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The history of recruitment: Recruiting then and now

by Kerryn Karssing - Senior Consultant - RecruitFin, part of the Recruitgroup | Dec 09, 2014
"Recruitment is something which I have always classified as 'new' or 'modern.' It was only after researching the topic further, that I discovered the concept of recruitment to be rich in history, dating all the way back to the 1940's." says Kerryn Karssing senior consultant at the Recruitgroup. The global definition of recruitment refers to a process whereby a candidate is attracted, screened and selected for a job by a recruiter or employee. It is interesting to think that this process has continued for decades. However, development and technology have affected the way in which the process has been carried out from decade to decade. The current recruitment industry is an environment of radical transformation and new and innovative recruiting trends.
It is believed by some that recruitment dates back to ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome through the way in which people wrote things down about themselves to give a potential employer, initiating the concept of a CV. However the birth of modern recruitment, and recruitment as we know it, began in the 1940's as a result of WWII. The calling of soldiers to the war left gaps in the work-place and a solution was born: the employment agency. Employment or recruitment agencies began to advertise for members of society who were not called into military service, to fill the vacancies in the workplace left by those who went to war. Once the war had come to end, the employment agency remained with the purpose of finding the returning war veterans (with their new skills) a place in the employment market which at the time was lacking in talent. And so with the expanded work-force, the recruitment industry blossomed.

By the 1950's, people were creating resumes depicting their current personal profiles and skills. The main focus of the recruiter then was to ensure that candidates, or the customer, were satisfied and found employment. However by 1970 along with the booming economy, there was a shift in focus. Recruiters began to work for the client as an increasing amount of corporate and expanding businesses began to outsource their hiring needs to employment agencies. However this was before the rise of the internet and modern technology, and recruitment was a different game. Recruiters had limited resources in comparison to recruiters in the modern age. The main tools of recruitment were that of bulletin boards, which slowly led to advertisements in newspapers. Recruitment depended extensively on word-of-mouth and face-to-face applications. The storage of information was also challenging as the agency would have to store files and archives of masses of CVs written on paper, making applications difficult to access and sort through.

With the invention of the computer, arrived Applicant Tracking Systems and candidate databases which made storage and accessibility of the CVs much easier for recruiters. By the mid 90's, with the arrival of the world-wide web or internet, recruiters were treated to the use of online classifieds and job advertising as well as online databases. The concept of "head-hunting" became ever popular, and a focus on skill apparent. Many years later with the growth and improvement of the internet as an accessible research tool, recruiters started to use online job-portals as a resource to access candidate's CVs. Today "Pnet" and "Career Junction" are a popular resource used by South- African recruiters for exposure to thousands of CVs.

We can therefore see a change in recruitment methods throughout the years mainly influenced by socio-economic circumstance, as well as development and technological influence. Although the recruitment industry has progressed from hand-written CVs and walk-in applications, the industry remains ever-changing. Since 2010, more people are using social networking sites to recruit staff as well as apply for jobs. Personal branding has taken centre stage, and social networks are ever-present and expanding. Recruiters now have access to millions of professional profiles with the click of a button. Linkedin, a professional social networking site has become ever-popular, allowing recruiters to head-hunt quite easily. Social networking has taken over from word-of-mouth referrals, and with the influx of social sites people have to be aware of the kind of impression they are making online, or their "online personality." Twitter and Facebook as well as company websites have also enhanced the means by which recruiters are able to advertise. Although the rise of the internet, job portals and social networking have been seen as positive and have improved the quality of a recruiter's candidate search, it has also allowed fellow recruiters and employers to share one universal database of candidates. Therefore in recent years, it has become a trend for recruitment agencies to differentiate themselves from their competitors using various tools, specialisation and recruitment methods whereas in previous years a specific agency would have ownership of a single candidates CV written on a piece of paper.

The recruitment agency has thus seen extensive changes over the years, and has developed and progressed immensely with the creation of new recruitment tools and processes. It remains however, an ever-challenging environment and industry. Current recruitment trends include social networking, and old recruitment methods (such as billboard advertising) have therefore been minimised with the rise of the internet. Throughout the history of recruitment one aspect has remained the same: it is always changing. The attracting, screening and selection of candidates in whatever circumstance or period, using whichever tools available has always had the same purpose: placing a candidate in a vacancy and the environment in which this has taken place has been changing and evolving since 1940, and will continue to do so. Says Kerryn: "Although the recruitment industry is ever- changing, and could be an entirely different environment by 2020, if recruiters can adapt and use these changes as a tool to enhance their resources and to expand, they will succeed just like they have for the past 70 years."