Sure Bet Jobs in the Age of AI?

University Degree (Debt) Not Required!

In a previous article, I addressed the issue of the automation of the hiring process. I now want to look at what automation, or in today’s lingo AI – Artificial Intelligence – and it’s sibling – AGI – Artificial General Intelligence, will mean for employment opportunities in the coming decades, as well as industries not strictly technological in nature. In other words, what are the safe bets for choosing a career in the foreseeable future? What is nice about this is that, what they all have in common, to one degree (pun intended!) or another, and with only two exceptions, is that they do not require an academic degree and will free the employee of the future from the burden known as “student debt.”

(One thing to note, I always advise college students to minor in, and now I would advise non-college students, to actually go to their local community college and take some courses in, English. Regardless of your profession or industry, you will not be able to advance in your career unless you write and speak English well. And while people may want, and are in fact welcome, to argue with other statements I make in this article, that one is not open to debate.)

Military and Semiconductors

The mission of my company is to promote the hiring of veterans. I believe in my mission because we have a volunteer military and no one will volunteer, except those planning a career in the military, unless they have a reasonable expectation of employment following their discharge from the Service. And we need a strong military now more than ever.

The United States faces a grave and lethal threat from China. Think about it. If it is true, and I believe it is, that the coronavirus was an accident, unintentionally brought upon humanity by the Chinese, then the Chinese now know how to intentionally do it. They also know that they faced absolutely no ramifications of any significance (I can’t even think of an insignificant one!) for not having immediately informed the world of the existence of the virus. So they see the world (read: West) as weak.

Second, and now I am truly dusting off my doctorate in International Relations, a country that will not defend its own borders may be assumed to be unwilling to defend foreign borders. Russia got away with Crimea, literally, because it was not a vital national interest of the US. China may think, rightly or wrongly, that President Biden, unwilling to defend our southern border, may not be willing to defend Taiwan which is now in danger of invasion because of a world-wide shortage of semiconductors, which are most definitely a vital US national interest.

The shortage today centers around chips for cars, each one of which has thousands of microchips to monitor everything that happens inside, and to a certain extent, outside of the vehicles. The largest manufacturer of microchips is the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. China wants the company. After all, no one can deny that China always prefers to take rather than create! China, a major consumer of microchips, wants to be as self-sufficient as possible when it comes to their manufacture. Taking Taiwan would help them achieve that goal and, as importantly, deny their competitors (read: the US and EU) access. The US, probably in response to China’s military activities, not the coronavirus, is limiting the sale of high-tech products to the Communist nation which is trying to recruit semiconductor experts from around the world.

That may be why Beijing has ramped up military harassment and diplomatic pressure on the Taiwan. Ironically, Taiwan is “heavily reliant” on China when it comes to the production of the chips and their supply chains. Nevertheless, China does not want a piece of the pie; it wants the whole pie. And not only does it want to be self-reliant, so does the US. Intel is reportedly planning a $20 billion investment in new chip factories, meaning jobs and lots of them. But Taiwan does not want to give up its leadership position and is willing to invest $43 billion to keep it and, no doubt, to defend itself from the mainland.

Semiconductors are not just important for cars. They are critical across many industries, those that exist today and those planned for the future (read: AI and AGI). In fact, you could probably say they are the oil of the twenty-first century. Countries have gone to war over oil. Trying to block China’s ability to manufacture semiconductors, or to limit that ability, is reminiscent of US actions against Japan which led directly to their alliance with Nazi Germany. We all know what happened when the US tried to turn off the oil spigot to Japan, as well as its access to other resources. How far will China be willing to go to realize it’s goal of making this century the Chinese Century just as the previous century was the American? Add Iran to the mix, not to mention North Korea, and the fact that China and Iran just inked a $400 billion 25-year deal, and there are a few things to keep world leaders (and the rest of us) up at night, including whatever it is Russia is planning for Ukraine.

All of which means that perhaps the most important branch of the military with be the Space Force. More than likely the next battlefield will be cyber. There’s no better place to learn cybersecurity than in the military and, as I will get to shortly, cybersecurity is the best bet for future employment. But first, let’s go old-school.

