Find Your Dream Job, Episode 211:
How Artificial Intelligence Affects Your Job Search, with Nicolle Merrill
Airdate: October 2, 2019
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want and make a difference in life.
I’m Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s list. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps people find fulfilling careers.
Every week, I interview a career expert about the tools you need to find the work you want.
Automation has become common everywhere, especially in hiring.
For example, an algorithm used by an applicant tracking system, not a hiring manager, might decide if you get a job interview.
Our guest today says savvy job seekers need to understand how algorithms and other forms of artificial intelligence affect the job search.
Here to talk about this is Nicolle Merrill. She’s the founder of Future Skills. It’s a company that teaches professionals how to upskill and stay relevant in a rapidly changing world of work.
She joins us here in the Mac’s List studio in Portland, Oregon Now, Nicolle, are computers replacing hiring managers? Let’s get right to it.
Oh, that’s a great question to start with. So, that’s such a tricky question, because, in some ways, it’s difficult to answer because we don’t actually know what happens. There is technology out there that is changing the role of a hiring manager that’s making it easier for and quicker for hiring managers to find talent and identify the right talent. But we don’t actually know; does that mean we’re going to have less hiring managers, fewer recruiters?
But the technology exists and they’re using it. So, to the question of will it replace them…we don’t know. But it’s certainly changing the way that they work.
So how do you define artificial intelligence, Nicolle?
That’s a tough one, too. There are a lot of definitions out there. But basically, oftentimes is it’s a piece of software that has been programmed to do a specific series of tasks, in order. It depends on what…obviously what the person who programs it or the team that programmed it to accomplish a specific set of tasks. And oftentimes, the software acts on its own. So, they don’t need to be retrained.
Once an algorithm is out there, they may tweak it, they may look at it again, they may take some of the output and re-evaluate it, but generally, it acts on its own and makes decisions and then it gives you an output. And you as the hiring manager or anyone else can essentially look at that output and say, “Okay, this is a decision that’s been made” or, you know, “I’m going to use this to hire somebody based on this.”
Well, fellow fans of the Terminator movies like me, probably are chilled to hear the phrase software that acts on its own. So, tell us more about that and how it affects hiring.
Sure. So, you know, a lot of times we think of artificial intelligence in terms of robots. And in part, that’s because a lot of the time, when we see the headlines, it’s like, “Are robots going to take our jobs?”
Or have robots replaced hiring managers?
Exactly. Exactly, exactly. And, so it’s not that we’re going to have, you know, go to work one day and have a robot sitting next to us, right, and asking how our weekend was. And so I really go back to the idea of software and the challenges around it is that you can’t really see it like you could a robot.
And so yeah, there are some chills there. They are making decisions that you don’t quite know, behind the scenes, what’s going on. And that kind of goes into the topic of, you know, as you look at artificial intelligence and some of the technology that’s out there, instead of going, “Oh, my God, that’s scary”, flipping that and saying, “Okay, I need to learn more about this”, and really dive in to figure out okay, what are these products? How are they being used? Because, you know, we say artificial intelligence, but, you know, a lot of this is actually machine learning. It’s big data. It’s data that’s collected on people. It’s transformed into analytics.
People read those, they interpret them. So it’s not, you know, the big artificial, intelligent robot that’s going around. And so, it’s about getting curious about that.
Okay, well, let’s talk about that. I mentioned in the introduction an example of an applicant tracking system using an algorithm to assign…in practical terms, what happens is, resumes get scores, and resumes with certain scores get interviews and others don’t. What are other examples of how artificial intelligence is affecting the application and hiring process?
Sure, there are some platforms out there, that rather than just scoring your resume, based on what’s in your resume, they may have profiles of people that exist in the company, and match your resume against their profiles based on you know, a set of criteria, like who’s performing the best, the personalities of those people, the backgrounds of those people, the skills of those people.
So, it may not be how well your resume matches the job description. It may be how well what you have on your resume matches who’s already in the company? Yeah, a really good example of that…we had…Amazon, obviously, was in the news for building a platform that was only…it ended up the way it was trained, it was trained on resumes that were mostly men.
And so, the algorithm learned that men were more qualified for the job, essentially. I’m paraphrasing here…they say they never used that platform. But that’s an example of training an algorithm on data based on who’s already at the company or profiles of people that are already at the company.
And a great example, too, of what you think might be an impartial source or tool, basically showing an unconscious bias.
