The One Thing That May Get You the Job Offer

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it might get you the job offer.

Years ago I attended a lecture at New York University by a former college president. She was having a really bad day. The first thing she said was that women were more philanthropic then men because of biology. (The consensus among the men was that the buffet was impressive so, even though there was probably more nonsense to come, it would be worth the wait. It was!)

The third thing she said (and that’s not a mistake on my part; the second thing will come next), was that human beings are the only animals that show empathy, sympathy for others, and care about family. Every hand went up. There were stories about pets – dogs, cats, even birds. Instead of admitting she was wrong and had to rethink her hypothesis, she dug herself in deeper. (Rule Number One: When you find yourself in a whole, stop digging!) She said that individual stories reflected the prejudices of the pet owners. They saw what they wanted to see. (That did not go over well…) Then someone mentioned elephants and noted he did not have a pet elephant at home. Neither did the woman who spoke about horses. But it was to no avail. Then I remembered I had a copy of National Geographic with me and had read an article on birds sacrificing for the family unit. I raised my hand, stood up and, without being called upon, I said I thought that two short paragraphs from the article would end the discussion. The speaker let me read and then said she wanted to move on. (We, the men, now joined by the women, wanted to move on to the buffet!)

But it was the second thing she said which stayed with me. The speaker informed us that what separates humans from other animals was that we human beings are the only creatures on the planet who are curious. I found that an ironic statement because she obviously was not curious enough to check her facts. (No one responded because of what came next!)

This was the first, and only, time I can remember no one having a question for a speaker at the end of their presentation and everyone standing up and heading for the food as the moderator thanked the speaker. So why did her “curiosity” statement stick with me?

Back then, when I was at NYU, I was a fundraiser. The topic of the presentation was supposed to be “Women and Philanthropy,” an extremely important topic at the time as it was estimated that trillions of dollars were going to be bequeathed to women in the coming years. I, if you will, was curious and wanted some insight into how to approach elderly women, widows, to ask for donations without sounding like a fool, or worse. Needless to say, from that perspective, it was a wasted evening.

But the issue of curiosity always interested me. Why is it that we humans have always looked to the heavens and asked questions about those flickering lights in the sky? Why do we want to know why the sky is blue? Why do we want to know why men have nipples? Why… You get the idea. (And for the record, why do dogs literally stick their noses where they do not belong?) The answer is curiosity.

Perhaps the best question an interviewer can ask a job candidate is, What are you curious about? And if they don’t ask the question, perhaps the best thing a candidate can do, when given the opportunity to tell the interviewer(s) about themselves, is to say, This is what makes me curious.

It does not have to have anything to do with the actual job. In fact, it might be better if it were totally divorced from the job as that will show that the candidate is a “complete” person. I, for example, am curious about how one molecule can be in two places at the same time in the realm of quantum mechanics. I am also curious about why otherwise intelligent people would become engaged without signing a prenuptial agreement.

Of course saying that you are curious about something is not enough. You also have to prove that you have tried to find the answer. For example, the two explanations for my molecular problem that I kind of, sort of, understand, is that it has something to do with gravity or it is a question of timing, when the molecule is observed. But I readily admit I am not intelligent enough to be able to explain either explanation or to know which, if either, is correct. But that’s perfectly alright. Admitting ignorance is a strength, not a weakness, and should help, not harm, a candidate in a job interview. The important thing is the search for the answer.

So my advice, for what it is worth, is to tell potential employers what makes you think. What grabs your attention. What makes you curious. And they may make you a job offer!

Oh, and as for the pre-nup question, it seems the reason is simply the person declining the pre-nup is focused on having a successful divorce, not marriage. (That one I could not Google; I had to ask!)

The 3 Skills That Will Keep You Employed

In his book, Present Future: Business, Science, and the Deep Tech Revolution, Guy Perelmuter writes (p.55), “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 in the foreseeable future.”

This quote is important for two reasons: First, Mr. Perelmuter is correct. Second, this is a great example of why job seekers can better spend their time reading books by legitimate authorities on the future, especially scientists and engineers, than reading “how to” books about getting a job, with the obvious exception of mine!

I have two rules about competitors. First, I never acknowledge anyone as my competitor. The minute I would do so, I would be telling potential clients that they, the competitors, are as good or better than I am. Why would I do that? Why would anyone do that? Second, I never try to build myself up by knocking someone else down. When I am asked about a competitor I always reply, “I don’t know enough about them to comment. All I can do is tell you about myself.”