The Trades

A few years ago the Number One job in metropolitan New York City was, of all things, welders. You could not find a welder to save your life. (Previously, it was nurses – for which a college degree is most certainly required!) Currently, I am sitting at my desk, looking out my window at the apartments across the street, seeing a sight that I see every two to three weeks. A silver van is parked in front of the building. It belongs to a plumbing and heating company. Soon, they will open the back doors of the van, get out the “snake,” open the drain and remove the clog. I once asked them why they could not fix the problem. They told me the problem was not the plumbing but the people flushing things that are not supposed to be flushed.

We will always need plumbers, carpenters and electricians. Anything that can break, as long as it is more cost effective to fix than replace, will require a human being to fix it. So the non-glamorous jobs may be a solid bet for steady employment. (They may also be the only union jobs still in existence.)

Private Security

Before we get to cybersecurity, let’s stay old-school.

With the diminution of police forces across the country, people are scared. If you cannot trust the police to pull the trigger because they are afraid of being sued or attacked, they have been castrated. After all, if a White police officer is criticized for killing a Black woman who was literally about to stab another Black woman to death, what’s next? You can’t blame them for retiring, quitting, or others not signing up for service. To be honest, they’re right to think, it’s not worth it.

That being the case, many communities, neighbors, may band together to hire private security forces. Who would not be willing to pay $5 a day to make certain that their family and property are safe? And, if enough people join together, that’s all it would cost. The wealthy will certainly do it. Starting a private security company, and working for a private security company, may be a sure bet for long-term revenue and employment.

Enough old-school…

Cybersecurity

As already stated, the easiest sure-bet job to predict is cybersecurity. The more we are dependent on the Internet, the more protection we will need. Cybersecurity will be the Number One job for the foreseeable future.

(For the following, I rely heavily on Guy Perlmuter’s book, Present Future: Business, Science and the Deep Tech Revolution. Page numbers refer to the e-book edition. The quote I like most is, “The entire history of civilization is all about change – and, more than that, about technological change. This is what defines us as a species, this is what propels us forward.” [Emphasis in original. p. 19] Words to remember.)

Services for the Aged and Aging

But not everything is high tech. Just over 16% of the US population is over 62. (While writing this article I heard on the news that more adult diapers are sold in the US than those for children! Not surprising since it has been the case in Japan as far back as 2013.) The average age of the US population will continue to grow, but that also means that the number of people in the work force will decline. Immigration could change these numbers, but let’s say, for sake of argument, that on average the population gets older and the work force gets smaller.

That’s all good news. An older population means jobs which cannot be done by anyone/anything other than humans: home health care immediately comes to mind, along with nursing homes, assisted living facilities and supportive housing. Jobs in these sectors, services for seniors, are a safe bet when thinking about the future. There is no doubt that longevity will become a trillion dollar business (p.114).

And if the work force is getting smaller, that means automation will not be taking jobs away from people. The people won’t be here. The automats, if you will, will truly be supplementing what we humans will be doing. This is nothing new and neither is the hysteria of “the rise of the robots.” My favorite example, which I wrote about in my previously mentioned article, is the ATM. Remember when they first appeared? The doom-sayers predicted the end to jobs in banking, especially tellers. What happened? Smaller banks, by which I mean branches, but more of them. So ATMs did not result in fewer bank jobs, but more. And, in addition, because of the need for more branches, construction jobs were created.

Information Management

I do not mean this necessarily in the historic IT sense of the term. Here I am referring to access to Big Data, massive amounts of data that can help to predict what is going to happen in the future.

The example I like most is true but I don’t know which specific incident is actually true; they both may be. There are two stories I have heard and read, basically the same, but slightly different.

Using the data they had accumulated over the years, Target felt it could predict the future buying patterns of its customers. Based on her buying patterns, Target started sending coupons related to pregnancy and newborns to a school girl whose father, to say the least, was not amused. He went to his local Target and expressed his displeasure in clear terms. A few days later he had to admit that Target got it right. (p. 317).

Or, and here’s the second version, a woman who had been trying to get pregnant for some time, was highly offended when she read a congratulatory message on the top of her Target receipt about her pregnancy. She too was taken aback and expressed her displeasure in clear terms. I don’t remember if she returned to apologize but she was, in fact, pregnant. Target knew it before she did.

Which story is correct, does not really matter. They both may be. The important thing is, Target got it right. How many companies, based on pattern analysis, would like to be able to predict what prospective and current clients/customers will need? Answer: All of them. Learn how to use Big Data and I am confident that you will have a job for life. There will always be a need for great decision makers.

