The AI Threat to Job Search and Hiring

While reading Katharine Schwab’s article, “AI Has a Big Tech Problem,” in the current issue of Fast Company, I began to think about how so many HR departments have become dependent upon technologies, especially Applicant Tracking Systems, and that HR, like AI, may have a big tech problem itself.

If, as reported, there are racial, gender and other biases in English language Google search results, the same would have to be true for HR systems based on Artificial Intelligence (AI). (For those of you who read her article, also mentioned is the “outsize carbon emissions required to compute” the search results. Such a comment should not detract from the seriousness of the subject matter.)

This is important to job seekers since, as Ms. Schwab clearly states, “At stake is the equitable development of a technology that already underpins many of our most important automated systems. From credit scoring and criminal sentencing to healthcare and whether you get a job interview or not [emphasis added], AI algorithms are making life-altering decisions for people, with no oversight or transparency.” The harms the systems can cause include “discriminatory hiring systems,” among others.

This is a problem of technology meeting ethics. The people who can be most negatively impacted, marginalized communities, need a seat at the table. Now Lord knows that I like a good laugh, but naming the organizations trying to tackle this problem, and I am quoting from the article not making this up, “Algorithmic Justice League (AJL), Data for Black Lives, Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, and the Our Data Bodies Project,” diminishes from the seriousness of the issue. It also shows that while Big Tech has too much presence in the room, there are not enough adults in the room!

Case in point: These groups, or at least some of them, got Amazon to stop selling its facial recognition software because it does not work well with Blacks. I don’t doubt it. But stopping the use of the software is stupid. If it works for Whites, then use it to catch White criminals. Blacks are always complaining that they are being racially profiled and they are disproportionately arrested and convicted for crimes. Well, if the software can help to locate White criminals, the percentage of Black criminals will drop. In the meantime, the developers can continue to work on the technical problems and, once solved, criminals, Black, White, Brown, Yellow, Red, Green, and Purple, will be caught, tried, convicted and our streets will be safer. Isn’t that what we wall want? Thus the need for some adults being in the room.

Luckily, there is one. Steven Shwartz, the author of Evil Robots, Killer Computers, and Other Myths: The Truth About AI and the Future of Humanity, the e-book edition of which I shall now “steal” from shamelessly.

The AI we all know and love, albeit to varying degrees, is the AI that powers the robots that stack shelves and do mundane, repetitive and dangerous work allowing humans to fully recognize their potential, contribute to their employer’s profits and, more importantly, to be safe. The AI systems that we fear, the killer robots which will enslave us, are based on Artificial General Intelligence or AGI. Like humans, these systems have the “ability to reason; to process visual, auditory and other inputs; and to use it to adapt to their environments in a wide variety of settings. These systems are as knowledgeable and communicative as humans about a wide range of human events and topics. They’re also complete fiction [emphasis added].” (p.18)

In other words, AI science fiction is just that, fiction. The problem is, most people don’t appreciate the fact that IBM’s Watson winning at Jeopardy!, and a program beating a master at chess or Go, may be impressive, but it’s basically a very complicated trick. They function on AI and “have little or no commonsense knowledge of the world and they cannot reason based on knowledge.” (p.18) They are what Ray Kurzweil called “narrow AI systems,” which are defined as “machines that can perform only one specific task.” They are not intelligent. (p. 18)

It is narrow AI that may have an impact on employment. And there are a few things of which you need to be aware.

First, perfection. “A missing hyphen in the software ruined the 1962 Mariner space launch. Faulty software was also the cause of the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear disaster, the 2003 New York City blackout, 2010’s high-speed trading outage on Wall Street…and the Boeing 737 Max crashes.” (p. 27) If there is a mistake in software, people can die. No one will die if there is a mistake in HR software, but they might be unemployed which, in some sense, could be worse.

Second, liability. The manufacturers of the software, and the users, must be held liable for anything that goes wrong. Just as you can’t blame an autonomous vehicle for a poor decision because they lack “commonsense reasoning capabilities” (p. 34), you can’t blame the software if it rejects minorities as a matter of practice. It’s not the software’s fault it’s the fault of the programmers (the manufacturer) and the user (the company whose HR department convinced them to make the purchase).

Third, hysteria. In 2018, “Newsweek reported ‘Robots Can Now Read Better Than Humans, Putting Millions of Jobs at Risk’.” If you believe that, please contact me. I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’m trying to sell! The truth is, AI systems may be able to read, but they cannot read and understand and “researchers do not know how to make them do so.” (p.47)

Our jobs are safe. Every time automation is introduced, some people lose their jobs. Some of those people retire. Some of them are retrained. Some move on to other things. But always, always, more jobs are created than are lost. This is nothing new. It’s been going on for centuries.