Exactly, exactly. And other ways you could have, in some cases, you have algorithms that go out there and scour the Internet for personal data about people. So, they take in information, whether it’s from your LinkedIn, maybe it’s a GitHub profile if you’re in the tech industry, or you’re a software engineer. It goes out to other websites of which it’s going to depend on the company to find publicly available data about you, bring it back in. Sometimes they score it, sometimes they don’t.
Sometimes they just capture it as data for the hiring manager to look at. It really is going to depend on the platform, though. So those are some of the ways that these software platforms that are essentially platforms that hiring managers or recruiters use to either find people or evaluate people.
Why do companies take these steps?
Efficiency. I think your listeners are probably aware, job openings get, in some cases, we see over 200 applications for jobs. I’ve heard of up to 1000. They can’t go through all of these applications. So, they’re always looking for ways to make the process more efficient for them and obviously save on costs. Because if you save them time, you save on costs.
Well, how do these changes affect a job search?
Sure. In the case of a job seeker, what’s happening right now is that artificial intelligence is changing the workforce across all industries, all functions, and HR is not immune to that.
And so what we see is companies using these platforms and technology. And in a sense, we’re in an experimental time. They’re using this technology, but they’re trying to make it work for them. A really good example of this is Hirevue.
They have…they use their video interviews, and they will use…you will do an interview as a job seeker, it’s recorded, they may or may not see the recordings. An algorithm analyzes the recordings based on 25,000 data points, including the tone of voice, your word choice, and your facial expressions, and then scores you based on it and then the recruiter sees the result.
Now, in that case, as a job seeker, you don’t have a lot of control, but you can prepare for your interview or for interacting with an employer, if you know that you’re going to be engaging with this type of technology. So as a job seeker, your goal is to get to know the type of technology that’s being used in the interview process or in the hiring process.
I want to talk about that. But first, let’s step back. How common are these technologies?
Because we may have a listener who is applying at a small organization. They probably don’t have an applicant tracking system, they’re probably not doing video interviews. Are these techniques that you’re seeing only at the biggest companies? What’s been the practice recently?
Right now, I think it’s more of the bigger companies for sure. When you go to a lot of these companies ‘ websites, they’ll show you some of those clients.
So, you’ll see bigger ones, like I’ve seen Target and Wayfair are really recent examples using some of these hiring platforms. You can actually go to some of these websites and really see, what are the companies on there?
Smaller companies are starting to use them because it’s again, efficiency. So, it is going to depend. If you’re a smaller mom and pop business, you may not be using this because maybe you want to have more control over who you hire, you’re not as pressed for time.
That’s hard to say, actually, because as a small business, you’re still pressed for time, right? Maybe you don’t have the application volume that some of these companies have, it’s really going to depend. But what we are seeing is where the money’s going. And the money is going into these companies and there’s a big push.
And by money, I mean, the VCs. There’s a big push to fund these companies, and these companies then take that money to get more clients using their technology. And so while the platform may not be in every company, it’s certainly coming.
And if you’re a job seeker and you’re open up to multiple opportunities, it’s smart to be aware of this type of technology.
You mentioned three examples of this kind of technology. One was applicant tracking systems where algorithms are reviewing and scoring application materials. The second was video interviews where scores are assigned to those conversations, and the third were firms looking online to collect data.
Are there other examples that come to mind, and the reason I ask is because I’m thinking about the listener who’s wondering…when they apply, it’s pretty clear if you’re going through an applicant tracking system. It’s pretty clear if you having a video interview that that’s a possibility.
You may or may not know, if someone is doing the online research. Are there other common tools that people should pay attention for.
Sure. So, the other use of kind of this technology are interview chatbots; so, chatbots that you will be interviewing with that are not a real person. So that’s another one. Sometimes you can tell…
They have personas, don’t they?
Yeah, and they’re kind of friendly. And yeah, it’s often you see, like a cartoonish character.
Yeah. And in some cases, you don’t, it just, it depends. It depends on the company. And so, as a job seeker, one, it’s curiosity; being curious about these types of technology and how they’re used. The next thing is being able to control what you put out there. A lot of us are used to making a resume, a LinkedIn profile, but now it’s about what other data do you have out there and really thinking about it, about data.
Your personal data, what’s out there? And for those of us that maybe have grown up online, or maybe didn’t grow up online, but their professional lives have been spent more putting content out there, we have to think more clearly about what’s out there, because the algorithm may or may not find it, and it may or may not affect your hiring.
And I think that’s where it gets tricky, because we don’t know. And that’s where this invisibility part comes in. And it can feel kind of scary. You’re like, “Well, if I can’t see it, and I don’t know, then what should I do?” But in fact, that’s where that curiosity comes in. If it could be there, then how do I present myself in a way that makes me prepared?
