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Where Did the Resume Get its Start, and What’s in Store for its Future?

Love them or hate them, resumes are part and parcel of the job application process. How did this come to be, and will the resume survive the rapid changes technology is making to the recruitment process?

An Artful Beginning

Tradition has it the resume started with a letter Leonardo da Vinci sent to the Duke of Milan, outlining his skills in the hopes of landing a job. About 100 years later, English land surveyor Ralph Agas wrote ads detailing his experience and qualifications to anyone who cared to read them. However, the concept of a resume didn’t really take off until the 20th century, when the Industrial Revolution began to change the nature of work.

Industrial Influences

Early resumes were considered formalities between prospective workers and employers in the 1930s. Bearing little resemblance to the streamlined documents crafted by today’s applicants, these resumes were often quickly scrawled on scraps of paper and weren’t necessary for obtaining a position.  By the 1940s and 1950s, employers began to require resumes during the hiring process. Instead of looking at skills, interests and hobbies, companies asked for personal details like age, weight, height, marital status and even religion. A photograph of the applicant was also required.

A Shift to Computers

The appearance of the first word processors in the 1970s made it possible to start creating resumes on the computer, and formatting became even easier with the release of Microsoft Word in the 1980s. The appearance of resumes became sleeker and more professional, and some applicants even began using VHS tapes to add videos to their portfolios. Fax machines, also popular in the 1980s, were a fast way to submit paper resumes and became the preferred method of transmission for many eager applicants. Around the same time, employers started using online background checks to vet potential employees before making hiring decisions.

And Then There Was the Internet

In the early 1990s, the internet went public and changed everything, including the way resumes were written, submitted and evaluated. The rise of Monster.com and Career Builder created online platforms where candidates could search job listings and apply by sending digital copies of their resumes. Submissions shifted from mail and fax to email or online forms.

It didn’t take long for social media and video content to become part of the hiring process, and both have found their way into the modern resume. Many applicants now focus on personal branding, using the right keywords and making themselves stand out rather than simply listing qualifications. An increasing number of employers rely on social media to check out potential candidates and are becoming more interested in seeing skill descriptions and summaries. As automation continues to influence the hiring process, the resume may be on the verge of another significant change in format. The next time you find yourself spending hours updating and tweaking your resume, consider its interesting history, and thank or blame whom you will for its enduring place in the job application process.

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Categories: Business Topics

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