In the 1800s, “Luddites destroyed automation equipment to protest [textile] job-destroying machines.” Warren Buffet researched the topic for Time magazine. He discovered that in 1776 80% of workers were employed on farms. Today, the number is two percent. Why? Tractors, planters, cotton gins, combines, fertilizer, irrigation or, in a word, technology. (p.50)

Ray Kurzweil, who I mentioned earlier, discovered that “half of all the jobs available in 1900 no longer exist today.” Those “new jobs are paying eleven times higher wages than the jobs in 1900, even after adjusting for inflation.” (p.50)

Think about what (almost) everyone reading this article can remember: “Word processors have replaced many secretaries [Remember typewriters?], tax preparation software has reduced the need for accountants, automated toll booths have replaced human toll collectors, internet travel sites have displaced many travel agents, e-commerce (especially Amazon) is taking a toll on brick-and-mortar retail, and self-checkout technology is threatening the 3.6 million US cashier jobs.” (p.50.)

But, and I am sorry to get political, unlike blindly shutting down fossil fuel production and claiming the workers can make solar panels for a very small national industry (see below), cashiers won’t be fired. They will become salespeople (if they want) and probably earn more money as they will be able to get commissions. These people will walk the floors, sales tablets in hand, talk to customers admiring products, and close the sale right there on the spot, not giving the customer time to change their minds as they walk to the now non-existent cashier lines. That’s the way it is supposed to work.

Think about ATMs. They marked the doom of bank tellers. Or, at least, that’s what was predicted. What really happened? “While ATMs reduced the numbers of tellers per branch, more branches opened because ATMs reduced the operating costs in each branch.” (p. 51) And don’t forget the jobs that were created manufacturing, installing and repairing ATMs, not to mention those related to the construction of those new bank branches.

One more thing to note: While AI can handle repetitive functions, “only 10 percent of occupations are composed of more than 90 percent automatable tasks. Although parts of a certain job might be replaced by AI, the other 90 percent of the job will still need to be done by a human being; that means that, although your job duties might change, your job is likely safe (at least from AI).” (p.53)

Up until now I have not been writing about hiring because I felt it important to make certain that the relationship between AI and job destruction/creation was properly understood. Always think ATMs, never think solar panels. (For the record, according to their industry, in 2019 there were only a quarter of a million solar panel jobs in the US. https://www.thesolarfoundation.org/national/. On the other hand, according to their industry, there were 6.7 million fossil fuel related jobs in the US in 2018. https://www.usenergyjobs.org/2019-report. You do the math.)

Shwartz also makes it clear (p.54), “The biggest technology driver of job loss today is not AI. Conventional software that uses explicit coding of instructions and rules, such as e-commerce, rideshare software, and robotics, destroys far more jobs than AI systems.” As has been said many times, it is a tragedy for the person who loses their job to technology, but let’s put the blame where it belongs. Focusing on AI allows conventional software to slip through under the radar.

Which (finally?) brings me to hiring. There exists a new acronym, ADS, which stands for “automated decision system.” These are the ones job seekers, employers (because they purchase them – the ADSes, not the job seekers! – and the manufacturers, have to worry about. They make “decisions and recommendations that previously were made by people,” including employment decisions. (p. 186)

Problem is, like the people who program them, even with the best of intentions, ADSes can be discriminatory. I can’t summarize this better than Shwartz wrote it (pp. 187-188):

In 2003, economists Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan responded to help-wanted ads in Boston and Chicago with fake resumes. The researchers gave the resumes random names that sounded African American (e.g., Lakisha and Jamal) or Caucasian (e.g., Emily and Greg). The Caucasian resumes received 50 percent more callbacks. Social media such as LinkedIn facilitates intentional discrimination by providing a place where biased hiring managers can view an applicant’s picture.

Let me chime in: Years ago there was a lot of debate over using LinkedIn to vet candidates. By going to LinkedIn, you can see the applicant’s photo. You therefore have a good idea, in fact near certainty, as to their gender, race and, possibly, religion. Lawyers, therefore, recommended that only after receiving a resume, speaking with the applicant, and inviting them in for an interview, should recruiters/employers look at their LinkedIn profile. Then it was not for discriminatory purposes but to spot differences between their resume and profile so as to be able to ask probing questions. That debate, probably because it is nearly impossible to know when a recruiter/employer looks at the LinkedIn profile (before or after inviting the applicant to be interviewed), has vanished. Now to return to Mr. Shwartz:

Job screening ADSes use data that incorporates the hiring preferences and experience of previous hiring managers. Amazon built an ADS to predict which job applicants would be the best employees. However, because most software engineers were historically male, the ADS inadvertently learned a bias against female applicants. Amazon discontinued the system when they discovered this issue.

So now that we know the problem, what’s the solution?