To be a great decision maker, you need data. Great decisions are based on facts. The suppliers of facts will always be needed. Yes, computers can supply facts. Anyone who has ever used Google knows that. But they cannot provide an analysis of those facts. They could report that a billion sources say “X” while only a few million say “Y,” but that does not mean that either is correct. It takes, and will always take, a human to make that determination. Unless or until the impossible happens, and an algorithm is created that actually replicates the human brain, no computer can be a great decision maker. Beating a human at chess, Go, or Jeopardy! does not a decision maker make!

In this vein, Perlmuter states (pp. 55-56): “The use of subjective judgment, emotional intelligence, and adaptability to unexpected situations are emerging as important characteristics for the employees of the future since these are features that are quite uniquely human and will very likely not be replaced by a machine for the foreseeable future. … And there is no doubt that much more is on the way – including new careers that simply don’t exist yet or have not yet become relevant – as technology creates the need for new tasks and unexpected, promising specializations.”

It is natural that all this talk about technology scares some people. It also reassures others. But the fact of the matter is, as I quoted above, technological progress is nothing new. It has always happened and we have always survived. Most people, if asked what the most important invention of all-time was, would probably say the wheel. They would be wrong. The invention that had the greatest impact on civilization was the steam engine (p.23). That was once the technology. Anyone reading this afraid of a steam engine? (Just remember, don’t get too close, the steam can burn you!)

Perlmuter predicts (p. 27) that “even more new jobs, careers, companies, and empires will be created. Others will disappear or evolve into something completely different.” This brings me to, of all things insurance.

Insurance

I am certain that before long the insurance companies will miss the good-ole-days of ships sinking in the oceans, aircraft crashing to the ground, cars colliding, and buildings burning. Life was simple. Not anymore – or not in the coming future.

I’ll give you one example: Autonomous vehicles (AVs).

AVs, be they cars, trucks, vans, buses or anything else moving people or things from place to place without a human sitting behind a wheel, are driven by AI-powered computers. In other words, there is no driver (or, in the case of drones and planes, pilots). The AV gets into an accident. Who pays? The owner of the vehicle? The manufacturer of the vehicle? The maker of the software? The designer of the algorithm that made the software possible? The government(s) that permitted the vehicle to be on the road, in the air, in the first place? Someone has to be held responsible or, to be more precise, liable. But who?

Perlmuter thinks it is going to be the vehicle manufacturers (p. 41), but he also believes owners will still need insurance for theft and damages caused by natural disasters.

I am certain there are other examples, but you get the idea: When humans are removed from the equation, when they are no longer the active party causing the bad thing that happens, who pays? Will personal or professional liability insurance become things of the past? If companies, manufacturers and algorithm designers are the culprits, why would Joe and Jane public buy anything but life, disability and health insurance? And given all the sensors (more on those in a moment) that will be in our homes to prevent fires and break-ins, who’s going to need fire and theft policies? If the sensors don’t work, won’t the manufacturers or the companies providing the service be held liable?

Bottom line: The insurance industry is going to get very interesting and “very interesting” usually means trouble. (Never forget the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”) On the other hand, “trouble” usually means jobs.

Technology is already having an impact on insurance. For example, when I owned a car, I had a policy that allowed me to pay by the mile. The more I drove, the more I paid. There was a little sensor that I plugged into the outlet which mechanics use to diagnosis the engine, and it sent information on my mileage to the insurance company. Every month I paid a different amount, but it was always substantially less than what I had previously paid with a traditional policy.

That was a few years ago. Today the sensors not only can report mileage, but also driving habits. Do you make last minute sharp turns? Slam on the breaks? The insurance company will know. How they will know if it was your fault or someone else’s I do not know, but there are now Pay As You Drive and Pay How You Drive policies, all thanks to technology (p. 42).

Electric Vehicles

In this case, the future is truly here, at least as regards the fact that cars, for years now, have been computers on wheels and mechanics have had to learn to be just as much computer engineers as mechanics. It’s a great example of technology not costing anyone their jobs and the right way, slowly, incrementally, to teach new skills to seasoned workers. It’s none of this nonsense that, seemingly overnight, someone who was employed building pipes to move fossil fuels will be able to build solar panels by the end of the week. There is a right way and a wrong way to retrain workers. Computerized vehicles is an example of the right way. But they are not, necessarily, electric.

