How did the US Government hire people pre-internet?

I am specifically wondering about the federal government hiring people. The Foreign Service exam results came out today, and that, coupled with the recent USAJOBS debacle, got me wondering… pre-internet, how did an ambitious grad student or professional get a job with the federal government? In addition, how did the federal government fill positions? Did each agency have their own hiring? I realize the federal government has gotten much larger in recent years, but I have a hard time understanding how people with specialized skills could get jobs without knowing exactly who to contact. Was it a given that you’d have to move to DC first and then find a job?

Pretty much every county has a federal office building. You use to go there and ask about upcoming civil service exams. They’d give you all the information about what positions would be holding exams in the upcoming months, what the qualifications were, and give you the applications for any exams you wished to take.

For many agencies, the hiring is done within the agency. It works just like it does for a private company. You send them a resume. Or perhaps they have a job fair in your area (or at your university) and they interview you there. In any case, at some point they give you a job application. If they are sufficiently interested by your resume, your job application, and/or your interview at the job fair, they bring you in for an interview and possibly testing at the agency itself. At that point, with all the information they’ve received from your application, your resume, your interviews, your grades and degrees, your recommendations, your test scores, etc., they offer you a job. In any case, nobody expects you to move to the job site (in D.C. or any place else that the agency is located) before you’re offered the job.

Oh my goodness, children are so young these days. :slight_smile: Pre-Internet as though it were the Stone Age!

You laugh - but I’m very, very glad that I only entered the full-time job market after Internet access and email became ubiquitous. As difficult as the job search is now, I can’t imagine what it would be like without easy access to nearly-comprehensive jobs databases for my field, or the ability to email resumes and cover letters without having to actually print them each and every time.

Oh, no, I agree - I mean, I’m very happy for the Internet. But the OP was just cute.

I went to college in the 1980s and was a writer and editor on the weekly student newspaper. It was self-sufficient (i.e., needed no subsidy from the student union) based entirely on ad revenues. A big chunk of that revenue was display ads from companies and government agencies looking to hire graduating seniors. I was amused by the ads from the intelligence agencies that pretty explicitly said that they wanted to hire people to work as spies.

Yes, but I am guessing in the pre-internet days, a REAL human being used to look at everyone’s application or resume.

These days that is difficult to find. For many companies (and almost all larger corporations) all applications or resume submittals are online where they are keyword searched and ranked according to astrological metrics. Only THEN are the “top-scoring” applications shown to the clueless HR person.

I have also been to career fairs where they will not even take your resume. It is a one-way street only, they will tell you about the company, but they are not interested in you. They just tell you “go apply online.” This included government agencies.

Yes, I have submitted my resume to 100 black holes. No, I’m not bitter.

Before the internet, the town elders would all gather at Point Reno, the highest natural point in DC. There, they would light a fire, which would send the signal to other outposts to light their fires. From there it spread, across valleys and mountains and rivers and lakes, throughout the land.
As soon as the fire was lit, the town crier (often but not always the eldest male of the town’s patriarchal clan) would run towards the city square’s gazebo, holding aloft his illuminated manuscript and chanting out the job descriptions in the common Latinate as was the style at the time.
Should you desire additional information on the job, carrior pigeons were supplied for questions. Those whose families could not afford such avian luxury probably were not suited for governmental work anyway and best got an apprenticeship at a local blacksmithee.

So you could just put your resume in an envelope and address it to the NSA? That would actually work?

What if they did not have a job fair near your location?

I guess for most people who are younger, it DOES kind of sound like the stone age.

Despite many of the problems with online applications (mentioned above) someone in the middle of Nowhere, Kansas can apply for any position, in any agency, and at any time throughout the federal government within an hour. That is a big change.

I didn’t even know that there was a federal government before the internet. Come to think of it, I’m still not convinced.

My senior year in college (1974) I took the Federal Employee Entrance Exam and filled out a questionnaire about what parts of the country I was willing to work in and what sort of jobs I was interested in. Every month or so after that I would get a packet with information on what federal jobs were available that more or less met my specifications, with details for each on how to apply. I applied for several of them over the next year and a half and actually got called in for two interviews, one of which resulting in my getting the job I worked at for thirty years.