Shwartz identified nine steps employers should take (pp.191-2):

  1. Hire a diverse workforce to reduce intentional discrimination.
  2. Use only ADS systems that use interpretable algorithms.
  3. When building ADS systems, preprocess the data to remove bias.
  4. Run tests on ADS systems to determine whether they are biased.
  5. Use only ADS systems that are certified as bias-free by independent third parties.
  6. Check to see whether they publish statistics showing a diverse hiring pattern.
  7. Determine whether they only use ADS systems that are explainable.
  8. Find out whether they test their ADS systems to ensure they are nondiscriminatory.
  9. Discover whether they have third-party nondiscrimination certifications for their ADS systems.

Granted, I am prejudiced, but I have a tenth, far simpler solution: Don’t use them! They are not worth the cost of the inevitable law suits. Hire recruiters to choose candidates to be interviewed and give them strict instructions on the laws concerning discrimination.

Ironically, again quoting Shwartz (p.187): “Factors such as race, religion, color, gender, disability, and family status can be explicitly removed from training tables to prevent ADSes from making decisions based on these factors.” If they can be removed from the ADSes, they can be removed from the people, and cost a lot less in time, money and aggravation. So my tenth solution is really not all that self-serving.

In any event, discriminatory criteria must be eliminated from the process. Even zip codes need to be removed from the calculous of hiring. This cannot be taken lightly especially if you work in the EU. “The European Union General Data Protection Regulation now requires an individual to consent to the use of an ADS for a decision that has a consequential impact on that individual.” (p.194) And if it’s in the EU, it will eventually arrive in the US, probably through California. But, to be fair, there has already been one lawsuit filed, in Texas (p.195):

“A Texas teacher’s union won a 2017 court case in which teachers objected to the use of an automated scoring system as the primary method of identifying 221 teachers for termination. The issue was that the school system had no way to know if the scoring used biased data. … Although the parties settled the case out of court, the school system agreed to stop using the automated scoring system.”

It’s not just self-interest that makes me advise against ADSes, it’s real concern for both employers and job seekers. Tread carefully, you could fall into a huge money pit!

How to Get Employers to Run After You

You may not know what mercaptan is, but you would probably be dead without it. I thought about this while watching a documentary on a boon town in Texas, during the Depression, which was literally the only place in the country with jobs. Sorry, green energy fans, but it was all because of fossil fuels. Now what I did not know was that natural gas was a biproduct of oil exploration. And I certainly did not know that they did not know what to do with it so they burnt it off, on site. Then they discovered that it could provide heat. So they pumped it into their brand new school, providing them with free heat. No good deed…

The school filled with gas, someone lit something, and the school blew up, literally, and fell back down where it had previously been standing. Some 300 students, teachers and staff died. Mercaptan was the solution. It was safe, had no impact on the efficiency of the gas and, most importantly, provided an odor that people could smell when there was a leak.

I have had two job seekers contact me in the last week or so. Neither understood why they were getting no calls, not even from recruiters.

The first had what is called a “functional” resume. The “function” seems to be unemployment. Those are the resumes that don’t include the names of employers or, if they do, they do not include the dates of employment. Two very large red flags. The first means that the applicant is afraid of what the employer(s) might say about them. But, as far as I am concerned, the second is far more serious: No dates means the person can’t keep a job. I don’t submit candidates who can’t keep a job. So when I see a functional resume, I move on. And the few times I didn’t, I should have. If you have a “functional” resume, please don’t contact me.

The second was as serious, but in a totally different way. He had a decent resume. He actually has had a few interviews. But he has had no offers. Why? I believe it is because he is running after employers instead of having them run after him. Put differently, he did not stand out. There was nothing special about him.

Just as the presence of natural gas must be known, so too must your presence. And today, it’s easy. It’s called “social media.” It is what we are doing right now. It can be what gets you found or what makes you stand out from your competition.

Now let’s be honest: I have been doing this for at least a decade and probably longer. (I was one of the first to sign-up for LinkedIn.) I actually track this: between my social media sites, my blog (www.employmentedification.com), and the blog on my website (www.hsstaffing.com) I have over 46,750 followers, and my posts on LinkedIn, which I share on all my social media sites, have been read over 430,000 times. I hide from no one. You may not always like what I write, but you know I write!

Personally, I act identically on all my social media platforms. I have seen, blocked and rejected candidates/individuals who act professionally on LinkedIn, but like idiots on Facebook, lunatics on Twitter, and morons on Parler. How can I possibly work with someone like that or submit a client to them? Who will they be getting? The LinkedIn professional or the Facebook psychopath? I can’t afford to take the risk and neither can any employer. Social media is a public forum and you have to behave properly in public at all times.

So how do you get employers to run after you? Write long posts on LinkedIn. Write updates/comment/tweets/parleys on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Parler. Read what others post. Comment on them, but always be professional. Never be insulting. Don’t argue; ask. Engage people, including those with whom you disagree, in conversation but always do so on a high level. Let employers see that you not only know your stuff, but know how to behave.

