The Evolution of Resume Writing: A Look Back Through The Decades

In the ever-evolving world of job hunting, one constant has remained: the resume. This single document has the power to open doors, create opportunities, and shape careers.

But just as the professional landscape has evolved, so too has the humble resume. From the traditional black-and-white paper document of the 1950s, filled with formal language and rigid structure, to today's digital, interactive, and personality-driven portfolios, the evolution of resume writing mirrors the transformation of the workplace itself.

The inclusion of keywords, relevant to automated applicant tracking systems (ATS), became crucial. The emergence of professional networking sites like LinkedIn brought about the integration of digital profiles with traditional resumes.

Each decade introduced new trends and tools, molding the modern, streamlined, and tech-savvy resume-crafting process seen today.

In this blog post, we journey through the decades, examining how resume writing has changed and what these changes say about our shifting perceptions of work, skills, and professional identity.


The resume is a critical part of the modern job search, serving as the first impression you make on potential employers. But resumes today look starkly different from even 20 or 30 years ago.

Like all aspects of business, how we present our skills and experiences on paper has evolved dramatically with the times.

Understanding this evolution provides key context on why resumes look and function as they do today. It also provides a glimpse into the future of resumes and the importance of adaptability for job seekers.

The Birth of Resumes (1930s):

Contrary to popular belief, resumes have not always been a staple in job hunting. The concept of a resume originated in the 1930s during the Great Depression when job competition was fierce and candidates sought ways to stand out.

While versions of resumes existed earlier, they only became a standard part of the hiring process during this time. Before that, most people lived and worked in the same town their whole lives. A good verbal reference sufficed to land jobs.

The Great Depression changed things. With jobs scarce, employers wanted paper evidence of an applicant’s skills.

According to career historian Dr. Frank Fox, the first modern resume template emerged in 1933 highlighting education, work experience, and personal information. These early resumes were very basic and focused on pedigree like education, hometown, and family reputation.

Duties and responsibilities took a backseat to character and background. It was typical for photos, age, marital status, and other personal details to be included.

According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, over 70% of resumes in the 1930s contained such personal information.

Such details would be considered inappropriate or even illegal to request now. Quite unthinkable today!

Resumes in the Post-War Era (1940s - 1950s):

The post-war era brought significant changes to the workforce and, consequently, to resumes. As soldiers returned from World War II and reentered the job market, there was a shift in focus from personal attributes to skills and experiences.

With so many men deployed, employers needed skilled workers fast. They also realized veterans returned with incredible technical abilities.

The GI Bill, passed in 1944 also played a big role in this shift, as it allowed many veterans to pursue higher education, making academic qualifications a new point of emphasis in resumes.

During this period, the resume's format began to take on a more familiar form. Objective statement, followed by Education, and then Experience.

In this context, World War II shook up the job market enormously by giving rise to skills-focused resumes. It was also during this time, that Job stability decreased as workers shifted between opportunities, increasing resume usage.

The 1950s saw resume length grow to multiple pages detailing the minutiae of past roles. Photographs remained standard as discrimination was legal.

Resume writing was still an informal practice with no standardization.

The Age of Professionalism (1960s - 1980s):

As the business world modernized in the 1960s and 70s, resumes followed suit becoming more professional and streamlined. Resumes became more structured, and the focus shifted from simply listing qualifications to selling one's skills and abilities.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of distinct occupations in the United States increased by nearly 25% between the 1960s and 1980s.

This diversification necessitated more targeted resumes, highlighting relevant skills and experiences for each job application.

This period saw the birth of career counselors and professional resume writers who further systemized the process. Applicant tracking systems in the 1980s also demanded resumes with consistent headers, sections, and keywords.

Resume length shortened to 1-2 pages, while personal information declined.

A more business-like, achievement-focused tone became the norm by the 1980s as resumes shifted to selling skills over pedigree.

The Digital Revolution (1990s - 2000s):

The advent of the digital age had a profound impact on resume writing. Computers and word processing software made it easier to create and modify resumes.

The Internet facilitated the distribution of resumes, with email becoming a popular method of sending resumes to potential employers. Applicants could now email resumes instantly in MS Word or PDF formats.

Online job boards started flourishing in popularity by the 2000s. Job seekers tailored “e-resumes” with keywords to get past digital filters.

Scannability became vital as HR professionals used online job boards for recruitment.

The design saw major upgrades with modern, appealing templates instead of just typed black text. Infographic, video, and Web 2.0 resumes also emerged seeking to be distinctive.

But length contracted even further to combat shrinking attention spans. Bullet points replaced paragraphs for faster skimming by recruiters.

The Social Media Era (2010s - Present):

Today, your digital presence is as crucial as your resume. LinkedIn profiles have essentially become an extension of resumes with rich media.

Recruiters screen candidates online before ever reading a resume.

In a way, Resumes are no longer standalone documents but a part of a broader online professional identity.

The rise of personal branding emphasizes customized, visually compelling resumes conveying uniqueness. Applicants also use portfolios, websites, and links to showcase work which has led to creating a consistent, professional brand across various platforms, including traditional resumes and social media profiles.

Resume development is now a nuanced, data-driven process tracking outcomes across jobs to constantly optimize.

A/B testing of phrasing, layouts, and other variables helps job seekers stand out in an ultra-competitive market.

The Future of Resumes:

Predicting the future of resumes is challenging given the rapid technological advancements. However, one can expect Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to play significant roles.

Companies like IBM are already using AI to analyze resumes and predict candidate success.

But how will resumes continue to evolve moving forward? Well, one thing is for sure, we can expect even more interactivity and personalization.

AI-powered tools like Flavoured Resume enable customized resumes tailored to each job's key requirements. Virtual reality could let employers experience 3D walkthroughs of your career.

Video resumes are also likely to gain traction. Numerous Tools enable video interviews. Applicants may soon submit short video bios.

Whatever shape they take, strong presentation skills and showcasing your authentic self will remain central to resumes.

“The core purpose - compellingly advertising your value - persists across eras”.


From simple paper profiles to robust multimedia selling tools, resumes have come a long way over nearly a century. They've constantly adapted from focusing on pedigree to skills to achievements and now personal branding.

Understanding this past provides helpful context on why resumes look as they do today. More importantly, it reminds us that resumes will keep evolving with the times. Just as social media and computers disrupted past conventions, emerging technologies will bring new transformations.

By keeping up with these resume trends and flexibility and tailoring our experiences for relevance, we can master the critical first touchpoint with employers.

While formats change, one thing remains constant - a powerful resume makes opening doors to new opportunities possible in any era.