No one can possibly be offended by that response. And it will work nicely in a job interview. This is especially so given that employers are not going to tell candidates against whom you are competing. That being the case, candidates have to assume that their competitors may have more direct experience than they do or may be younger. The first is faced by some veterans (although many have far more relevant experience than civilians); the second by older workers.

In either case, you never want to say, “I have experiences that no one outside of the military could bring to the table.” Or, just as bad, “I have more experiences than some twenty-something.” After all, you may be insulting the person who is interviewing you.

So ignore the competition. Don’t forget them; just ignore them. The inference will be that you have what the others don’t.

Which brings us back to Mr. Perelmuter. What are “subjective judgement,” “emotional intelligence,” and “adaptability to unexpected situations?”

First, they are all connected, in one way or another, to something I wrote about some time ago namely, on what older workers/candidates should focus in a job interview. My answer was then, and is now, dealing with adversity. In my career I have had to deal with death, criminality, and technological breakdowns, to name but a few. I guarantee I can “beat” you on your example of your worse day on the job. Someone with, let’s say, five years’ experience just can’t do that. They may have one example, but not enough to show that they can handle Perelmuter’s third point, which I will deal with first.

A good interviewee (candidate) politely takes control of the interview. They refocus the conversation to their benefit. Think about what talented politicians do in an interview. They answer questions by refocusing. (I think it was Churchill who said something on the line of, If I don’t like your question, I’ll respond to it; if I like your question, I’ll answer it!) You, the candidate, should do the same. Answer the question you are asked but immediately add a caveat. Say something like, “But what is also important is to prepare for the unknown. We do that all the time. That’s why we have insurance. That’s why we have virus protection on our computers. But, of course, we can always be surprised. No plan is perfect and no protection is fool-proof. Let me give you an example.”

I promise you, a veteran and an older worker will have a much better example than someone who has never served in the military or who has an employment record that can fit nicely on half a sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper.

Which brings me to “emotional intelligence.” I have read a great deal on the subject and, with all due respect to the experts, I still like my one-word definition the best: maturity. People with emotional intelligence do not panic. If you will, they do not get emotional. So, when giving your above example add, “As always, when the unexpected happens, I take a deep breath, and then begin to calmly respond. If I panic, everyone else will panic, and a bad situation will only get worse.”

And that brings us to “subjective judgement.” It’s “subjective” because it is yours. You are judging the situation. If everything works out, you are a hero, if not… Of course, in the example you will give, you will be right. So the emphasis is on “judgement.”

Now that you have explained that you do not panic, that you are mature, you have to tell the interviewer how you reached that decision which proved to be correct. In this case it is important to emphasize two things: First, experience. Briefly recall similar situations you had and what you learned from them. You can even include a failure. Recognizing your failures is a sign of strength, not weakness and, as everyone should know, you can often learn more from failures than from successes. Second, and just as important, make sure to say that you consulted with your team prior to making the decision. Team members want to have their leader agree with them but, more importantly, they want to be heard. Explain to the interviewer that you always explain to your team members why you agree or disagree with their recommendations. By doing so, you gain their support and everyone should implement your decision without bitterness.

Such a strategy in an interview should impress the interviewers and help you to secure the job offer.

When is It Time to Jump Ship and How Do You Do It?

It’s only human nature to sometimes want to quit your job. You are having a bad day. Your boss is a jerk. Your colleagues are idiots. Your clients are fools. Then you go home, have a shower, a good meal, watch some television, read a book, play with the kids, get a good night’s sleep and, in the morning, the boss appears to be no longer such a jerk, your colleagues are no longer such idiots, and your clients are not all that foolish (except for that one…there’s always one!). There may even be a few people at work that you actually like and respect.

But there are times, we have all had them, when we realize that enough, really is, enough, and it is time for a change. As I have written previously, change is the only constant in the universe. Most people are afraid of change. “Better the devil you know…”​ as the saying goes.

When it comes to employment the adage is, “It is easier to find a job when you have a job.”​ If you don’t like that one, there’s another, “Don’t quit your job until you have a new one.”​ Both say the same thing; both are correct.

So what are the rules for looking for a new job?