Well, let’s pause there. I want to take a break. When we come back, I want to talk about that curiosity and what job seekers need to be paying attention to, and especially what they can do when they consider how artificial intelligence is affecting a job search.
As Nicolle has shared today, artificial intelligence is changing how hiring works.
And if you want to get noticed, you need to do more than just put the right keywords in your resume.
That’s because employers now collect all kinds of information about you on the Internet.
The worst thing you can do is to not show up in an online search. The candidate who can’t be found will raise doubts and appear out of date.
Are you happy with your digital footprint? If not, I have a free video course that can help. It’s called How to Wow and Woo Employers Online.
Go to macslist.org/wow.
You’ll learn how to overhaul your social media accounts. Why you need a personal website. And how to update your LinkedIn page to attract recruiters.
Sign up for this free course today. Go to macslist.org/wow.
It’s no secret that for years recruiters have checked out candidates on the Internet.
But here’s what’s different today. Hiring managers now look for people with online portfolios, personal websites, and other examples of professional work.
Are you doing these things?
We’ll show how to get started. Sign up for How to Wow and Woo Employers Online.
It’s free. Go to masclist.org/wow.
Now, let’s get back to the show!
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Nicolle Merrill. She’s the founder of Future Skills.
Before the break, we were talking about how artificial intelligence is affecting the job search. And you began to share some ideas about what job applicants can do in this new world.
Tell us more about that, Nicolle.
Sure. I’ll go back to the point about thinking critically about the data that we put out there. We live in a world where we’re sharing…some of us are prolific sharers, some of us are not. Some of us put information out there under a fake name, and so really getting thoughtful about what information you’re putting out there and what can be found.
A really good example of this is, I was reading recently about all the people that have a Finsta, a fake Instagram account.
Oh, okay, that’s an acronym I don’t know. What is a fake Instagram account?
It’s an Instagram that you run on your own under a fake name. It’s you, all your friends know it, but it’s not going to turn up publicly. It’s for someone that’s not trying to create a personal brand or be an influencer under Instagram.
So it’s a private account, a name that is not your own…
A name that is not your own, not associated with you and, you know, you’re not going to be found that way.
There’s plausible deniability.
Right. Exactly. You know, it happens on Twitter, too. I happen to use Twitter as a professional tool. So, the data that I put out there is specifically for my career. I know that Twitter can be used in a different way. But if you were to scrape my data from the web you would have, well, at this point, you’d have about 10 years worth of tweets, you know, um, but all of it geared to professional content.
And I know I’m dating myself by saying this, but I have nephews and nieces who have Facebook accounts where they might use a middle name as their first name. Or they might make up a name and their relatives and their friends know it.
So, today, with artificial intelligence, can an employer link that fake account to you?
No, not that I know of unless you’re putting your own name out there publicly. I mean, I think a lot of us have gone through the phase of, okay, my privacy settings are set, this is probably private on Facebook, or use Snapchat. That’s not going to get picked up in the algorithms.
But, so, that’s one that’s kind of the defense. I’m going to make sure that my privacy settings are right, I’m going to use a fake account if I don’t want that out there or picked up.
And then there’s the proactive approach, which is be intentional about what you’re putting out there. If there’s going to be algorithms that are searching for information, then give them something to look for because it could be an advantage. And this is going to depend on the type of person, of course. because not everyone’s comfortable with that.
But there is an advantage to doing something like having a portfolio online or having your own personal website, and not just for the algorithms but for recruiters, too. I’m sure others have shared, it helps you stand out. It shows you have digital skills, communication skills, all those things. And now it could potentially benefit you in the sense that an algorithm is going out and looking for your information. You may give you a bump.
So what’s different about this advice? Because it’s good advice. People have been saying it now for almost 10 years, ever since Facebook went live; don’t put out anything on a social account that you really don’t want an employer or your boss to see. What’s different today.
And I think most people before ????, they’re not going to look me up. I think in the beginning, I was like, well, they’re not going to take the time to look me up. Well, now we all know we’re going to get Googled. At this point, it’s more about the power in these algorithms to find you. You don’t know what they’re picking up out there. You don’t know who’s doing it.
It’s not just hiring companies, there’s probably nefarious uses out there too, but with the context of hiring, you don’t actually know…and that’s again going back to kind of the scary part. So it’s being proactive. If you’re applying to one company, maybe you would tweak your Twitter profile or your Facebook profile, but if you’re out there applying to multiple companies and stuff, you want to make sure that you’re giving them something that is worth picking up. If that makes sense.
