Podcast 008 AI and ML in Job Hunting

In this episode, we discuss how job seekers and HR recruiters are being impacted by AI and ML.

008 AI and ML in Job Hunting Transcript

Heather McKee:              Welcome to The Modern Polymath, where we discuss topics in technology, economics, marketing, organizational behavior, market research, human resources, psychology, algorithms, higher education, cyber…

Heather McKee:              Hey, podcast universe. Thanks for tuning in. On today’s episode of The Modern Polymath, we’re going to discuss how artificial intelligence and machine learning are not only impacting job hunting, but also recruiting by HR. We’ll provide job seekers with tips on how to tailor their resume, and HR recruiters with tips on how to write up your job descriptions. Let’s get this podcast started!

Dr. Jon C.:                         Everybody wants a job. At least out of the gate. You’re coming out of high school, you’re coming out of a two year college, community college, technical college, four year. Or even coming out of a master’s program or you’re transitioning from an existing job, you’re looking for a job, and ultimately, a career.

Dr. Jon C.:                         So writing resumes is always, with young people, one of the hardest things to do, is to figure out how to get it all structured. And it’s nerve wracking because you’re taught everything is going to be criticized in it. I don’t know why there’s some kind of implied contract of the world that, “Oh, there’s a gap in my resume of five minutes.” So there’s always these concerns. Well, now we introduce technology to how resumes are being interpreted, and we have a whole new element in play.

John-David M.:                I mean, it started off as a complicated qualitative process, and now it’s not qualitative anymore. The interesting thing is, I think, and you said this a lot of times, is at this point you better know how to pay to play. You better know what to put there because if you don’t, you’re not even going to get considered. Whereas before you could kind of deviate from some keywords and all, but you can’t now. If you want to be considered, you better include that, and still stand out at the same time.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Right. And the reality is if you want them to invest in you, to consider you, you have to invest in applying for the job. So now when we talk about how you do this for job hunting, we hiring managers know what we want, or think we know what we want, and we set up rules. We say, “We want somebody with three to five years in the field. We want somebody with a degree of this specific caliber, and we want experience in this software package or what have you.” And we know that’s the ideal candidate for what we’re looking for. That’s an algorithm. Those are a set of rules.

John-David M.:                Which we would have done-

Dr. Jon C.:                         Anyway.

John-David M.:                Regardless, like it doesn’t matter.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Anyway.

John-David M.:                But it really is. If you think about it in this particular application, AI is a filtering mechanism, it’s to weed things out. It gets rid of the noise. The unfortunate thing is, and we’ll talk about that in a minute, you may become part of the noise if you don’t know how to play by the rules.

John-David M.:                This is a relevant, I guess if we’re trying to look at it through this lens, this is to me a relevant question. Why our organizations turn to AI, artificial intelligence, for assistance in finding job applicants. Here’s your tee, here’s your ball.

Dr. Jon C.:                         From the lens of HR, most HR folks that I’ve worked with, and have had in courses and mentored, master’s, PhD, whatever, they’re all stretched thin. We all love that expression. We all wear like 30 hats. Well, they legit do. So if you now tell me that I don’t have to sift through 200 resumes for a job that I don’t understand, my job’s to find you, the hiring manager, the best candidate.

John-David M.:                Right. Based on the information you’ve given me, right?

Dr. Jon C.:                         Based on the information you’ve given me. And a lot of the time, you don’t give me a whole heck of a lot.

John-David M.:                Looking at you, managers that need to figure that out, this is important.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Yeah, exactly. If you want the best candidate, you need to spend time with your specialist, or your generalist, or your recruiter, whoever it might be about finding what it takes to really find the right person because, oh, if you’re too busy to do this, well, you probably don’t care about that job very much. And you probably should. But sometimes it’s hard. It really is hard to identify what makes somebody great at what this is. Especially when you’ve got something that has a lot of tacit knowledge, and what I mean by that is it’s not very easily observable. It’s something like I can’t explain how Ted Williams hit a baseball so well.

John-David M.:                Right. It’s what years experience is trying to describe. It still begs, and you always say this, the why. What’s the question? What are we trying to get to? And assuming that you can understand that AI and ML is a tool, cool. It is that, but you better play by the rules. If you spell your name wrong on the SAT, you get a lot of points docked. Right? That’s not a good thing. And that’s a well known thing.

John-David M.:                So I think from the same vantage point, make sure you have those core pieces locked down and right. It’s not that hard, and I mean that from a, no one really knows, you’re going to get it 70% right at a random jab try. And hirers and the managers are trying to put the job descriptions out there. They are trying their best. You’re trying your best. And I mean, AI in this case is acting as a filter.

Dr. Jon C.:                         This is where it gets really frustrating, though. We were taught to stand out. And absolutely, because you’re fighting for maybe five jobs among hundreds of applicants for the most part when you’re really going after something that you don’t have a direct tie to. So how do you stand out? Well, you stand out first of all by getting… You need to look at your resume that you write when you post it to a website as the thing that gets passed through the eye test. But it’s really the word test. It’s the tag test. It’s the I need you to screen the base level of what we got. Right? So like in college applications, we know that we’re only accepting people that made an SAT above 900.