First, I have what is called the “Sleep Rule.”​ When I make a difficult decision, if I sleep well that evening, I know it was the right decision for me. So if you can literally “sleep on it,”​ go for it. By the same token, if you are so upset about work that you can’t sleep, it is definitely time for a change. If your job is making you sick, there’s nothing to discuss.

Second, you may not want a new job. If you like your boss, colleagues and clients, perhaps you are just bored. I have had a number of clients with whom I have worked on convincing their bosses to give them new/additional responsibilities. In the end, everyone was happy.

Third, if you really do want a new job/employer, be aware that the more public your job search the less confidentiality you will have. If the boss finds out, they will start looking for your replacement. That is why preparation is so important. You have to have a network of professionals whom you can trust to advocate on your behalf. Most jobs are not advertised so you will only hear about them from private sources. (And, for the record, those jobs are the best jobs!) So it is important to build your network now so you will have it when you need it.

Fourth, if you do not just want to change jobs but professions, make certain you have all the qualifications for a new profession and be prepared to start at the bottom. If you have been in marketing for ten years, and now want to work in cybersecurity, that’s great. But you have to go to school, learn the trade and get the certifications. And then, professionally, all you will have to show that is relevant to your new profession is ten years of customer service experience. You will be competing against persons with actual relevant experience so it is important, when you choose the school (it can be an unaccredited trade school) that you choose based on their record of finding employment for their graduates. A degree in Computer Science from Harvard may be impressive but, if all you have on graduating is a piece of paper, debt and an appointment to apply for Unemployment, maybe a degree from a school on the second floor of a shopping mall, where they can actually get their graduates employment, with little to no debt, is a better option.

In any case, to know what you need for your new profession, just look at job postings. Focus on the qualification. While, usually, all that is important is to have the “required”​ qualifications, since you are starting from scratch, so to speak, you should also pay attention to the “preferred”​ qualifications as well. And, here’s the hard part, keep in mind that the job descriptions of today may not be the job descriptions of tomorrow!

Fifth, regardless of whether it’s a new job or a new profession, do not be emotional. You must be rational. Prepare for the worse case scenario: Your boss finds out and replaces you. So you must have a minimum savings of at least six months to make sure you can pay your bills.

Sixth, when you resign, be nice about it. Not that it really matters what an employer/supervisor puts in your personnel file, but you want to make certain that your letter of resignation leaves the right impression. Thank your employer/supervisor for their support and mention some of the accomplishments you had. Make certain to include in the letter your contact information and a statement that they can reach out to you if they need any help. You should also write, and reference in the letter, a report on any outstanding projects, what needs to be done and how best to do it. That way, the record will be balanced.

Seventh, when you resign, if your employer makes a counteroffer, reject it. Your colleagues will be jealous that you quit and then got a raise/promotion/whatever and they, despite their loyalty, received nothing. You will not be the favorite person in the Lunch Room. The boss won’t trust you and you can forget about any promotions. Nothing good comes from accepting a counteroffer.

So be confident in your decision. Discuss it with people you respect. And, as I said, sleep on it. Your subconscious will tell you what to do!

Equality Does Not Exist and That is How You Build a Great Team

When people talk about the need for equality, I laugh. (I was going to write that the only place people are equal is in the grave but even that is not true!) Equality does not exist. The only place where there should be equality is in the courts. Of course, that is a fiction. The person who can afford the most intelligent/talented (not necessarily the same thing) attorney usually wins. I assume that means that the only real equality is that everyone’s dollar bill is worth the same as everyone else’s. But then, the number of dollar bills in anyone’s pocket ends the discussion about financial equality.

I fully realize that equality, and the striving for that unachievable goal, is a popular talking point among many people. So there will always be people, in love with the sound of their own voices, screaming for equality. (For the record, I just want everyone to have a fair chance to achieve their goals.)

My response is, if everyone were equal then “equality” would be “average” and what type of goal is “average?” I have worked with many “average” people. For them, mediocrity was an achievement. It would be nice if we were all equal as far a opportunity was concerned, with everyone having the same chance as everyone else. It doesn’t exist. (Well, maybe in North Korea, but who wants to live there?)

I was thinking about this after I heard a commercial for Southern New Hampshire University. I like the one where the president says, “You were smart before the tassel turned.” (I actually used that line, giving him credit, in a speech I wrote.) I could not believe it when I heard him say, on a different commercial, “The world equally distributes talent but not opportunity.” (I waited until I heard it twice to make sure I had heard it correctly. Sadly, I had.)

