The History of the Resume

Resumes are an integral part of the hiring process. Today this process is required to gain employment, but it wasn’t always this way. So where did the resume come from? And how did it become such an integral part of the hiring process?

The First Recorded Resume

The word resume is derived from French, which means “summary”. There is no specific date or any one person that can be credited with the invention of the resume. Varying sources claim the resume was started by heads of guilds in the Middle Ages. Others say it was the famous artist Leonardo Da Vinci. While the exact origin of the resume is unknown, it more than likely evolved over time.

While it is unclear who invented the resume, Leonardo is the first recorded person to use one. In 1482 Leonardo da Vinci wrote a letter to the Duke of Milan in an attempt to gain his patronage and support. Da Vinci’s letter listed his skills and experience to his potential patron, the same thing we all do in the modern world to our potential employers. Little did Da Vinci know that he was starting a process that would continue on into today and become an integral part of the hiring process.

1500s England

In the late 1500s an English land surveyor named Ralph Agas wrote a number of advertisements in which he described his skills, expertise, and projects. In one of his ads he asserts that he has 40 years experience in the field of land surveying. Agas was possibly the first person to use media to publicize his resume. At the time, the term resume was not widely used, and Agas’s list of skills, expertise, and work history was called an advertisement, but what is a resume if not an advertisement of one’s skills and expertise.

There are varying accounts of where the term resume originated. One source claims that a traveling English lord coined the term when he called his letter of introduction a resume. Another source asserts that the term developed over time within the English skilled artisan and labor guilds of the Middle Ages. Since the English guilds were made up of individuals with specific skills and expertise, a resume was an easy way to highlight their experience. Their wealthy patrons found the resume an easy way to hire artisans based on their particular qualifications.

20th Century

There is a gap of information between 1600 and the 20th century on resumes. This may be attributed to the rise of the industrial age in which the use of skilled laborers and artisans declined. It’s not to say there weren’t individuals with unique skill sets that used a resume, but there is very little recorded on the use of resumes during that age.

In the early 20th century resumes had become common. Resume popularity started in the 1930s and by 1950, having one was a prerequisite for getting an interview. Resumes at this point also came in different formats, from handwritten to typewritten.

In the 1980s, VHS portfolios were used by some as an addition to their resume. Similar to how architects have portfolios today, displaying the projects they have worked on. Microsoft and IBM made resume writing much easier in the 1980s when personal computers and Microsoft Word was made widely available to the public. Fax machines then became the most popular way to submit resumes in 1987.

The Digital Age

Resume distribution was revolutionized in the 1990s by the internet. CareerBuilder and were founded and became popular with the public. People now had a way to publicize their resume without taking an ad out in the newspapers. Professionals no longer had to apply directly; recruiters could now find their resume online and contact them for employment. Along with access to the internet came the ability to email resumes to potential employers, which is still the most popular method of submission to this day

The start of the 21st century saw a further evolution for resumes on the internet. Social media became a great way to network and spread resumes. In 2003 LinkedIn was launched, which allowed users to post their resume and skills online. It has become a key tool for professionals to network and gain employment. The internet also brought us resume help websites like Optimal Resume, which can help professionals write effective resumes. By 2010 virtual portfolios were used in conjunction with resumes.

Resumes today are an integral part of the hiring process. Its origin goes back to Leonardo De Vinci and the skilled labor, trade and artisan Guilds of the middle ages. Its origins may possibly be even further back, as skilled professional throughout history needed a way to highlight their capabilities. With the invention of paper, it became even easier to advertise skills and abilities. And with the internet, your resume submission is only a click away. Throughout history people have sought ways to gain employment. And although much evolved, the resume has become the standard for differentiating skills and getting a job.

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

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