And don’t just share your own writings. Share articles. Comment on them. Explain what you like and with what you disagree. Become known as a source for important writings (articles, etc.) on your profession.

I guarantee you, that 47,750 people will not read this article. I guarantee you, if you are an average person, you will probably get a couple of dozen reads on whatever you publish on-line. Who cares? All you need is the one person who will be so impressed that they will help move your career, or business, forward.

One last point: Remember to share you articles, etc., with your LinkedIn and Facebook groups. Even if they are not, strictly speaking, profession-related, someone in those groups may know the person you will want to meet. Don’t keep yourself a secret. Be the best known professional not the best known secret in your industry. Remember, in business it is always best to be the hunted and not the hunter.

How to Tell a Job Interviewer What They Should Do

(The quote, “Never tell your mother how to have children!” is an oldie but a goodie. But the source, apparently, is the oldest of them all, “Anonymous.”)

It is common in job interviews for candidates to talk too much. As I have written before, in many cases candidates have talked themselves out of job offers. But it works both ways, interviewers can also talk too much.

This usually occurs when, logically, they want to explain to the candidate the problem they are facing and thus the need for bringing them on board. Again, it’s perfectly logical. And it’s also necessary. But it can also be a trap.

After explaining the situation for a few minutes the interviewer turns to the candidate and asks, “How would you handle this?” or “What would you recommend that we do?”

There are disreputable companies that engage in fake hiring to get free advice from professionals they probably could not afford to actually hire, even as consultants. So they ask the latter question and hope for some good advice they can use. The ironic thing is, more likely than not, they don’t have the intellect, intelligence or resources to implement the suggestions. So let’s focus on the former question, after all, they are both related.

You, the candidate, have been in the company less than half an hour. You did all the research your could on them. You memorized their website. You found articles written about them and their key staff. And now you are being asked, after a few minutes of conversation, for the most part a monologue, how you would solve their biggest problem.

Your response should come in two parts. First, show off your researching skills. Ask pertinent questions based on your research. Make them delve deeper and reveal some of the things they kept hidden. If they were being sincere, this is a great way to show them that you understand what the real issues may be. (As I have said often, knowing the right questions to ask can be far more important than knowing the right answers to give.) If they are insincere, just looking for free help, and refuse to answer, game over! You know they are not looking to hire and, if you have the right morals, values and ethics, you won’t want to work for them. All you have to say is, “This is a complicated subject and without knowing the answers to my questions, I would not hazard to guess.”

Which brings us to the second part of your response. Assuming they are forthcoming, you can now give them the perfect-non-answer-answer. It shows you are intelligent. It shows that you are a person of good character. It shows, most importantly, that you know your stuff.

“While I have read a great deal about your company, and appreciate your candor, I would not presume, after meeting with you for only a few minutes, to offer advice. There are too many unknowns. In fact, since I don’t know what I don’t know I don’t know what to ask.”

You have now set the table for a response that shows you can do the job:

“If I understand correctly, and please correct me if I misunderstood, you…” After you have reworded what they told you, you continue, “Again I would not presume to tell you what to do. But what I can tell you is that I faced a similar situation. At one of my former employers,” you always want to show that you respect confidentiality by not naming names, “our problem was A, B and C. I proposed… The proposal was accepted. I was put in charge of building a team. We implemented a plan that included X, Y and Z. Not only did we solve the problem, we achieved buy-in from everyone and completed the plan on-time and under budget.”

And that is how you answer the question. If the employer is looking for free advice, the information you provided is worthless. They don’t know enough the situation you described and certainly don’t have the team to implement your solution, even if it is relevant for what they are experiencing. If the employer is sincerely looking to hire someone, you just proved that you can do the job for them because you did it for someone else, probably one of their competitors.

How to Debate at Work and Maybe Get a Promotion

Whenever I am asked by a high school student what they should study in college, I always tell them that their major does not matter. What matters is that they take a couple of classes in English. No matter your profession, the only way to advance, to get promoted, in your career is by having, at a minimum, a good command of the English language. You have to be able to write well and, just as importantly, to speak well.

In Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, Jon Meacham writes,

[John] Adams said, “A public speaker who inserts himself, or is urged by others into the conduct of affairs, by daily exertions to justify his measures and answer the objections of opponents, makes himself too familiar with the public, and unavoidably makes himself enemies”

To write public papers or to negotiate quietly, away from the floor of an assembly or even away from a largish committee, enabled a politician to exert his will with less risk of creating animosity. [p.108.]

Put differently, if you have a problem with something at work, sit down, shut up, and put it in writing. Adams, as he was so often, was correct. And for one very simple reason.