While I was working for the government, the Personnel Department had listings of federal job openings, and was more than willing to assist employees in filing for jobs with other agencies. I would pop in there occasionally, usually when I was annoyed at some aspect of my job, and see if there was anything that looked interesting.

Long before the internet I applied for my government job by filling out a huge application, sent it in with transcripts and other documents then waited for about 6 months. I should have been on every governement agency’s radar but I’m not sure how that worked.

The other side of the coin is, how did the governement hire before the internet? That is a huge question with many answers, depending upon the job and the agency. I worked on a couple of certifications. This involved comparing dozens of applications and supporting material to specific job requirments, all by hand, and scoring each person based on how well they met the requirments. When that is done, the person or department looking to fill a slot was allowed to choose from only the top candidates in that scoring. Not that different from now except that computers do the scoring these days for some jobs, like IT.

Government employees don’t stay on job becasue they love the work. They stay because they are so exhausted at the end of the hiring process they never want to apply for another job.

Thanks all for your replies and heroic war stories :slight_smile: It is really fascinating to think of the amount of time and delay in just sending your resume off into the dark abyss. I guess a followup question is how the role of HR has changed as a result in terms of screening and placing people. Right now, if I knew I wanted to be a Mongolian mining specialist, I can quickly google and figure out where I have a chance to get a job, and then apply. Back then, you’d be able to figure out what agencies have an international focus, and then send your resume off, with fingers crossed. Strange…

Hermitian, yes, of course all the intelligence agencies both now and as long ago as I know about have always accepted applications from people who sent them in without any previous contact with the agency. What did you think happened, that the agency would go around the country kidnapping people that they considered qualified and bringing them to an undisclosed location, where they told these people that they could undergo the secret test to become an employee of the agency or else the agency would wipe their memory and return them to their homes? There is no mystery whatsoever about how intelligence agencies hire people. They get resumes or applications from people, either by mail, the Internet, or at a job fair. They then hire the applicants according to all the usual reasons that any private company uses - the content of their resumes, what they wrote on their applications, their performance in interviews, their degrees, their grades, their recommendations, etc., plus the results of the investigation for a clearance.

For your other question, if there doesn’t happen to be a regional federal job fair or a university-based job federal job fair close to you, you just send your resume to the agency that you want to apply to. That was true before and is true now. In any case, basically federal job hiring is very much like hiring for any big company (although it tends to be slower).

Federal level notwithstanding, a lot of the jobs are effectively local. I was gone away to college, and the local office of the National Forest Service had a bulletin board flyer posted that announced summer survey crew jobs for the local National Forest. I called in and requested an application, they sent it in the mail, I filled it in and mailed it in, and sometime later got a job offer. (I don’t recall if there was any interview - maybe not, 'cause it’s not like they would have lost much if any of us didn’t work out.)

Once in the system, it would have been that much easier to find out about advancement opportunities - but I never pursued it. At the end of the summer, it was time to go back to studying and on to other things.

Doubtlessly there is some variation in the applications for jobs at a government agency according to the educational level necessary. An agency might need both janitors and newly minted Ph.D.'s in some science with a specialty that’s only offered at a few universities, the nearest of which is a thousand miles away from the agency. It would then be rare for the agency to get applications for janitorial positions from someone who lives a thousand miles from the location of the agency, but it would be typical to get applications from a Ph.D. candidate studying at a university a thousand miles away.

Well, before the internet it took some effort to apply for a job, more than emailing your resume, so there was less competition for the jobs you did apply for. And though this isn’t related to the net, most companies hadn’t fired most of their HR department yet so you actually got a response. When I started working in 1980 our 500 person center had 2 high level HR people devoted to hiring and two lower level aides. When I started to recruit they did most of the work I have to do myself now. So things were a lot more civilized.

As for the OP, the post office had exams for summer college jobs, which a lot of us took in 1970. Since most MIT students could handle arranging addresses correctly, most of us got jobs. They just told you where to report. Very simple, and quite well paying.

It was worse than that, even.

You had to take your resume to a printer to have it set and printed. When you ran low on copies you’d have to go have more printed. You had to plan ahead! Something I’m not super good at.

You could type your resume, but for the really good jobs you were expected to get them from a printer.

When I started in the job market for real there was a debate about whether it was acceptable to use a laser printer instead of taking them to a print shop. Dot matrix was definitely not acceptable.