Everyone, even intelligent people, are entitled to say something stupid. But this is a great example of the need for having a few layers of people who check, double-check, and triple-check something that is going to be published. I am certain that SNHU’s president is an intelligent man. I have no idea what he was trying to say, but talent is most definitely not distributed equally.

Some people say I am a talented writer. Some people say I am a talented recruiter. Some people say I am a talented career counselor. Some people say I am a talented speaker. Some people say I am an idiot. Some people say I am a babbling fool. I’ll tell you one thing for certain: I can’t do math. I can’t explain quantum mechanics. I can’t sing. I can’t draw. I can’t play a musical instrument. My IT talents are very limited. And if you want to lose all your savings, come to me for advice on financial planning. We are all talented in some spheres and wonting in others.

Equality is a fiction. And the sooner you acknowledge and accept that the better off you will be. You are not equally as talented as everyone else. You have to determine where you strengths, your talents, lie and build on them. That is how you will become a successful professional.

For the record, finding people who are talented in different realms is how you build a successful team. Yes, they should be equally talented at what they do. Employers should always strive to hire the best. So if that is what the president of SNHU wanted to say, he spoke poorly not foolishly.

The only way you can have equality is if you embrace the lowest common denominator. That means you will achieve nothing but failure. Equality of opportunity is a goal. Again, everyone should have a fair chance. But, in the real world, that is a dream that will never totally be realized because we are not all equally talented. It would be nice if we were but we are not.

The High Cost of Accepting Unemployment Insurance

There is no shame in accepting Unemployment Insurance. I did, for a while, until clients returned. Not ashamed. Not embarrassed. One does what one needs to do in order to survive.

But…

If you decided not to look for work because you could get by on Unemployment, you will have a serious problem. That is something that goes to character. Employers will look at your resume, see that you have been unemployed since COVID began and will ask you, “What have you been doing in the past few months to find a job?”

Given that you cannot walk down the street without seeing “Help Wanted” signs in just about every store, “I’ve been looking but couldn’t find anything,” just won’t fly. Employers will hear, “I’d rather collect Unemployment than minimum wage.” They may also hear, “I’m too good for menial work.” Or, just simply, “I’ve got a huge ego.” And it is what the employers hear that matters, not what you say.

There is one, and only one, reason for not having a job these days: being a care giver. “I had to take care of my children,” or “I had to take care of my parent,” are the only (see below) credible gap fillers on a resume. Otherwise, you will look like someone who is fine sitting around all day watching television. No one wants to hire someone like that.

Of course, one other explanation is that you took advantage of Unemployment to advance your career by taking on-line courses. Be prepared to prove it. List all the classes on your resume, front and center. Otherwise, you will be placed in the same pile as the other (assumed) silly soap opera/idiotic talk show viewers. And when that happens, you can say good-bye to your reputation as a professional.

In other words, accepting Unemployment Insurance for no good reason can cost you your short-term, and perhaps long-term, future.

Always Provide Clients and Potential Employers with Added Value

Perhaps the most valuable thing a business can provide their customers is added value. Perhaps the best way to retain customers is to provide added value. Perhaps the most effective way to secure a new customer is to provide added value during the negotiations. And the same is true for a job candidate negotiating to get the job offer.

Giving something away for free, especially if it is unexpected, and assuming it has value, shows that you are a true professional, someone who knows their industry and knows their audience.

If you are trying to convince a prospective client that you can increase their sales pipeline, or an employer that you can increase their market share or, more importantly, in both cases, to increase their client/customer retention rate, one excellent way of doing so is to suggest that they share free advice on a regular basis with their customers and clients, just as you are doing with yours. Then, of course, you actually have to do it. You have to practice what you preach.

I’m not talking about newsletters. I’m certain that most newsletters find their way to the SPAM folder. They are a waste of time, money and effort. The recipient won’t want to offend the sender by “unsubscribing,” so they’ll just move the unwanted document to SPAM and the sender will never be the wiser (assuming that it is sent from a dedicated email address). What I’m talking about is a quick message with substantive actionable information that any client or customer will be happy to receive, and prospective employers will be thrilled to hear. First, let’s deal with clients or customers.