When you debate someone verbally, it is almost always viewed as an attack. The other person feels a need to immediately respond. Immediate responses can be emotional. Rarely does the person have time to think. However, if you write something, and take the time to proofread it, you’ll also, literally, add oxygen to the equation (as in, taking time to breathe) and you may calm down. As the saying goes, “Calmer heads will prevail.” Similarly, saying, “Let me think about this. I don’t think it is as simple or clear-cut as it appears at first. I’ll send you something later today,” gives you time to properly think the matter through and, more importantly, to word you response carefully in a way that cannot be misquoted. A person can honestly, or dishonestly, misquote something that has been said, but not written – at least not for long.

You don’t want to be the victim of “telephone,” the children’s’ game where the first child whispers something to the second child, who then repeats it to the third. By the time it reaches the fifteenth child, any resemblance between the original statement and the final one it totally coincidental. That does not matter when playing a game; it most certainly does matter when trying to create policy.

Most people think that Lincoln won the debate again Douglas. Most people think they were debating for the presidency. Most people are wrong. But that’s not what is important. What’s important is that most people think the foolishness that we call “debates” today was what they did. They didn’t. The first speaker spoke for an hour. The second spoke for an hour and a half. The first had a half hour to respond. Can you imagine any of the candidates who have recently run for public office being able to do that? And I am not talking about the physical stamina and dignity. To stand for 60 minutes and speak, and then to sit for 90 minutes and not say a word, takes more than physical strength. Both men, whether you agree with them or not, were as brilliant when they began as when there time finished.

I’m no Lincoln. I’m no Douglas. And, respectfully, I doubt any of you are either. Our formal education is certainly better today than in ante bellum America, but not the informal. I just don’t think we have it in us. But Socrates…that’s a different subject.

If you have to publicly debate, by which I mean to defend a proposal in the office, your responses may be seen as attacks, unless you follow Socrates (and even then, an immature opponent still will not understand). The Socratic Approach, as it is called, is to ask questions to cause the other side, and force the audience to think critically. Asking questions, instead of making declarative statements, appears to be less confrontational but, in truth, it is a far more effective strategy and can be devastating because it requires the person to logically, rationally and, most importantly, dispassionately, defend their position. If they respond with emotion, they lose!

Being Lincoln or Douglas causes the audience to think but not, necessarily, to stay awake. Being Socrates, causes the audience to think and keeps them engaged, awake, because the “debate” is rapid fire. But this means that you, the questioner, have to be prepared. You have to understand what the other side is going to say. You have to appreciate their logic and know how to attack it not them.

I have always found that a higher level of debate results in better decisions. Allow your staff to ask probing questions, in fact, let them know that they are expected to ask and respond to probing questions, and, most importantly, to do so respectfully. Do that and your decision making will be exemplary and the results exceptional.

Team Building Can Be Deadly

For a couple of years, I taught at a school in Manhattan for tradesmen. My students were electricians, plumbers, carpenters, a bricklayer (I didn’t even know the profession still existed!), and project managers. They had all graduated high school. Only a few had attended college and fewer had a degree. I was, to put it mildly, intimidated. I was used to teaching university students. This was something totally new for me. I was out of my element, had been thrown into the deep end.

And I enjoyed every minute of it. I had to learn a completely new way to get my message across. I had to learn a new way to gain/earn respect. And I had to be willing to be their student as much as their teacher. We had fun. We laughed. We all learned. There was no superiority and no inferiority. After a few weeks, we got to know each other. We learned how to work together. In many ways, we were a team.

I was reminded of this recently when I was interviewing an electrician for a position I was looking to fill. (Don’t bother asking for details; the position has been filled.) He made a joke about a cracked water pipe leaking into a light fixture. I jokingly said, “Even I know that is not a good thing!” He laughed and said, “Electricity and water work together but don’t get along.”

I don’t know if he realized how insightful a statement that was, but it got me thinking.

When I am considering candidates for positions with my executive recruiting clients, culture is the most important factor. I give a six-month guarantee, so I don’t want someone leaving after a few months. I have to be certain they are a match. A new hire has to be able to work with existing staff, but, unlike electricity and water, they must also get along. And there’s the rub. Existing staff must make the new hire feel welcome, but the new hire has to be willing to recognize that they are joining a preexisting team; the team is not joining them. The difference is significant. The new hire, over time, may be able to change things, but in the beginning, they have to conform (with the obvious exception of a senior/executive hire).

In most cases, hiring employees means expanding or maintaining an existing team, not changing its fundamentals. Knowing that means security and comfort for current employees and an appreciation of the need for acceptance of that fact by the new hire(s).

Electricity and water can get along as long as they are adjacent to each other, separated by some sort of protective covering. But put them together and sparks will literally fly. Make sure the same does not happen when you put a new hire together with your existing team! They must be able to work together and get along. Otherwise, it will be like electricity and water meeting at a light fixture.