No matter; electric vehicles will provide a plethora of new jobs:

The obvious job creator for electric cars are the manufacturers of the batteries and the charging stations which will make them practical transportation vehicles. This means an entire new way of charging batteries and building roads. “Highways could have a lane that transmits power to the vehicle, and areas near traffic lights in cities may be outfitted with charging stations under the asphalt.” This is not science fiction. It “is already being tested” (p.43).

So think of the jobs: Creating new asphalt. Creating new wireless charging mechanisms. Creating new ways of paving streets. And, when something goes wrong, a new way of removing the asphalt, fixing whatever broke, and repaving in an economical way which does not lead to extended street closures. (And, dare we hope, an end to pot holes!)

Being a Connector

What do Airbnb, Facebook and Google all have in common? They “connect the consumer with services or products” (p. 45). Amazon, of course, does it as well. And as everything is now “on demand,” there is no need for inventory. So, getting into warehousing, not a good idea. But coming up with a way to provide consumers with what they want, when they want it, and knowing in advance what that thing will be, good idea (big data returns!).

Think of all the things we never knew we needed until a company created it and convinced us we could not live without it. The car. Horses had been good enough for centuries. True, in urban areas they were causing a major health hazard (tons of manure having to be removed from the streets every night) but, still, no one had thought they needed a “horseless carriage” until Belgian engineer Jean-Joseph-Etienne Lenoir invented it in 1863, with Messrs. Benz and Ford subsequently taking the invention and running with it.

And what about this crazy typewriter I am using now. I was perfectly happy writing my Master’s thesis on my IBM Selectric with its changeable fonts. (Greatest typewriter every made!) In fact, my professor had to goat me (I wonder if that is now a politically incorrect expression. If it is, I apologize profusely to the Capra aegagrus hircus community.) into buying one of those new fangled personal computers with its word processing software. (For the record, Word Perfect was far superior to Word! Just goes to show, there will always be work for good marketers!) Today, I literally cannot write with pen and paper. I can’t write without a keyboard. And, like most of you, I am dependent on this thing for everything from communicating with friends and colleagues to balancing my checkbook.

And let’s not forget the so-called smart phone. When did we ever need to be in constant contact with the world? But now, not only do we need to be reachable 24/7, there are apps on the phone that we cannot, figuratively or literally live without.

These are all inventions creating demand that no one thought about but that we now cannot live without. And all of them can be utilized by smart people to create new dependencies and new jobs. Think food and other delivery services, for one. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Business creation means job creation.

Of course, there is another type of connector which will be in high demand: sensors for the Internet of Things. With every electronic device communicating with every other electronic device in our homes, cars and offices, someone is going to have to build, install, monitor and repair them. It is estimated that there are currently some 30 billion such units in existence today, and that the number “could exceed 75 billion by 2025” (p.79). And you know what they say, “Ten billion here, ten billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real numbers!”

And please, don’t buy into the foolishness that IoT and sensors on everything is “Big Brother” watching you. Technology is a good thing and sensors are a great example. They can “safely and preemptively track the maintenance schedule of any given piece of equipment” (p.83). Don’t you want to know in advance if the doo-dad on your thingamajig needs to be replaced or the whatchamacallit at the powerplant (green or not) is about to fail? And, as I’ll get to shortly, wouldn’t you like to know what’s going on inside of you!

Energy

Don’t worry, I am not about to add to the “climate-change-world-coming-to-an-end” hysteria. (Dear Haters: Before you write a nasty comment, I believe that climate change is real. I also believe that throughout human history, whenever faced with a threat or danger, human beings have come up with a technological solution which made life better. I believe in the genius of humanity, not just their stupidity.) Continuing our discussion of sensors, technology can save us energy. We all know that. We have been buying appliances with “energy efficient” labels on them for decades. But the entire system can become energy efficient, regardless of the source of the energy and, at the same time, creating real jobs.

It’s called a “smart grid.” This refers to “an electrical grid that uses sensors to better measure, dispatch, and control energy.” It “involves the installation of new meters and household energy storage systems” (p.85). Someone has to build, install and monitor these devices.

Medical Devices

As noted a moment ago, it is not only our homes and businesses that can benefit from sensors, we can as well.

