What did recruitment look like before the dawn of the internet?

What did recruitment look like before the dawn of the internet?

Imagine a distant time, somewhere with paper, telephones and fax machines; a place filled with the buzz of busy people, when contacting a prospective candidate meant calling a number and speaking to a real person. Cast your mind back yet further, and try to imagine scouring local newspapers in search of a job. Perhaps most difficult of all, imagine a world where the only way to find a job was to visit a local job centre. Whilst all of these recruitment outlets are still used to a lesser extent, the Internet has completely revolutionised how the world of recruitment works, and how recruitment agencies operate. Applying for a job during the economic boom of the late 1980s would have involved a very different chain of events than it does today.

Sourcing candidates

Before the dawn of the communication age, recruitment agencies met the majority of candidates on a face-to-face basis. The candidate would need to meet an agent and complete a paper-intensive registration process. For temporary and hourly paid staff, an agent would typically keep the details of registered candidates on sets of index cards that were usually sorted by industry or speciality. This primitive database was called upon if an employer needed suitably vetted staff in a hurry.

Recruitment agencies would also have enormous databases of potential candidates – accrued over many years. They would include the names, positions and work experience of thousands of employees in various sectors, and it was these hugely valuable sources of information that made recruitment agencies such a force in the 1980s. A company owner knew that a quick phone call to the right agent would result in a list of potential candidates that met very specific qualifying criteria. The recruitment agent of the 1980s was a networker; someone who knew where to turn for the best candidates. What wasn’t committed to memory was either on an index card or on a vast company database. A brief conversation about the most suitable candidates would then take place over the phone, and a shortlist would be invited to interview with the client.

An ever-changing industry

Fast forward to the early 90s and a very different picture was starting to emerge. Early connections to the Internet were slow but functional, but suddenly you were able to not only create your CV in MS Word, and rather than taking a trip to the post box, you were able to attach this to an e-mail for almost immediate delivery. Transmission time was reduced from days to minutes and because stamps were not required, this allowed candidates to start communicating with a wider range of recruitment agencies.

The next progression, was for a business to have a website to advertise themselves further and their skills. Again, these were quite basic back then, but still gave candidates and clients a way to find a recruitment agency without having to pick the phone up.

Creative minds started ticking over at incredible speed and suddenly there was a plethora of job boards and on-line CV databases.

Online job boards can mean recruitment agents are sifting through jobs & CVs only a few minutes after posting a vacancy. And instead of a rather stagnant database of candidate information, agents can tap into an ever-changing supply of candidates with the click of a mouse. Thousands of pounds can now be saved on costly newspaper ads and the logistics of a thorough and detailed recruitment process. The change started with the fax machine, but it is clear that recruitment agencies will continue to adapt their services according to new technologies and the changing needs of the employers they serve.

A brief history

1989 – Agents can now use fax machines to send candidate details to employers in minutes

1994 – Agents now have the ability to send CVs and other related documentation via email attachments

1995-1998 – CareerPath, CareerBuilder, HotJobs and Monster change the industry forever with online job boards

2000 – Agency Central becomes the first online directory specifically designed specifically for recruitment agency listings by sector and industry

2001 – Candidates can now have a permanent online employment profile thanks to electronic CVs and video CVs

2003 – Video chat services such as Skype allow recruitment agencies to conduct initial interviews online.