In Support of Conformity on Social Media

I had an interesting exchange with an acquaintance on LinkedIn. Basically, I asked him why he acted one way on LinkedIn and differently on Facebook. He explained that his persona, and these are my words, not his, consists of his professional self and his personal self. He also stated that he follows the rules of the various social media sites. I assume this means that what he does on one site may not be acceptable on another. He also mentioned that he has a significantly larger number of followers on LinkedIn than first-degree connections, stating that his followers like to read his posts, etc. (He did not mention the number of “friends” and followers he has on Facebook.)

I do not subscribe to the school of thought that you should act one way on one social media site and differently on another. All are public and everything you do on them is in the public domain. My rule is simple: If you wouldn’t do it on Main Street, don’t do it on the Internet.

Our personas have many components. There are things we do in public and things we do in private. Some we would do in both. Discussing a book. Watching a movie. Eating. But there are things we do not share in public which are best kept private. Political views immediately come to mind, not to mention family issues. True, millions of people post their political thoughts (it’s their right) proving them to be liberal loons or crazy conservatives. But why be like them?

If you act like a consummate professional on, let’s say, LinkedIn, and go nuts on, let’s say, Twitter, what does that tell an employer or potential collaborator about you?

I’ll use myself as an example. My articles on LinkedIn have been read, as of the beginning of this year, over 425,000 times. I must be doing something right! They are all, basically, business related. Or, just something I wrote for fun. (Silly has always been part of my persona.) I have never written anything purely political. The one possible exception resulted in only praise, public and private, mostly private. And all of my articles/updates are identical on all my social media platforms. The only time there is a difference is when I am responding to someone else’s posts which, obviously, cannot be shared on other platforms. But the style is the same. I have the nasty habit of asking people to share the sources on which they have based their views! I’m a “Prove it!” of “Show me the beef!” type of guy. And I am also known for providing links to facts disproving claims, which result, more often than not, in the original post, to which I was responding, disappearing.

Look at it this way: The way you act on LinkedIn is likely the way you will act at work. That’s what most employers will think! The way you act on Facebook, Twitter, and the rest, will be the way you act outside of work. Again, that’s how most employers will think! But there is no “outside of work.” A woman was fired, for example, because of the way she acted at a bar. She was seen by a client. The client called her boss, reported the behavior, and said that she did not want to work with her any longer. She was fired. How do I know? She called me for career counseling. Sure enough, her LinkedIn profile was professional; not so much her pages on Facebook and Twitter. And this was far from the only time I saw this. It’s more common than you may think.

For sake of argument, let’s say that LinkedIn, and I believe this to be so, is the gold standard for behavior on social media. (We have all seen the “LinkedIn is not Facebook” posts!) Well, what does it say about you if you lower your standards on your other social media platforms? And why would an employer want to take a risk and hire you. Who are they going to get, the professional on LinkedIn or the raving lunatic on Facebook? Why take the risk? And it’s not just employers. The same thing is true for someone trying to sell you their products, good or services. No one wants to work with someone who reflects poorly on them. “I know he’s an idiot, but he pays his bills on time,” is not the reputation you want to have.

Social media platforms should not set the standards for your behavior. You should! On-line and off-line. That’s what I do and maybe that’s why I have over 46,000 followers across all of my social media networks – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Parler and my blogs.

The Physics of Getting a Job

F + t + T = J

First, a word of warning: Don’t rely upon me for physics or algebra.

That having been said, if I am not mistaken, I now have to say the following:

Where F is force; t equals time; T is thought; and J is a job or, to be more precise, a job offer.

It seems to me, someone who knows very little about physics and understands even less, that there is a relationship between force, time and thought. I also believe that if you properly combine all three, you may get a job offer. Let me try to explain with the goal of helping you and not making a complete fool out of me!

Let’s start with “F.” Everything we do involves force. When we take a step, we put force on the ground using our feet. When we sit, we put force on the chair using our derrière. When we type, we put force on the keys using our fingers. If the thing with which we are coming into contact can resist with greater force than the force we are expending, nothing bad happens. If, however, we use greater force against an object than that object can withstand, the object will change. Like clay in the hands of a sculptor, it may change for the better. But a sledge hammer meeting a wall…not so good for the wall.

The point is, force is something we do all the time. Constantly. Even in our sleep. Just ask your pillow and mattress! So force is not a negative. Force is a positive we need for our survival. So don’t be afraid of using force for anything. You just have to use it correctly.

I am not suggesting that you be rude, violent or offensive in a job interview. (In a world where pharmaceutical companies, advertising a product on television, have to include a warning not to use their medicine if the person is allergic to the medicine, I thought it wise to include that statement!) What I am saying is that you have to have force behind your views. When asked your opinion, you cannot waver. You need to display confidence. Put differently, you have to have the courage of your convictions. That’s the type of force I am referencing. It is not physical force, but mental force. (Anyone thinking Star Wars and “May the force be with you,” does not get dessert with their next dinner!)