These companies are using them. You want to be prepared. There can even be a situation where maybe you’re not looking but they’re looking for you. Traditionally, it used to be, just upload a resume to Monster, but honestly, does that even work, Monster? Is anyone using that? I don’t even know. You know, Indeed or something like that. It’s that mentality, but on steroids. We’re not uploading just a resume to Indeed.
And what’s striking as you talk, I think in the past, an employer, there might be somebody at an employer who would think, okay, Nicolle has applied for a job. I’m going to Google her. But that wasn’t standard practice.
What I’m hearing you say is, increasingly, companies are making online data searches of their applicants just part of how they do business. Is that right?
Absolutely. And aggregated, too. So, you know, it may only be one piece of information they’re taking about you, and it’s being collected and scored. That’s the other piece. And we don’t know how they’re scoring them. But that could be part of the matrix, the decision making criteria.
And that is increasing, because again, we go back to efficiency; if you can have a program that takes and you can define all of the things that you want from a candidate and you can have an algorithm that goes out there and searches all of this information, brings it back to you, and gives you a score, and then you can make a decision? It benefits the hiring manager or the recruiter.
So instead of a person on the interview team checking you out on Google, and perhaps leaving the door open for a conversation about something that might be awkward, it’s…today, committees are getting scores. And they’re just looking at numbers, not people.
We talked about how to play defense: pay attention to your online social accounts, consider creating fake identities that you share only with family and friends. Other, before we talk about more proactive steps, other defensive steps you recommend listeners take?
I think I’m going to go back to what I said earlier about this curiosity point, get to know the technology. If we don’t understand it, it’s scarier. I spent…the reason I got into this was because I was working in career services. And we partnered with a vendor that had an automatic resume review system, they were called VMock.
And now there’s Job Scan that does the same thing, great resource, and I was blown away by what this technology could do. And I was like, wait a minute, you’re telling me this can do my job and make my life easier? Because why wouldn’t I use this? And I started thinking, well, how else is this being used, and that took me down a rabbit hole, for a very long, I’d say six months of just looking up under HR tech is kind of the vertical here and just exploring these platforms and some are terrifying. Honestly, I’m talking to…
Which ones scare you the most?
There’s one that, I think it was the Wall Street Journal profiled, they’re very, very small and they were going out and taking all of that data and assigning personality scores to it and then judging you based on the personality score.
That’s pretty frightening.
Terrible. I did it for my own Twitter account. So, I put…in my…you could tweet on the on the…I’m not gonna say the company name. You can put in your Twitter profile in there and I actually did it for my company accounts, and then my own personal account, and they were wildly different.
And, I think that goes back to some of the defensive things; ask harder questions. If you’re engaging with an employer, learn what type of software they use to evaluate candidates. This is quite an awkward question to ask, to be like, so how do you evaluate candidates? So do you…is there a human reviewer Is there going to be an algorithm? How do you make that decision? That’s an awkward question to have. And we may not be there socially. But at some point, it’s got to tip. And that’s how we start to learn what these platforms are.
So if the listener asked that question, what should they do with the information they get back?
So that’s a great question. Because for some people, this is great. They’re like, well, this makes my life easier. And for others, they’re like, wait a minute, so I’m not going to even interview with a human? I’m going to be a…Hirevue with this technology, where I’m just going to do a video recording and I’m going to get scored. That for you, as the job candidate, you may say, that’s not a culture I want to be part of.
I want to be part of a culture that values human to human contact. But that’s up for the job seeker to decide. Some people really like it, they think it’s efficient. There was a big article about how Unilever…this was a couple of years ago…Unilever had automated the whole recruiting process. And you didn’t even meet the team til like the day of, decision day. And I was like, for me as a job seeker, I’m investing 40+ hours a week in a job. I want to know who these people are at before we’re down the line.
And if you’re an in-demand field, it matters even more. So, I think for the job seeker, once you get that information, you can make a decision based on that.
Okay, well, let’s talk about steps a listener can take. You mentioned Job Scan, that’s a company in Seattle. And I know a little bit about their tool. What they allow you to do is to take a job posting and identify keywords, and then make sure that your resume and application materials reflect those, and that will help your score go up.
What are other steps that people can take to stand out when companies are using artificial intelligence tools to both find and rate applicants?
I’m glad you asked because this is…we’re going to go back to something that I’m sure your listeners are incredibly familiar with. It’s that human connection; that human connection matters more than ever. And I think over the years…
That seems like a contradiction.
It sure does.
Forgive me for interrupting but it seems like if the robots are taking over and Skynet’s in charge,
why do human ties matter?
Because it’s still that relationship component. It’s still that spark that we get sometimes from meeting someone and you’re like, “Oh, you have the ideas.” And that impact.
