Tilting At Windmills: Help Wanted
Published: March 31st, 2023
By: Shelly Reuben

Tilting at Windmills: Help Wanted

I don’t know what propelled me to think about the mechanisms of job hunting, but here I am, wallowing in mostly happy memories – and doing exactly that.

I think these reminiscences started last Friday, when I was flipping through the CLASSIFIED section of my newspaper, perusing ads for Amish furniture, computer repair, car sales, cleaning services, dogs (German shepherd puppies - $800), a two-story farmhouse with 10 acres, and vintage snowmobiles.

I did not, however, see a single ad listed under a section labeled HELP WANTED.

Not for secretaries (are there secretaries anymore?)

Not for salesmen, sales ladies, or sales associates.

Not for auto mechanics.

Story Continues Below Adverts

Not for ski instructors.

Not for cooks, dishwashers, waitresses, window washers, bookkeepers, or janitors (are there janitors anymore?)

All jobs and all job-hunting have abandoned the printed page and been relegated to the Internet.

Alas! It was not always so.

Once upon a time, looking for employment was a lot like a treasure hunt. In some ways, it was even fun. What I remember most is sitting in my living room, opening the Classified Ads pages from the Chicago Tribune or The New York Times, and spreading them all around me on the floor. Then, with a red ballpoint pen in my hand, I would study each little box, and circle the ones that had eye-catching appeal. Such as:


Permanent possibilities.

Experience necessary.

Good typing. No Shorthand.

Good pay. Call...


Story Continues Below Adverts


Self-starter. Good typing.

Aptitude for figures.

Ability to communicate.

Good salary and benefits.


Or....one of my favorites:


Part-time typist who won’t

quit after 2 months, who

works hard and doesn’t

think she’s doing me a favor

by working here, who can take

a joke, and won’t cry everyday

at her desk. Call...

Every HELP WANTED ad had a telephone number, and when you called it, the person who answered was inevitably informative, and would answer any questions you might ask. If interest from both sides persisted, an on-site job interview was then planned, usually for that same or the next day.

Story Continues Below Adverts

I don’t remember needing to bring a resume with me back then, but references were expected. Usually, the person doing the interview would end up being your boss, and just about always, if not always, I was offered the job.

No muss. No fuss. No agonizing self-doubt. Instant gratification!

The other way I got work was through that great old staple for unemployed officer workers: Kelly Girls.

I loved Kelly Girls!

In the Never Never Land of my youth, being accepted as a Kelly Girl was preceded by an in-person interview in one of their offices – usually by a former Kelly Girl who had risen in the ranks – and a typing test. None of which frightened me, as I enjoyed meeting new people (even potential employers), and I was and still am the fastest typist in the world.

I got some of my favorite jobs through Kelly Girls, because when people I was temping with fell in love with me and vice versa, all they had to do was pay a sort of a “finder’s fee” to Kelly Girls, and they could hire me away.

Over the years, I wanted to spend more hours writing and less hours earning an income, so I switched to seasonal or part-time jobs, working half years or half days, and making up stories or plotting out books the rest of the time.

Even so, all of those jobs were easy to get. Just a concentrated study of the Want Ads with a ball point pen in hand, followed by a phone call, and...Voila...a job!

Now, of course, the world is different.

The “light touch” of face-to-face interviews has gone the way of dial telephones, and there are so many hiring restrictions that Personnel Managers (now called Human Resources) dare not make a decision without consulting manuals about what they are and are not allowed to do, and who they are or are not allowed to hire.

I know that people looking for jobs can still get them. But...oh, my...how impersonal. Filling out forms on the Internet. Living in Illinois or Massachusetts or Arizona, and applying for a jobs in Vermont or Idaho or Florida. Submitting each application under the compound weight of necessity and indifference. Doing it by rote. Inserting data like an automaton. The impersonal multiplied a thousand-fold to the point of irrelevancy.


Not long ago when I was in Wagner Hardware, an adorable teenager with a narrow face, an eager eye, and a baseball cap worn backward on his head leaned amiably over the store counter and said to the manager, “My name is Anthony. I’m looking for an after school and summer job. Are you doing any hiring?”

The manager pulled a job application out of a drawer, thrust it at young Anthony, and said, “Fill this out, and I’ll introduce you to the owner.”

The next time I went to Wagner Hardware, there was Anthony behind the counter, ready to ring up my purchases. The baseball hat was still on backward, and there was a big smile on his Huckleberry Finn face.

So...I guess person-to-person is still possible.

But I doubt if job hunting will ever be as much like a treasure hunt as it was when I used to spread the pages of the CLASSIFIED Ads around myself on the floor, lean over the small print with a red pen in my hand, and circle the boxes that ignited my imagination about places to go, people to meet, and money to be made.

Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2023. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com