Next comes time. Time is truly the only non-renewable, finite thing we have. And we don’t know how much of it we have. We don’t know when it will end. Yet it is one of the most wasted resources. How much time have you wasted trying to save a relationship which you knew was doomed to end, and end poorly? Think of the mantra: “Hire slow; fire fast!”

But to continue, how much time have you wasted on a project that had little if any chance for success when you could have been working on something you knew you could complete and would be successful? And how much time have you wasted talking and saying nothing? That’s the time with which I am concerned.

I cannot tell you how many employers have told me that candidates have talked themselves out of job offers. They simply talked too much. “I could not get a word in edgewise” is a common refrain.

Just as you can do more with less, you can say more with fewer words. The greatest speech ever written in the United States took less than two minutes to deliver. It is nine sentences in length. At Gettysburg, Lincoln said more in 275 words than most “men,” to quote from the speech, have said in their lifetimes.

In most interviews, you will not even have two minutes to answer a question, so you have to choose your words carefully and then deliver them, in the least amount of time, with the force of a person who believes in what they say.

Which brings us to the capital “T,” thought. You have to think before you speak. You should always do that but it is even more important in a job interview. So, when asked a question, take two-three seconds to come up with an answer. Even if you already know what you want to say because you have prepared well for the interview, take the time. The silence will work in your favor. It will have an impact. (Isn’t “impact” related to “force?”) The interviewers will hopefully say to themselves, “That’s a person who thinks before they speak.” Who would not want an employee with that characteristic?

And with that characteristic, you just might get the job offer.

Overcoming Shyness

Congratulations! You got the interview. Now you have to get the offer. And that comes down to your perspective. It’s all about your attitude. To coin a phrase, It’s attitude, stupid.

You have to be able to see the big picture. What does the employer need? Can you provide it? What does the employer want? Do you have it to give? As with everything else in life, needs are more important than wants. But you have to be able to see the big picture, understand the needs AND appreciate the wants.

This means listening. This means asking the right questions. But it also means taking possession of the room. Showing that you can take charge.

But beware: That will intimidate some people. They will see you as competition. On the other hand, it will make others happy because they don’t like taking or having responsibility. How do you know? Body language. It’s called “reading the room.” You proverbially take out your binoculars and look at the interviewers. Are they smiling, frowning, or not reacting to you. You need the binoculars because some reactions are very slight, very important, but very slight. And you can’t even proverbially (or is it “metaphorically?”) bring a telescope into an interview. Are they moving in their seats to get comfortable because you have made them feel uncomfortable? Are they leaning forward to listen? Or, are they leaning back to contemplate what you are saying? Or, are they leaning back to take a nap because they have already decided against you?

The truth of the matter is, you can never know for certain. As long as you are not rude, lie or make claims which you cannot support, you can only do your best. One person can lean back because you fascinate them, and another can lean back because you bore them. Who knows?

So you can spend all of your time second-guessing yourself, in which case I can almost guarantee that you will not get the job offer, or you can bring with you the secret sauce of successful interviewing. It’s a secret, so don’t tell anyone.

The secret sauce is confidence. It is not over-confidence, which is arrogance. It’s confidence. Pre-COVID, you could establish confidence with a firm handshake. You can’t anymore. So now you have to do it with your body language. You have to look the interviewers straight in the eye (camera). You have to speak with a firm tone of voice, friendly, but firm.

Some people, perhaps many, are shy. They do not enjoy public speaking. For them, a job interview is public speaking. There is a trick I was taught about overcoming shyness. Pick an actor or actress whom you respect. Whose performance resonates with you. In my case it could be a Humphrey Bogart. A Cary Grant. A John Wayne. This does not mean that I touch the corners of my mouth like Bogie. It does not mean that I employ Grant’s voice modulations. And it certainly does not mean that I imitate Wayne’s walk, tone or mannerism. What it means, or actually because I no longer need this tool, what it meant was that I said to myself that I should pretend that Bogart, Grant, Wayne, whomever, was in a movie playing me. And then I would play them playing me. It sounds crazy but it worked.

Don’t Overthink in a Job Interview

Years ago I had a candidate for a senior sales/business development position. While he was a candidate, and not a career counseling client, I naturally gave him some advice. It may have been a mistake.

What are they really asking? That’s a question a lot of career counselors or coaches pose to their clients. They tell them that employers ask one question but really have something else in mind.

For example, What are your strengths? Do they really want to know what you are good at? Don’t they already know from your resume? So what are they really asking? They are trying to figure out whether or not you will stay on the job if offered to you. Will you be bored? Will they be able to utilize all that you have to offer? Or will you feel that you are being underutilized, not being allowed to contribute to your full potential, and leave? All of which are quite true.

Now the reverse question: What are your weaknesses? Yes, they want to know. But they really want to know that you are self-aware and that you do something to overcome your weaknesses. “I have a problem with X. To deal with it I do A, B and C.” They also really want to know if they are going to have to provide you with training to overcome your weakness. All quite true.