WEEK 1: Jane, I hope you are well. I was thinking about you. These days everyone and their brother has a podcast. It’s free publicity and you can add the recording to your website. I came across this website, PodcastGuests.com. It’s free. Why don’t you sign up as a potential guest? You have nothing to lose. Good luck!

WEEK 2: Jane, I trust everything is well. Following up on the message I sent you last week, I discovered a second website which may be of interest to you. Like PodcastGuests.com, it’s a way to get invited to be on podcasts. The site is MatchMaker.FM (and, no, that’s not a typo, it is “.FM”). Hope this is of help. Let me know if you are successful. Have a great week!

WEEK 3: Jane, I hope you are doing well. There’s another website I wanted to share with you. If you sign up as a source on helpareporter.com, every weekday you will receive 3 emails with a list of questions from reporters on every conceivable topic. When questions are asked about your expertise, send a quick reply and you may be quoted by the reporter. Some of the articles appear in national newspapers and some on specialized blogs. In either case, it’s free press and establishes you as an expert. It will get you in front of a larger audience and look great on your website. Have fun!

Three weeks. Three pieces of advice given without being asked.

And if it is a job interview, you can just ask, “What do you use to raise your profile and to help your clients/customers? Do you use or advice them to use PodcastGuests.com, MatchMaker.fm, or helpareporter.com?” If the answer is “Yes,” they will know that you know your stuff. If the answer is, “No,” even better. One of the best ways to get a job offer is by educating the interviewers.

Regardless of whether you are helping clients, trying to close with prospects or get a job, this type of advice costs you nothing but can reap huge rewards.

We Are All Replaceable…But…

Mothers lie to their daughters!

Now they may also lie (Alright, it may not be a “lie-lie” but just a foolish statement said with the best of intentions) to their sons, I have just not heard or experienced it. And fathers may do it as well. For me it has always been daughters, young and old, and mothers, never fathers. They actually believed it when their mothers told them, “You are special. You are unique. You are irreplaceable.” And they are truly shocked when they discover that they are neither special, nor unique and are most definitely replaceable. We are all replaceable. But…

The most difficult searches I have ever had have all been for what I call “second spouses.” Typically I am contacted by someone who says they need an “executive assistant.” They provide an accurate job description, which clearly lists the qualifications. I find candidates who meet all the mandatory qualifications and most, if not all, of the preferred. I interview and submit them. Then the phone rings:

Bruce, good job! But there’s something missing. They’re not the right fit.

The client is not being difficult. They simply cannot articulate that intangible quality they need. They are hiring a confidant. They are hiring someone they will be with eight hours a day, if not more, and maybe even on weekends. Thus my classification that they are looking for a “second spouse.” They are hard to find.

But this article is not about my most difficult search, it’s about the second most difficult. Those are the ones where the employee being replaced, usually through no fault of their own, has been with the company “forever.”

Allow me to digress, which I usually do…

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Bomber Mafia. (Short read. Excellent read!) On page 47 he writes,

“The psychologist David Wegner has this beautiful concept called transactive memory, which is the observation the we don’t just store information in our minds or specific places. We also store memories and understanding in the minds of people we love. You don’t need to remember your child’s emotional relationship to her teacher because you know your wife will; you don’t have to remember how to work the remote because you know your daughter will. That’s transactive memory.”

(If you are thinking of Googling “transactive memory” add “psychology” or you will drown in a sea of [at least for me] incomprehensible IT babble. My advice, in either case, it to accept Gladwell’s definition/description and get on with your life!)

Transactive memory is why trying to replace a veteran employee is so difficult. There’s no problem finding someone with the skill set. There’s no problem finding someone with all the qualifications, maybe even the preferred ones. But that employee, in one very important sense, is truly irreplaceable. Stored in their brain is history. Stored in their brain are all the things the boss did not want to store in his – the transactive memories. They know why you should never suggest doing A, and must always do B. They know why you never ask C about D and why you should always mention E to F, but never when G is around. They know why you must never use H as a vendor, and why I always has to be used.

I could continue until I exhaust both the English and Greek alphabets, but you get the idea.

The issue here, actually, is not the employee or the candidate, it’s the employer. They have to realize, and accept, especially if the employee who is being replaced is not available to answer their replacement’s questions, that the replacement will not, cannot, and cannot be expected to have their predecessor’s transactive memories. That person holds between their ears a vast depository of knowledge. What’s more, they probably don’t even realize that they know what they know.

