Throughout the 20th Century and now into the 21st, job search pundits have eulogized the résumé as it gives way to technology and time.
Through each era, age, fad and phase, the resilient document changes and continues to lead the way for job seekers.
Like the Phoenix, the résumé is dynamic, dying thousands of fiery deaths only to rise from the ashes to lead the employment charge.
Where Did the Résumé Come From
Many credit a traveling English Lord in 1500 for coining the word, résumé. He used the word when presenting a written introduction to acquaintances he visited.
In 1482, at the age of 30, and trying to elevate himself from his apprenticeship, Leonardo da Vinci crafted a letter that he presented to the Duke of Milan. In this letter, da Vinci wrote of all the positions he would be able to fill in Milan. Though this was prior to painting the Last Supper or the Mona Lisa, Leonardo professed to be a skilled sculptor, painter, and musician. The letter explains that these skills of design and development also make him an engineer and architect, able to construct cannons, armored vehicles, and bridges.
The original Renaissance man got the gig in Milan and stayed there for 17 years. His writing and delivery of the one page job application paid off.
500 years later we still deliver a similar written document to our prospective employers just as da Vinci did.
The Résumé in the 20th Century
In the 1930’s jobs were hard to come by. Unemployment had skyrocketed and jobs were found through friends and family. Rarely did someone get an interview without some sort of personal reference to a company.
Résumés in the thirties became an afterthought often composed on scraps of paper over lunch with the impending employer. Still the record was made as an introduction into a company. The résumé had become more of a hassle than an effective document.
It did not die.
By 1950, the résumé had become a necessity for professionals seeking employment. Most would spend their evenings hunting and pecking out their accomplishments and experiences on a slow typewriter, dreading to make a mistake late in the page.
Brevity obviously became quite popular with the writers of the résumé as it was a tedious task to do. Changes to the document were made much less than often. Strangely it was common to list all of your personal statistics like age, marital status, race, and even religious preference.
By 1970 digital typesetting was taking hold making it much easier to have a document reproduced. With this ability to have one hundred copies versus five, the résumé started to be distributed more freely.
As the résumé was distributed more in mass it became more vague and ambiguous message. Job seekers became less focused on specific needs of a targeted employer and focused more on their profession or discipline. Résumés became more about the individual and their experience than it did about the needs of an employer.
In 1985 the revolutionary period of desktop publishing changed office documents forever. As products like the Apple Macintosh, Aldus PageMaker and PostScript were made available and word processing systems such as Wang and WordPerfect became popular, the résumé was now an easily changed document that could be switched and shifted with a quick loading of a floppy disk and a visit to the printer or the business copy machine.
Job seekers could now send out a résumé less judicious and in much more mass. As employers started to become inundated with résumés from job seekers and they had to construct systems to receive and file the documents along with job applications.
The massive distribution continued for the résumé as fax machines became the rage by 1987 and the preferred mode of delivery for job seekers.
People could now reach hundreds of hiring managers in hours versus weeks.
By this time personal information started to drop from the résumé and carefully crafted
Objective Statements became the rage. It became important for your résumé to have an Objective Statementthat directly spoke to each and every job and employment possibility out there using words that you would never speak in everyday language.
Though this introduction statement was usually so vague and ambiguous that few could even understand what you were looking for, it became a big part of the judgment of an applicant and their résumé.
The Internet Changed Everything
Companies were making the internet more available within their function of business by 1994. Also in that same year, Jeff Taylor of Adion developed the Monster Board which was to be the first public search on the internet and the first public résumé database.
As résumés started to electronically filed and searched in the same way, key words and popular titles started to override the eloquence the résumé had up to this point. Employers started to look for specific words and if your résumé did not have these words in it, you would be overlooked.
Email became more widely used, though normally in business in 1995. Employees would gladly stay after hours to finish up some work only to use their business email to send out résumés to hundreds of possible employers.
The message of the email became the cover letter as job seekers lured hiring managers into opening the document – their résumé.
People could now apply for many jobs all over the country. It was ok to apply for a job that you did not necessarily qualify for because they might have an opening for you in the future and you will be in their database. Employers went from receiving dozens of résumés for an opening to receiving hundreds and sometimes thousands.
With this inundation of applicants, human resources departments started to devise systems to quickly review and store the résumé as their workload exponentially increased. This system included generalists, and sometimes interns, reviewing your carefully crafted document, searching for key skills, then filing it away for a prescribed period of time.
The résumé, once again, was pronounced dead only to change and continue to lead job search efforts.
By 2002 interactive résumés started to show up, offering employers an in-depth view into the background of the applicant. Using presentation software, like PowerPoint, job seekers crafted, once again, to gain the attention of employers.
Job seekers continued to develop ways to reach the employer as the video résumé started to show up around 2006. By 2007, YouTube was filling with video résumés, offering the employer a unique glimpse into the job applicant.
Social media became the craze by 2008 and job applicants started to flock to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to peddle their skills. The profiles on these sites became résumés per se that were easily available to all that were participating in your circle of contacts.
Prospective employers were being contacted by those seeking employment on a personal level and without a résumé. The connection became so much more important than the résumé and it was, once again considered a formality.
The résumé still did not die. Today positions from grocery clerk to industry chieftain all require a résumé. Though some do think of it as a formality, the résumé is still the basis for initial interest by a company and the one document employers are looking at while they interview.
The Future of the Résumé
As the internet and the personal computer continue to play a part in conducting job searches today, business communication continues to move away from the desktop and to the handheld device. Smartphone usage continues to exponentially grow with roughly 35% of all adults in the US owning a smartphone. These phones are where hiring managers keep their contacts, receive emails, and make calls.
Résumés will change to meet the hiring manager where they communicate. Now job seekers start to use scan able codes to jump from the paper or desktop to the mobile phone. These codes give the hiring manager the opportunity to watch, listen, contact, email, and interview an applicant all with the touch of a button.
As the communications of business continue to become more and more mobile and free from the desktop, the résumé will also.
From the time that da Vinci’s eloquent letter to the Duke’s court, to the desk via mail to the hiring manager, to the email box, to their mobile device, the résumé continues to change with time.
The résumé will not die but will accept the change of time and lead the way to employment.
–Derek Dostal is the President of Kasmet Technologies, and the creator of ResuBean.