But the problem is, sometimes, (I think) to paraphrase Freud, a question is just a question. There is no hidden agenda. But, if your mindset is that there is something sinister behind every question, you may overthink things. That is what happened to my candidate.

Both he and the employer, my client, gave identical reports on what had happened at the interview, so I know this is accurate:

Everything was going fine. The owner of the company was asking questions focused on the job description. The candidate was able to answer each question, giving examples of work he had done. And then it happened. The employer ask a question right out of left field. “What was the last movie you saw?” The candidate’s brain went into overdrive. What does he really want to know? What will he think if he knows I like stupid comedies? What will he think if I admit that my girlfriend dragged me to a “chick flick?” Will he think I am weak? Will he think that I’m the type of person who can be manipulated?

It took him what appeared like a lifetime to respond. According to the employer, it was only about 10 seconds. And he finally said, “I honestly don’t remember,” which could have been a perfectly good answer if it were not for the fact that the employer thought he was lying, which he was. He had been dragged to the “chick flick.”

Of course, it is always best to simply tell the truth. If he had said, “My girlfriend dragged me to this God-awful movie. I don’t remember the name of it and it will be two hours of my life I will never get back,” he probably would have gotten the job. But he lied. And he knew it. The owner of the company knew it. And the candidate, immediately regretting the lie, was thrown for a loop and, from that point on, performed poorly.

The employer’s motive in asking the question was simply to see if the candidate was any good at small talk. He failed that test, miserably.

The moral of this story: Don’t overthink an interviewer’s motivations. And, most importantly, never lie!

Speak to the Gap

Congratulations! Your cover letter and resume were effective. They did their job. The cover letter got them to look at your resume. Your resume got them to pick up the phone, confirm your interest and qualifications, and you got the interview – the Number Two Holy Grail of the job search process.

And then, there you were, seated (virtually) across from the interviewers and you blew it. Sure, you did your homework. You knew the job description inside out and backwards. You memorized their website. You knew the professional, and some personal, details about the interviewers. You even knew about the person you would be replacing. You had a list of really good questions to ask, not the normal nonsense. And you knew exactly what you needed to tell them to convince them that you were the candidate for the job. And then you blew it.

You forgot one little thing. Well, not so little a thing. You forgot the most important thing of all. You forgot to listen.

Most – no, that may not be fair. Allow me to start again.

Far too many employers talk to much. They are so desperate, literally and figuratively, to fill that empty chair, that they talk too much. They are so frustrated that they have to get the proverbial off their chests. So they talk too much. They tell the candidate, the interviewee, you, what they want to hear. What they need to hear. What they are longing to hear. What they want you (Stop eating!) to regurgitate back to them. And then…you blew it.

What did you do wrong? You were so focused on sharing with them everything that you had learned about them as individuals, and about the company, to prove to them what a great researcher you are and how well you prepare for meetings, that you did not bother to listen. You were waiting for your chance to tell them what you wanted them to hear that you totally missed out on what they wanted to hear.

It happens more often than you think.

I had a career counseling client who came to me, totally frustrated. He was in real estate business development. Sales. And he was good. He was averaging an interview every couple of days. But no offers.

His first mistake was that he was applying for the wrong type of jobs. He was the king of residential sales, but he was only applying for commercial real estate sales positions. Why? Because he wanted new experiences. He wanted new challenges. All very noble, but not what the interviewers, the employers, wanted. They wanted commercial and he only had a little commercial experience.

After they lectured him for five or 10 minutes on their commercial real estate problems, they simply asked, “How can you help us?” And what did he do?

At that point he took a deep breath, smiled, and lectured them for five or 10 minutes on his residential sales experience. They were not interested. Interview over.

What should he have done?

He should have spoken about the commercial real estate experience he had. Even though it was slight, he had some. And here’s another mistake he made: He forgot that they knew that. After all, he had not lied on his resume. They knew he was heavy on residential and light on commercial sales. Yet, there he was, virtually sitting across from them on the Zoom call.

He should have talked commercial and then added, “This is analogous, of course, to my residential sales experience. We had the same problems that you described. This is how I overcame them.”

By presenting, if you will, the painting of his residential sales career in a commercial sales frame, they would have listened. And, after a few mock sessions with me, that’s what he did, with positive results.

Put differently, he spoke to the gap, in fact the gaps (plural): The gap between what the interviewers needed and what he had to offer, and the gap between what he had to offer (great residential sales experience) and what they wanted to hear (commercial).

Just as in the London Tube the signs read, “Mind the Gap,” in an interview you should “Speak to the Gap,” the difference between the interviewers’ needs and what they have, and what you have to offer. Otherwise, you’ll fall in the crack! Granted, it’s a less deadly gap, but still, you don’t want to trap yourself.