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What It Was Like

(February 27, 2007)
Time compressed. Friction disappeared. The burden shifted.

People have only worked for companies for about 130 or 140 years. Before that, almost everyone worked on a farm. Consolidating labor under the mantle of a company that featured indoor work is a relatively common phenomenon. The idea that most people would work in one of those places is really not much older than 80 or 90 years.

If you wanted to go to work in a factory, the onus was on you. Owners (and later, managers) valued "initiative" and that's what it took to find a job in a company.  The World Wars and a rapidly growing domestic American population gave rise to the contemporary view of work, the places we do it in and the ways that we get it.

Through the last third of the 20th Century, the process of getting work in America tended to clump into two distinct categories: those requiring a written application and those requiring submittal of a resume. (In the late 70s, we had to fill out an application after being hired because "all employees must have an application in the HR files".) During the week (with the exception of the Wall Street Journal's midweek section), jobs requiring a resume were rarely advertised. They filled the weekend newspaper. The weekday ads were for jobs that required an application to be filled in onsite.

It was a good deal of work to find a job with a resume.

First you had to write it (the only part of the process that survived until today). One wrote a resume so that it would stand out. Action verbs, claims of accomplishment, tangible evidence.

Then you got it printed (with perhaps some matching stationery and cover letter sheets). This involved going to a print shop where they always seemed to have never actually printed a resume before. The turnaround time was a week. The cost was $.45 or $.50 per resume. (While the newspapers often had stories about Phd's who had gotten no work after sending out hundreds of resume copies, one always wondered how they afforded it.) Postage was an additional expense.

Then, you figured out where to send it. This research process often involved long trips to the library (or very discrete visits to the company's competitive intelligence sections). Lots of time got invested in the newspaper classified ads (not because this inherently brought results bit because it felt like something was getting accomplished.) A great job hunt involved coming to understand customers and competitors because they were the most likely places to find work.

People kept their jobs longer because it was a pain in the neck to start a job hunt.

Once target companies were identified, cover letters were prepared, envelopes stuffed and postage affixed.

The cost of applying for a job that required a resume was roughly:

- $.50 for paper, resume and envelope
- $.10 for postage
- $.02 for carbon paper (to make copies of the cover letter)
- two hours of research per target
- one hour to prepare a cover letter

Except in the case of big factory mass hirings, applying for a job a job that required an application involved getting to the company and navigating their process for acquiring a blank application form.

The time and expense involved in applying for a job was significant. It was a high enough hurdle that workers really aggressively avoided having to go through the process.

Tomorrow: What Happened

John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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