That’s what matters. And I think, at the same time as the rise of all this artificial intelligence, and new technology, we have seen a rise in professional communities coming together and supporting each other and really teaching. And I see them around Portland.
You know, I’m currently learning Python. And so there are Women in Python groups that meet up. There are Women Who Code. I mean, there are all these communities that people can find to be part of, and meet people and learn about, not just just to get a job, but to learn about these companies. Is this a company I want to work for? And learn about different ways to get hired through the company, maybe a chance meeting of a recruiter at that company and you tell them, I’ve always been interested in working in the food tech space and now you’ve got a personal connection. Because you’ve had a conversation.
So how do you do that? And why does, again, that make a difference?
It makes a difference because those people are going to…they’re going to give you…they’re going to be your shortcut. Like always, it’s the same thing when we talk about networking, informational interviews; knowing people inside, they’re going to be your shortcut around the machines, for lack of a better term.
How do you get past the machines, though? I mean, obviously, there’s not a line of ???
guarding the building. But there are processes in place and there are rules that employers might expect you to follow. How do you break in, Nicolle?
So, in this case, short of making those human connections, obviously being part of it and following your standard – do your homework, meet people inside the companies, I will go back to, make sure that you have something online that’s more than LinkedIn. Make sure you have more than a resume. Resumes are a first step, but you’ve got to have more out there now.
You look at a lot of the leading roles. They expect you to have portfolios, they expect you to have something online. They expect to see examples of your work. And regardless of whether you’re in a role that’s like design or writing or coding, those seem really easy to say, well, of course, you produce something, you can show it.
But anybody can show their work online. You can do it through video, you can do it through Instagram if you want to use that as a platform. Because if you decide you want to show yourself off, you can use that. You can use Twitter.
When I first started on Twitter, I was using it as lazy blogging. I was like, well, I don’t have to write a blog post, I’ll just share articles. And then I was hired off of Twitter because the CEO saw my tweets.
And so there are all these tools that we can use to show ourselves off, and we need to be doing it because that is more of the expectation now.
So, having a LinkedIn profile is just so 2005, you’ve got to go beyond that.
Go beyond that. And if you are on LinkedIn, then share, share and engage. I mean, it’s the least exciting social network. I’ll give you that. But there are more social, there are more exciting social places to be online but LinkedIn, to be able to engage, to be able to like people’s content, comment on it, share your own content to show off your knowledge, especially as a job seeker.
It’s a really easy win. And that’s a way to kind of get noticed beyond a simple algorithm finding you.
It’s been a terrific conversation. Tell us what’s next for you.
Oh, for me, I have a book coming out in October called “Punch Doubt in the Face: How to Upskill, Change Careers, and Beat the Robots.
Great title and I look forward to reading it. Now, I know people can find out more about your book, as well as your own work at your website, futureskills.blog.
Nicolle, given all that we’ve talked about today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember when they think about how artificial intelligence affects the job search?
I know it’s scary and I know that it can be a little overwhelming. But flip that and dive in. Learn about this technology, study it like you’re studying for an exam, so you understand it. And don’t forget to make the human connection.
Two key ideas came out of my conversation with Nicolle. One is the importance of having a vibrant online presence.
I mentioned that it’s not 2005 anymore, you need to do more than just change the privacy settings on your Facebook account. You’ve not only got to be careful about what you post online on your social platforms, but you need to do more.
You need to put out information about what you’re doing professionally. Because it’s becoming how employers do business, at least the big ones. When they hire, they’re doing these online searches.
It’s part of the process and they’re looking for people who are sharing examples of their work online. And not just a few links on LinkedIn, though that is certainly useful. They’re looking for portfolios, personal websites, and other samples.
The second idea that came through for me, is human relationships still matter. And you need to not only have that digital presence, but you need to step away from the computer and go out and talk to people, build relationships, and replace personal chemistry, or at least compliment personal chemistry, with these algorithms that are assigning scores to applicants.
If you’re uncertain about how to grow your online presence, we’ve got a product that can help it’s called How to Wow and Woo Employers Online.
It’s a free online course; it’s three parts.
Each is a video module, and I take you through the steps you can take to put your best foot forward digitally. You can get your copy today. It’s free, go to macslist.org/wow.
Again, that’s macslist.org/wow.
For some job seekers, recruiters are figures as mysterious as the Wizard of Oz. If you’ve ever had questions about what recruiters do, you’ll want to join us next Wednesday.
Our guest will be Wendy Schoen. She’s a legal recruiter, and Wendy will share her own hiring secrets. Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.