Back in the job hunt for first time in years, boomers find things have changed

Posted: Wednesday, July 02, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) The last time Ginny Westermayer was looking for a job, the job pretty much found her.

Westermayer was 26 then, and a friend and former manager who knew she was unhappy in her job tipped her to another position and told her who to call. That was 21 years ago and Westermayer hasn't had to look for a job since.

Until now. Westermayer, now 47, has been back in the job market since January after her employer shut the information technology division where she worked as a business analyst. And, like other baby boomers who are out of work for the first time in years, she's finding this re-encounter with job hunting to be something of a shock.

''Just being at some place for so long, you know, you get more comfortable. I think if I had been moving (from one job to another) I would have been used to being out there searching,'' said Westermayer, who lives in the St. Louis suburb of Des Peres, Mo. ''At first, I really did feel more like Rip Van Winkle.''

Career counselor say the job market is swimming with baby boomers, many whose middle-management positions were eliminated, quickly trying to get up to speed.

''People tend to re-enter the job market psychologically at the same place that they left it,'' said Ollie Stevenson, a Houston-based regional vice president for DBM, a counseling and placement firm. ''It's kind of like dating (after a divorce). You got married at 25, then you restarted at 45 ... but you start back at the same point you were at at 25.''


Ginny Westermayer, of Des Peres, Mo. , just west of St. Louis, reviews her notes Thursday, June 26, 2003 while seeking employment . Ginny is among the growing number of Boomers that find themselves looking for jobs after being let go. Westermayer, 47, worked for the same company for 21 years until she was cut in January. In the background is a reflection of the Old Courthouse, downtown St. Louis

AP Photo/James A. Finley

Many boomers find that their resumes are an emblem of sorts of the changing job search culture.

Resumes they wrote years ago essentially lists of past positions and responsibilities now are supposed to be boiled down to emphasize workplace accomplishments. They're now supposed to be written so they can be digested by a computer, anticipating and including the ''key words'' that employers will use to search for possible candidates from databases, career coaches say.

It makes perfect sense to Westermayer, given her work in computers, but she didn't know that was the case until she attended a one-week workshop in search techniques at St. Louis Community College. She hadn't updated her resume in years before she lost her job and found she had to scrap most of what she had on paper.

Nancy Smith, who lost her job as a sales manager after 38 years with Xerox Corp., had maintained a resume over the years. But it was designed for applying for internal openings at Xerox where she didn't have to explain the special terminology and responsibilities to co-workers.

''It's an incredible difference now,'' said Smith, who lives in West Bloomfield, Mich.

The job search process has also been new to Bryan Molter, who lost his position in computer support at a pharmaceuticals company in January of last year. Molter, who is 40 and lives in Dayton, N.J., had switched job a few years earlier. But in the past, he'd always dealt directly with personal contacts or recruiters who knew him and placed little premium on his resume.

The last time Molter really had to look for a job, in 1989, headhunters insisted he work exclusively with them and when he sent out letters to companies, he expected a response. He recalls how friends laughed back then when he showed them a form thank-you note from one company sent on a pre-printed postcard.

Now, many companies, inundated with online applications, rarely send out any response to job seekers and the chances for interaction between the two sides is very limited. To Molter, the change is about more than the advent of the Internet since his last big job hunt.

''I've got to call it economy-based. I don't just think it's because of the technology shift,'' he said. ''Now, to trim down the list of candidates, it's your skills that are getting you past the first, second and third cuts before somebody actually reads your resume.''

But getting back into the job market is about more than revising resumes and getting used to automated response e-mails. Those things, at least, Joe Rothbauer can get used to.

Rothbauer, of Spring, Texas, spent 20 years with an oil company before taking a new job two years ago as a vice president with a new firm in Florida. His job was eliminated eight months ago.

He's found that for all the ways the job market has changed, the biggest challenge is the way his mindset has changed since he interviewed with company recruiters back at the University of Wisconsin 23 years ago.

''The hardest part of this whole search is protecting your emotions,'' he said. ''The highs are very, very high and the lows are very, very low. My wife told me the other day to stop getting so excited about this stuff so then if it doesn't happen, you don't get so depressed.''

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