glow green print.  You know how to operate a fax machine and use a calculator.  You have the basics locked and sealed!


Now…let’s get started.  First things first.  Living in the Northeast and looking for work in New York, no job search could be launched without getting the job seekers bible…The New York Times.  How could you possibly be serious about any job search effort without thoroughly, eye glazingly (not sure glazingly is a word…but it IS the word needed here!)   reading the opportunities listed in the one and only New York Times.   You had to make sure that through hell or high water, you were able to get your copy of the Times.  This was so important that many people left their warm beds in the middle of the night, pajamas under raincoat, on Saturday evening, to make it down to the corner store to get their copy before it sold out.  Some stores would (somehow) just sell the Classifieds section so that you would not have to lug the entire 3 lb. Times when you only needed or wanted that part of the huge paper.   You still paid for it, but a reduced price.


Whew!  You got your copy!  Now to the Classifieds Section.  All you see are job advertisements from agencies, agencies and more agencies.  You circle the jobs most in line with your skills and qualifications.  Most of the jobs listed give short, fragmented descriptions, so it is difficult to determine whether you meet the qualifications or not.  You circle them anyway.  Some are listed with contact numbers, but when you call, you are not provided any additional information,  just told to come in.  “We don’t take appointments.  Just come in between 9 and 5 and bring several copies of your resume” was the mantra.


Resume!  Ok…you have a few copies printed on nice, expensive paper.  You prefer not to waste providing an agency with a resume printed on expensive paper.  But…alas…you may never get to the company interview if you don’t show a well written, professional resume and providing a copy on expensive looking paper may give you a minor edge.  You check to make sure there are no errors.  If there are, you have to retype the resume from scratch and take it to a printing company to make copies (unless you have a word processor and printer at home).  But…thanks to the resume gods, your resume looks good.


Ok….back to preparation.  Now…what to wear.  There are only a few acceptable choices.  A dark skirt suit (navy, black, brown, gray), a white or light colored shirt, low heeled shoes and flesh tone stockings.  Low heeled shoes were key because you never knew how far you would have to walk to get from agency to agency.  Accessories could be a string of pearls, a pin or a bow.  Simple, clean, professional.  We followed the Dress for Success rules to a tee.  One of the old adages routinely applied was, “don’t dress for the job you have (or in this case, going for), dress for the job you want”.


Finally, you have to decide the route to take.  (I am only going to speak from the perspective of seeking jobs in New York City and the subway, since that is where my experience is founded).  Most of the agencies were located near the 40th  midtown street location….although there were also numerous agencies in the Wall Street area.  Since you needed to keep your travel expenses to a minimum (in the 80’s, there were no metro ride all day for one low price cards), you made a list of the agencies in the same general vicinity knowing that you would, if lucky, only be able to get to two…maybe three agencies in one day.  Why?  Because you would have to wait…and wait and wait to be interviewed, especially on the Mondays and Tuesdays after the Sunday classifieds were published.  I recall walking into a “just come in” agency and seeing tens and tens of people just waiting.  Once you were called to move from the waiting room into the main room…you thought you were finally going to see someone to discuss the job…but no!  You were led to a room to take endless tests.   Typing, computer, spelling, math, calculator, etc.  Take a test…then wait…take another test…then wait.  Hour after hour.  At long last, some kind soul would call your name and usher you into the kingdom….the place where you would finally be interviewed for the job you circled.  You feel as if you had won the lottery!  It’s my turn!   Off to see the agency rep.


The agency representative, let’s call her Ms. Smith (very original, I know).  Ms. Smith scans your resume and reviews the mountain of tests you took earlier.  She asks about your experience and you regurgitate the speech you so diligently prepared.  Ms. Smith tells you about the position, but says that the agency has sent several candidates to the company already and waiting for a call back from them (the company).  Ms. Smith thanks you for coming and says, she will be in touch.  The entire interview took less than 5 good minutes.  Be in touch??  After several hours, you are told, “will be in touch” and given a polite good bye handshake???  At that point, YOU want to reach out and “touch” someone yourself!


Ready, set, go….. on to the next agency.  Never discouraged, you trot off to the next agency in your low heeled shoes with your New York Times circled classified section under your arm and your expensive resumes in your briefcase instilled with the confidence that you will eventually find a job.


Good Luck!


Next month….Interview – Part 2: How technology and social norms have changed the job search and interview  process for the candidate.  


About the Author: Jacqueline Clay is a freelance HR business consultant working with small and midsize organizations to assist them in meeting the challenging responsibilities associated with the full realm of HR management.  With  over 20 years leadership experience in all aspects of the HR business, she has helped organizations in a myriad of areas, including  on boarding, labor/employee relations, policy and procedure development, organizational effectiveness, coaching and training.  She holds a BA in Psychology from Fordham University.

About the Author

Jacqueline Clay


Jacqueline Clay

Thanks Allie. It was from my memories back in the day. I am glad you enjoyed it. Please check me out each month.


As someone who began her career a mere eight years ago, this was a fascinating read! Thanks!


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