What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“WANTED, A YOUNG man qualified to act as BAR-KEEPER.”
Today we rely on a variety of media to connect employers and prospective employees. Many jobseekers identify potential positions via announcements or listings in online forums. Increasingly, they submit all or most of their application materials electronically. Qualified candidates may be invited for in-person interviews or those conversations might take place over the telephone or internet. The job search apparatus has changed significantly within living memory.
Today’s advertisement provides a glimpse of how some positions were filled in eighteenth-century America. When Joseph Pullett needed to hire a barkeeper, he placed a notice in the Virginia Gazette. His announcement included a series of qualifications, not unlike today’s employment listings.
Pullett expected candidates to have at least minimal education, but probably assumed that they would learn experience as well. For instance, he suggested that applicants should understand “something of accounts.” In other words, it was not necessary to know all the ins and outs of advanced bookkeeping, but Pullett wanted a barkeeper familiar enough with ledgers that (with a little eighteenth-century on-the-job training) he could assist with those responsibilities. To that end, he also needed to be able to write “a tolerable good hand” in order to effectively keep the accounts.
Reputation and recommendations also played a role in successful job searches in the eighteenth century. It was not enough to demonstrate that he possessed these skills and knowledge; any young many that applied needed recommendations testifying to his skill and his character. Many employment advertisements sought “sober” applicants, though this most likely referred to an appropriate temperament and comportment rather than abstaining from alcohol.
Although some of the methods for filling jobs have changed in the past two centuries other aspects continue to look very familiar.