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When some job applications were color coded by age and appearance


Book cover photos and book by Anne Hart.


Remember the days when job applicants had their filled-out forms color coded according to their age or appearance and not only by their skills, education, and experience? Back in the early 1970s I once worked at a personnel agency (staffing) that usually placed secretaries and clerical workers in office jobs in an urban environment. But what I thought was reprehensible was the discrimination against older women when it came to sending them out for interviews as secretaries, typists, or other types of clerical workers.


For example, women over 30, usually at the age 34 "cut off" point were marked with a color coded sticker with the verbal instructions not to send them to job interviews because they were "to old" according to the male manager. Why was it so difficult to get a permanent job as a file clerk or typist when you had these skills and also had a college degree in English and could write and/or edit a pretty good sales or other business letter?


Women who wore glasses and had dark hair or who had features the manager judged were 'ugly' were only sent to one particular office manager at a particular company who the manager told us would only hire 'ugly' women. But who's to judge what's ugly? It's in the eye of the beholder. And to the manager of the personnel agency and the office manager who interview the 'girls' as they called them, ugly meant three attributes: dark hair, long nose, and wearing glasses, preferably glasses with dark rims.


The manager told us that since the office manager had those facial attributes--dark hair, long nose, thick glasses with dark rims, that she wanted 'girls' who looked like herself, well ugly, as the manager told the employees.  The 'girls' under age 34 with bleached hair or some other type of styled hair who were of average height or tall and thin and who didn't wear glasses were sent on interviews as 'front' office girls, which meant receptionists who met the public, handled foot traffic in an office, greeted customers, or worked the front desk answering phones and setting appointments in a variety of clerical/receptionist jobs.


Back office 'girls' could be those of varying shapes, looks, and ages, but for some reason, the 'girls' over age 34 weren't sent out for job interviews. The manager never explained why, and to my knowledge those who asked didn't work there long.

In fact, all those middle-aged women returning to work after their children were grown weren't sent out on interviews. Instead, they were told to try the temporary services to be sent out to handle conventions and conferences, fill in for those on vacation or maternity leave, or otherwise take care of temporary typing, registering, or other clerical-levels of work.


As far as I know, women with executive job status didn't walk into that agency, only clerical workers and mostly women. The few males who applied usually were young men looking for their first jobs out of college or high school, usually seeking jobs in offices as sales representatives. The women were sent out as receptionists, typists, and other clerical workers and given typing tests.


One of the temporary agencies I once applied to in the early 1970s gave the temporary clerical workers not only a typing test for accuracy and speed, but also an intelligence test. You had to score a 22 on the Wonderlic test to get referred to a job. If you scored only a 21, you weren't sent out by that temporary service. If you're interested in this test, check out the site "Wonderlic Practice Test Questions."


Okay, so I got the 21 and wasn't sent out for a temporary typing and filing job at close to minimum wage, because the lady at the front desk told me I needed to get a 22 to be sent out. Those were the days, around 1970-1972. I did find another job by registering for six more college credits (two courses) at the local university in order to work as a teacher's assistant for the public school system at an elementary school a block or so from my apartment.


The point is I had a community college credential to teach English, language arts, and writing courses at the college level and a master's degree . But the colleges train a lot more teachers in the various liberal arts courses than there are contract, tenure-tract jobs for them that exist.


And to get a high-school credential a teacher has to pass the C-Best national exam which has math questions on it. Why do you have to pass a test with geometry and algebra questions on it if you're teaching only English and creative writing courses? The community college credential didn't require math knowledge testing. Why wasn't my talent with learning languages and writing put to use after the 1970s rather than having to pass a math test (or a driving test) if the job is a short walking distance from home and no outside of the office travel is required to do the job?


Okay, there are lots of types of employment hurdles to jump through. At one job interview the interviewer in the late 1960s-early 1970s asked me my religion and told me I look like a specific ethnic group. Why was that important to him? Hey, I'm admixed with a lot of ethnic groups and a lot of different faiths. So I picked a faith that included them all--Unitarianism. Fine. Then I was asked how fluent I was in various languages. And I only had four years of a different language, since all we spoke at home was English. He wanted someone bilingual.


Okay, that's understandable. The moral of the story is that it was the typing course I took in the 7th grade that gave me the skill in demand that allowed me to get paid work in the 1970s when I needed paid work. Not the graduate degree in writing because my writing is daily but unpaid, and that's okay with me now at this particular moment.

Sometimes a diploma has a sticker shock about it when it comes to the wish of holding the same job for 50 years like some of my family members did in the 1940s.


Seems a lot more people are trained for their dream jobs (writing lots of novels and stories or plays). But when it comes time to make a living, a skill learned in middle school that can be transferred to all types of companies could get you a job, even if the job is temporary. Of course, there's always flipping burgers. But I'm a vegan who likes a job where I can sit down at a desk when I need to.


How many college graduates today also are saying they have a lot of degrees but a transferable skill they learned in middle school got them employed? You're hired when you pose the least financial risk to the boss. Interestingly, you're hired when you can solve problems that get measurable results in ways others can easily follow, step-by-step. And if you want experience, often you have to drum it up yourself by solving some problem while enhancing your own creativity, purpose, and direction.