“Our bodies are being integrated into the IoT structure via the wearables industry market; according to the firm Grand View Research, this market sector reached more than $32 billion in 2019 and is projected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of almost 16% until at least 2027” (p. 95). In other words, more jobs and not just silly things that count the number of steps you take in a day but important things like meters that show your glucose levels. (Yes, walking, exercise, is important. But does your life depend on knowing the exact number of steps you have taken? I think not.) Moreover, these sensors can monitor things that are happening in our bodies so we can deal with medical problems before they become problems.

For example, literally fresh off the press (as I received this while completing this article), psychiatrists can now use an app to help them diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders. It brings together “classical psychiatry with computational neuroscience.” Jobs created by technology, not lost.

Related to healthcare devices are human replacement parts. Need a heart valve? No problem. We’ll just print one using our 3-D printer. “Human organ transplantation using the patient’s own cells offers stunning possibilities as it eliminates the risk of rejection and the need to wait for a matching donor.” This is a business predicted to grow to the $35 billion dollar level in just three years. (p.121)

Healthcare Professionals

Just to make it clear, medical devices will not replace medical professionals/healthcare workers. They are tools, nothing more, nothing less. “In the 2006 report Working Together for Health, the WHO indicated a global shortfall of over four million professionals, especially in the poorest regions of the world” (p.96).

Healthcare is a thriving business. “According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent population health research center at the University of Washington, global expenditures in health care went from $780 billion in 1997 to $7.9 trillion in 2017—a 10-fold increase in 10 years” (p.98). This does not just mean physicians and nurses, but technicians, therapists, home health aids, literally anyone involved with the prevention and treatment of, or recovery from, injuries, diseases and disorders. Which brings me to CRISPR, which, for present purposes, simply means altering DNA and RNA.

Genetic Reengineering

This article is long enough, so, suffice it to say that we now have the technology to use genetic material “to cut out the virus and neutralize it,” (p. 105) or, put differently, we can now remove genes that are bad for us or we don’t like from our DNA and RNA (I think) and thus eliminate them. We can edit the building blocks of our progeny and maybe even change our own (although that part I am not certain about).

You already have four daughters and want the fifth child to be a boy, no problem. Find the proper sequence to add that Y chromosome and, voila, you have a boy. Have four sons and want a girl, find the proper sequence to remove that Y chromosome an, voila, you have girl.

Assuming the gene or genetic sequence that causes homosexuality is discovered, and you don’t want your child to be homosexual, no problem. A little editing and what was once recognized as a mental health disorder will no longer exist in your child.

The doctor tells you your child (embryo or fetus) has the gene for Tay-Sachs or Sickle Cell Anemia, consider them gone. Diabetes. Alzheimer’s. Parkinson’s. They are found in history books, not medical books. And if there is a DNA/RNA string for blindness or deafness, who would not want it altered or removed? Ethical issues aside, baby designing, for good or not-so-good, may be a thing of the future. (If you are interested in this topic, I recommend The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson.)

For the record, this is not science fiction. China has recruited “couples that would allow their babies’ genetic code to be edited making them not only resistant to HIV, but also to small pox and cholera” (p. 107). That would be one heck of a vaccine!

Reality Check

To almost end on a positive note, no one knows how many jobs are replaceable by automation. In 2013, Carl Frey and Michael Osborn of Oxford University, predicted that, “Nearly half of the activities [that they] analyzed showed up as being susceptible to automation.” But the Center for European Economic Research, in Mannheim, Germany, “arrived at a very different conclusion: Rather than 47%, their estimate is that only 9% of the professions studied run a high risk of being automated. Other studies published by global consultancies have produced estimates of this figure between 30% and 50%” (p. 54). Again, no one knows.

Given that by definition automation focuses on jobs that will be lost, and ignores jobs that will be created, I for one shall continue to sleep soundly at night. After all, “the more predictable the task the greater the chance that an artificial entity will be capable of executing it” (p.60). So, think about it this way: Are you ever surprised in your job by something unexpected? Of course you are. So what you do is not predictable. And you can handle it; a computer can’t. To be fair, the continuation of the quote is, “and now, tasks that require some form of logical reasoning are also being automated,” but I choose to emphasize the words “some form.” From my perspective this means “limited” and “limited” means a minority of “tasks” and, for the record, a “task” is not a “job.” Jobs consist of tasks, not the other way around.

