I don't think parents ever get over the shock of seeing their children go for their first job interview. How do you explain a "hard shoes world" to kids whose idea of dressing for a formal affair is to wear a clean T-shirt?

Never has the gap between parent and child been greater. Parents want to tell them it's a jungle out there. They want to enlighten them about the competition for jobs and first impressions. They want to tell them that work is serious and an employer is not looking for a child to raise.People who fight the system don't understand a word of this. "Hey, man, if they don't like me the way I am, then they can just stuff it!"

It's not only young people who never get a handle on how to apply for a job. A national personnel firm that places people in accounting, bookkeeping and data processing jobs recently published a list of candidates who were "different."

One applicant arrived with a snake around her neck and said she took her pet everywhere. Another one brought a large shopping bag of canceled checks and thumbed through them during the interview. Another hopeful, after sitting down, brought out a line of cosmetics and started to pitch them to the interviewer.

An agency reported a man who wore a jogging suit to an interview for a job as financial vice president. One applicant interrupted the interview to telephone his analyst to talk over the answer to a question.

These are winners: a woman who left the room abruptly to meditate, and an applicant who challenged the interviewer to arm-wrestle.

If there is one battleground where the employment wars are fought, it is a patch of difference called "hair." Whatever the length or style a job hopeful has, it is always too long, too short or too weird. It's the trump card held for years by every parent who has threatened, "Wait until you try to get a job with that hair." Now is the time to play it.

To their offspring, conforming their hairstyles to the dictates of an employer is the supreme sacrifice, the last bit of individuality that separates them from their parents. From here on in, it's only a matter of time before they end up like the wimpy applicant who excused himself during an interview and returned a few minutes later wearing a hairpiece.

It's the end of an era.