I once was hired to be the assistant to the director of a small children’s mental health center. We shared an office. One day, a donation arrived. I filled out the bank form and prepared the receipt for the boss’s signature. She watched me. When I handed her the receipt, she asked me, “What about the book? You didn’t record the donation?”

I looked at her, puzzled, and asked, “What book?”

She was shocked. My replacement had never told me about the book, the book in which all donations were to be recorded. So I called her. She apologized, told me where it was, and I updated it. She did not intentionally not tell me. (I know; a double negative!) For her, it was so obvious, that she simply and honestly did not think of it.

That’s a simple and innocent example of what happens when memories are not shared. This was not a transactive memory. It was something she knew very well and had just forgotten to tell me. So just imagine how much information is stored in the brain of that veteran employee who, despite their best efforts, cannot possibly share it all.

Why is this so difficult? Because the employer has to accept the fact that no candidate will have the knowledge base to replace the veteran employee. Skills, yes; knowledge, no. It is simply impossible. And, sometimes, the new hire does not last long because the employer is frustrated that the new hire does not know what they, the employer, wants or needs them to know. So, in some ways, some people are irreplaceable (at least for the short term).

Be the Bearer of Bad News

I have been a recruiter since 2003. I always, repeat ALWAYS, call candidates to let them know their status. For sake of argument, let’s say I submit five candidates for every position. Except in a couple of cases, where the client decided to hire two candidates because they could not choose between the “final finalists,” for every search I have done I have had to deliver bad news to at least four people. Clearly, I have made hundreds of “Sorry, but they have decided not to continue with your candidacy” calls. Maybe even a thousand. I don’t know. But I do know that in all this time I have only been yelled at once by a rejected candidate.

The impetus for this article was a call I just had with a candidate who my client rejected. It lasted five minutes. The man did not stop thanking me. He was grateful for the call. He told me that I was the only recruiter who called him back. (That is something I hear often and have experienced myself which, among other reasons, is why I do not like recruiters!)

So why do I make these calls? It is the polite thing to do. I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the phone. It’s the right thing to do. But it is also something that my first boss taught me.

As a student I had a job at the School for Overseas Students at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I worked in Admissions. We were being computerized. The boss gave me responsibility for filling out the IBM data cards. (Remember Number 2 pencils?) It was a lot of work and I finished with a little time to spare.

I went home, proud of myself…until I woke up at 2 AM in a cold sweat realizing that I had made a huge error and would have to redo all the work. I had enough cards; I didn’t have enough time.

I got to the School at 7 AM when the gate to the building was opened. I immediately went to my office, turned on the lights, confirmed that I had, in fact, messed up big time, and got to work.

Around 8:00 the boss arrived. He saw the lights were on and came to the office. He asked what I was doing here so early (the guard had told him I had arrived at 7:00). Shaking, I stood up, apologized, said I realized at 2:00 that I had made a mistake, I knew that the work had to be submitted the next morning. I told him I would skip my classes and get everything done that day.

He told me that I would NOT skip my classes and that I would get the work done as soon as possible. I reminded him of the deadline. He told me that that was his problem, not mine, and to get the job done as quickly as possible, but not to miss my classes. He told me, “I have your back.”

The next day, after attending all of my classes, I completed the work and went to his office and told him. Then I waited to be fired.

He asked me what I was waiting for. I told him. He said, “I never fire anyone who delivers bad news. You made a mistake. You told me. You had a plan to correct it. I never fire anyone for making a mistake. I only fire people who make excuses and who do not take responsibility for their actions.”

Best boss ever! And that is why, in all my jobs, I always make sure that when there is bad news to deliver, I deliver it. That also eliminates the problem of someone else, who may not exactly like me (Yes, there are people like that!) delivering the news inaccurately and with a spin against me and in their favor.

In that regard, I remember once discovering that something had gone terribly wrong. The details don’t matter. A colleague, a rival, found out about it and went running to the boss, salivating at the thought of my imminent dismissal. He, and the boss, came to my office. The boss asked me what had happened and why I had not told him about it. I said, “It was an easy fix. I took care of it. There is no problem and nothing to bother you about.” My rival was gone by the end of the week…

So the moral of the story is: Don’t be afraid to be the bearer of bad news. You’d be surprised how many people appreciate it. You might even get a promotion or keep a client because they appreciate your honesty and problem solving abilities.

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!