And keep in mind that it is the industrial sector which most needs to fear automation. At least as of 2019, the International Labor Organization was estimating that “79% of employed Americans worked in the services sector.” So. again, no need to panic, although technology will continue to increase “efficiency, accuracy and safety” in the services sector as it has done in the industrial (p. 66). But that does not mean a loss of jobs. Accounting software has not done away with the need for accountants. Computers (word processors) have not eliminated the need for secretaries (although, you can’t call them that any more, you have to call them “administrative” or “executive assistants”). And even though computers can now create reports, or rather the data for reports, for financial institutions, they can’t interpret the data. Without the interpretation, their just meaningless numbers.

Receptionists

It might be fun or cute to be checked into a hotel by a computer panel or robot, but if something goes wrong, you will want to yell at a human being. And, if you are like me, and can’t stand to “talk” to chat-bots, companies that hire real, honest-to-goodness human beings to answer their phones and greet visitors to their offices, are more likely to secure my business and, I would be willing to bet, yours too. Good receptionists may become a valuable commodity as more and more (foolish) people try to eliminate the personal connection in business with an artificial one.

Translators

I lived in Israel in the 1980s, during which time their was a trial of an alleged Nazi war criminal, a Ukrainian guard at a concentration camp. (The only thing worse than the defense was the prosecution and he was found not guilty only, if I remember correctly, only to be subsequently deported to Germany, from the United States, from where he had been extradited to Israel, and where he was eventually convicted.) The important point is that the trial was broadcast live on television and radio in its totality. The stars were the translators.

While the judges and attorneys, of course, spoke fluent English, and in fact, the judges sometimes corrected the translators on legal nuances, it turned out that the translators, who gave not just simultaneous but almost instantaneous translations from a variety of languages into Hebrew, were all graduates of a school in Switzerland and were, at the time, the highest paid persons, on an hourly rate, anywhere. And no one doubted that they were worth every penny.

Business is becoming more and more international. We all know Google Translate and other translation apps. But computers can only translate words, at least at present, and I doubt if ever, will be able “to correctly interpret the meaning of the original text” (emphasis in original). “[Q]uestions remain as to whether a machine can master the subtleties of non-technical translation and the interpretation of the immense range of human emotions” (p.65). So the translators of technical manuals have something to worry about, but not anyone translating, let’s call it, “human conversation.” And so what? Computers can’t possible do any worse than people in creating manuals for assembling the things we buy on-line!

Miscellanea

There comes a point where enough is too much and, I fear, I may have reached, if not surpassed, that point. So let me just say that there is a very good future for people involved with virtual reality, artificial reality, video games and eSports, and education (COVID may have changed teaching forever with remote learning, for many students – no doubt the affluent and therefore the ones who will be accused of being racists, although one would hope that with broadband becoming “a right and not a privilege,” every child will have a chance to become, as I have written previously, an ideal employee. Of course, on-line accredited universities have been accepted for years.). And then there are e-commerce (predicted to amount to $6.5 trillion in two years – p. 167), and finally, fintech and cryptocurrencies (which I readily admit I do not understand).

It’s Not Academic

Finally, for all of these jobs, professions and careers, a university degree is not required (with the obvious exceptions of physicians and nurses). I once worked, for a short time, at a university that was supposed to be teaching Computer Science. Impressed, I was not. The university, in point of fact, utilized a tax-payer funded grant to set up, in essence, an unaccredited trade school to do what one would have thought its Computer Science programs would have done: prepare students for employment.

Truth of the matter is, everything regarding IT can be learned at a decent trade/technical school for a fraction of the cost of a college or university, public or otherwise. And then those studies can be augmented by obtaining certifications. I have placed a number of IT professionals with clients – engineers, help desk attendants, Quality Assurance professionals, and some I can’t remember at this moment. But I can remember that in every job description a college degree was “preferred” not “required” and Cisco and Microsoft certifications were held in higher regard than whatever academic credentials a candidate had. The only thing that mattered to my clients was whether or not the candidates I submitted could do the job, not where they learned how to do it.

Put differently, no employer is going to be interested, for example, in hiring someone who can write articles for academic journals on cybersecurity if they can’t actually set up the necessary firewalls, etc. They will want people who can actually, if you’ll pardon me, secure the cyber! You don’t need a 4-year college degree, and the corresponding debt, to do that.

(Apparently, I’m correct. This article was just published as I was concluding another round of proofreading. It’s title, “No degree? No problem at these cos.” Make sure to read the comments.)

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!