I’m writing this on July 4th—a holiday weekend—so I thought it would be fun for my readers to take a step back from the serious work of preparing career marketing documents to talk about how job search has changed in the past 40 to 50 years. We’ll share some lessons to be learned, too.
The aspect of business that, in my view, has driven changes in the way we look for jobs is what some call “digital transformation.” That means many things employees once did are now done via digital devices and the World Wide Web.
For example, once-upon-a-time we filled out paper job applications. A data entry person entered them into the company’s database and then someone put the paper in a file draw. Now, we do the data entry ourselves. The data entry operator is gone. So is the file clerk that put the paper application in a draw.
Here are a few of the changes we’ve seen from the job applicant’s perspective:
- We printed and mailed out resumes and cover letters,
- Job-seekers could walk around major cities and fill out job applications,
- An interview meant we received an appointment over the phone and went to an employer’s office.
The process was daunting and time-consuming. It could also be fun because we got to meet a lot of different people and go to a lot of different places instead of sitting at home or in a coffee shop.
Digital transformation has changed job search.
Digital transformation has changed many business practices, including job search. We used to mail out or hand out paper resumes and then fill out paper job applications at HR or “personnel” offices. An assistant sorted the stack of resumes before the HR representative scheduled interviews. Then the HR rep spoke with us in person to determine whether a department head should interview us.
Now, a computer program scans resumes to identify potential candidates. Next, we may be screened via video conference app or on the telephone before anyone agrees to meet with us. This is especially true if we are in a location impacted by the Pandemic.
We used to wear out shoe-leather.
When my classmates and I finished college in 1979, we typed resumes, or had someone do it for us, and then took them to an offset printing service. They had to be printed on bond paper with the watermark up. We mailed out resumes in response to ads in the New York Times or local Penny Saver, or we walked around Manhattan dropping resumes off at banks, insurance companies, colleges, etc., and filling out applications in their HR or personnel departments.
A recruiter told me that in 1995, about the last year before job search started going online, employers received less than 50 resumes in response to their newspaper ads.
Typically in the pre-internet era, a few places called us on the phone in response to our resume submission. We put on our suits and went downtown to meet the HR or personnel representative for a half-hour interview. The staffer then passed us on to the hiring manager if she or he thought we qualified for the job based on more-or-less random questions.
Some of us walked around to temp agencies where we took paper-and-pencil tests and then got sent out on assignments.
Last week, a client tried this “old school” approach and got disappointing results. He printed copies of the resume we prepared together, put on his interview attire, and went to visit temp agencies in Manhattan.
No one would see him. He told me that every office turned him away at the door even though they were open. Agency reps all told him to go home and apply online.
This trend started well before the Pandemic. A few entry-level clients have told me they were allowed to use terminals in the HR department lobby to complete an online application, and I’ve done so myself on a few occasions. They did not get an edge by filling out the application in the lobby instead of using their own computer at home.
Now we wear out our keyboards and smartphone screens.
Job application systems are set up to accept resumes online. My clients rarely have to print a resume and bring it to an employer’s office. As my client found last week, it’s difficult to hand HR or a temp agency rep a paper resume. If a clever candidate gets into the building, HR will probably not want to process a paper resume anyway.
A recruiter told me it is common to receive more than 290 resumes in response to a posting. As a result, the best way to process them equitably is to receive the resumes in electronic form for processing and storage.
All of those resumes are processed through an automated applicant tracking system, or ATS. Recruiters and HR staff search using keywords to cull the resumes they will read. In other words, there’s a good chance no one will read your resume unless it has the correct keywords, even if you are qualified for the job.
Once a candidate gets through the ATS, an HR rep will probably send an email to screen the candidate via Skype, FaceTime or telephone. I’ve even received automated emails with interview appointments, or instructions for the next step.
There is often an intermediate step before the interview appointment. My clients frequently receive emails asking them to go online and take skills tests first. Then, the recruiter or the automated system will schedule an interview.
The interview itself may not be a free-flowing conversation anymore, either. Companies and public agencies often structured, “behavioral” interviews with specific standard questions to elicit comparable responses from each candidate.
Some old-school approaches will improve your results.
The recruiters I’ve spoken to agree that one aspect of job search has not changed much in the past half-century. About 80% of the jobs that are advertised do not exist. Perhaps 80% of the real openings are not advertised. Openings that do not exist are posted for a variety of compliance reasons and internal company needs.
A job may be unavailable to you even if it is advertised and vacant. Several years ago I applied for a college career counselor job that had more than 270 applicants. I was one of two finalists after several rounds of interviews. The interviews included a telephone screening call, a video interview with a panel, and finally an in-person interview where I had to give a presentation. The career office hired an acquaintance that already worked there as a consultant. This whole process, then, was a charade to justify hiring her, but I would have never known the opportunity was not really available if I did not knew the winning applicant.
A strategy that can avoid nonexistent jobs, or jobs that are not really available is to get referred for a job, the same way many of us found jobs before the 1990s. According to a 2013 New York Times article, employers are also most likely to hire based on referrals from current employees. In other words, your peers may refer you in. Old-fashion networking with your peers can still land an interview.
What has your experience been then and now?
I’d love to read your experiences then and now! Is it easier or more difficult to job search now? What “old school” job search techniques do you still use today? What old tricks do not work anymore? You can work with me now to develop a job search marketing strategy that will work today. Just click here for your complimentary consultation.