IT Recruiting Before the Internet

by Anastasia C. Valentine on July 17, 2013



It’s hard to envision a time before the Internet, before it was possible to upload your resume with an easy, fast, and cost-effective ‘point and click’. Rewind the clock 20 years or so, and it’s unfathomable to imagine how businesses operated before the ubiquity of the Internet.

My first real job out of college was recruiting for a small, start-up IT consulting firm. Having majored in biology I didn’t even know what ‘IT consulting’ was, and having to explain it to my parents proved a difficult task. I was armed with a telephone (hard-wired into the wall), a fax machine, copier, letter opener, and the newspaper. I felt motivated, efficient, and mostly successful. I’d spend my days talking on the phone so much that my voice would be hoarse come evening. These days I have carpal tunnel from typing and clicking all day while spending unnatural amounts of time in my ergonomically incorrect chair.

In 2013 it seems absurd to do business any other way but online. However, before the Internet, businesses were successful, and today’s corporations aren’t necessarily that much more profitable with the constant use of Internet. Back in the day, companies still needed their top IT talent as quickly as their recruiters could find them. The essential need is much the same, but the mechanics that drive an identical end result have drastically changed. Let’s take a look at how IT recruiting actually happened before the invasion of the Internet:

• Newspapers were relevant. Not only were they relevant, they were a necessity for anyone looking for a job or employee. Everyone read the paper, and every job-seeker relied on the Sunday classifieds. My job was to write an energizing and unique description in 150 words or less for the Sunday paper, advertising what skills we were looking for that week, and instructions on how to mail or fax over a resume. I had to work directly with the newspaper on word count, edits, and had to pay them in advance of getting the posting printed.
• Crisp, clean linen resume paper was a MUST. Once the ad is in the paper, the floodgates would open. As part of my duties, I was also the proud owner of THE mailbox key, which would be jammed with beautifully addressed, soft white or ivory-colored envelopes by mid-week. The more exquisite the paper, the more attractive the words on it appeared to be. Everyone who submitted resumes used the requisite special paper and matching envelopes en masse. This was an extremely time-consuming process for the applicant, as candidates typically tailor their experiences to better fit the qualifications of the ad. Highlighting certain skills for one position may get your resume towards the top of the stack for one job and in the trash for another. Crafting resumes based upon the specific job applied for was time consuming and tedious work, shuffling valuable resume paper in and out of your dot matrix printer. If you don’t like that option, you could always type and re-type (and re-type, etc.) alternate versions of the same resume, cover letter, and envelope – on your typewriter.
• Fax machines were cutting-edge. When I’d post an ad in the paper, three things would happen – our physical mailbox would fill up, the phone would start ringing off the hook, and the fax machine would be working overtime. I remember preferring the phone calls and snail mail resumes to the fax machine submissions – the arduous nature of un-curling and matching up the flimsy rolls of paper at my feet didn’t appeal much to me. The introduction of the fax machine into the IT recruiting process was actually revolutionary, as it essentially made near-immediate resume submission and receipt a reality.
• Inefficiencies were everywhere. Before the Internet, the burden on the IT candidate was extraordinary, and bore a chain reaction of inefficiencies. Because the act of customizing masses of resumes was so time consuming, some candidates just wouldn’t do it, so recruiters would find themselves inundated by a greater number of submissions that weren’t a fit for the position. Basic economies of scale explain why a candidate would be motivated to blanket a week’s worth of job postings with his or her resume, regardless of the fit. This results in a much higher volume of unqualified submittals, requiring more detailed screening on the part of the recruiter, thereby decreasing the overall efficiency of the recruiting process.
• The process was longer – a lot longer. It goes without saying that with the Internet comes immediacy, and without it, things take longer. Back then, once I determined a resume matched the skills we were looking for, it was onto the screening and interview processes. The only way to track a candidate down was to call them, at the home number provided on the resume, most times leaving a message on their answering machine, which was likely retrieved later that evening, and returned on a break sometime the following day. Trading phone calls and scheduling interview times was a tricky balancing act back then, as cell phones weren’t fully in the picture either, making covert communications, meetings, and follow up that much harder.

The Internet is an exceedingly simple thing to take for granted in today’s fast-paced world. To grasp that in my professional career I’ve seen technologies become obsolete almost overnight is mind-boggling. If this nostalgic walk down memory lane has shown us anything, it’s that technology has drastically and permanently changed, within an extremely short period of time, the landscape of how business is. It also presents an intriguing question – what does the future hold?

By: Anastasia Valentine