John-David M.:                That’s a good example.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Whatever, right? Okay, well then let’s cut that out. So that’s kind of what a lot of what it’s doing. And then from there you have an opportunity to stand out so you can show up at a job interview with, hey, by the way, my resume was not necessarily boilerplate, but it was standardized to pass through. But here’s something that really speaks to me. But the cover letter’s really [crosstalk 00:07:22].

John-David M.:                Yeah, that was the next question. I mean this isn’t a isolated example, or to go back to Google and SEO and everything else-

Dr. Jon C.:                         Absolutely.

John-David M.:                … it’s a pay to play at this point. Sometimes you have to, if you’re going to be a doctor, you need to have an MD, right? If you’re going to do surgery or something, you better have the right credentials. And that’s true in a lot of things. This is an added credential that, I guess, it wasn’t necessarily standardized before, but you better have the right stuff in there. Even if humans are evaluating it to stand out.

John-David M.:                Just like SEO, the way that it works, search engine optimization is looking for keywords, and it’s looking for context, and it’s looking for the relevance of that to the person who is searching-

Dr. Jon C.:                         Absolutely.

John-David M.:                … on Google. They’re looking for the relevance of that to that search query, whatever that might be. And this is exactly the same thing. But on the side of the cover letter it’s like, all right, you need to check the box with a resume. Right? You need to have all the keywords in there and stand out on the cover letter.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Well, where do you think they got all the ideas?

John-David M.:                Yeah, yeah, of course. Of course. It’s a logical progression.

Dr. Jon C.:                         And so that’s why this is a great kind of dual factor discussion is tailoring your resume is a lot like tailoring a website. If you want somebody to search for you, find you, and find you for the right reasons.

John-David M.:                Yeah. Like nobody’s hiring me to be a plumber. If they do, they’ve picked the wrong guy. But that should not be an AI driven thing. You should have done that to begin with, but they should have, and the judgmental side of saying that is also implying that you understand what those things are. But if you’re applying for a job, you should know what those key things are and focus your resume on that, right?

Dr. Jon C.:                         Well I mean I guess when you come into entry level, this is where it gets tough.

John-David M.:                There you go.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Because you can recall really going after jobs, like how many jobs we applied for in ’07, ’08, ’09, yeah, no joke, that we didn’t get.

John-David M.:                Should have gone into counseling because that’s what I needed the whole time.

Dr. Jon C.:                         And the reality behind that is nobody really teaches you very well. They give you kind of the tips of here are the 15 things you need to know. Which is like, great, I could have read that in a really well manicured article on one of these really good media outlets. But what I don’t have is how to script my background to this job.

Dr. Jon C.:                         And when we were able to talk to the Military Times about it, one of the things that we really wanted to emphasize was a lot of times companies want something, or hiring managers wants something that is adjacent to what you’ve already done, right? So if you’ve been in a fraternity or sorority president, let’s just take that example, people just see that as leadership. Well, okay, it’s risk management. It’s business continuity. It’s managing, let’s call it this, let’s call it what it really is, it’s managing and trying to lead anywhere from 10 to 300 of the most unmotivated individuals that have ever walked the face of the earth at that point in time for something that you may or may not have selected as something of some level of importance, right?

Dr. Jon C.:                         But what nobody’s really coaching folks on is how to translate what you’ve done in college, or in high school, or trying to apply to college. If you’ve babysat for a family over an entire summer, you’re a family manager.

John-David M.:                Right. And if you’ve been trusted to continue to do that, you shown that you’re trustworthy.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Exactly.

John-David M.:                All right, so cool. Let’s take that, and run to the military with this because how many people in the military are struggling, and I’ve always struggled with this mentally, why it’s a hard jump in the military to the private sector. But I mean the skill set that is developed within the military is as great, I mean, I would argue in some cases, and not today, that everybody should go through that.

Dr. Jon C.:                         I have thought that. I have had that thought experiment. For a fact, one of my greatest mentors, Neil [Cameron 00:11:47] , told me many years ago when we were working together, in fact, around the same time that neither of us could get jobs, that he thought that two of the greatest things we should invest in were the military and education because of work.

Dr. Jon C.:                         If we’re educated the right way into our placement, that we’ve got nothing to go but up, and that everybody should, well could, have some level of service to the military because it teaches you skills that you don’t get at a traditional level. Plus you have a certain level of mental toughness acquisition, and a number of other things.

Dr. Jon C.:                         But the big thing, and this is something that we commented on with the Military Times was, so you look at a project management job, or anything close to that, right, and what they’re looking for is somebody that manages something from end to end, knows how to work in teams, knows how to build cohesion, knows how to play their role, knows how to stay humble in that role.

Dr. Jon C.:                         All right, so let’s take Lencioni’s brilliant model that’s so simple, humble, hungry and smart, right? You stay humble in what you do. You stay hungry, and you’re going after it, right? And you’re smart. And what smart means is not intelligent. It means that you essentially can exercise a certain level of social and emotional intelligence.

Dr. Jon C.:                         And I don’t know too many other realms of the world that get their folks more apt to those three things then then the military. It’s not perfect, and nothing about any of it is perfect because it’s standardized, and that’s tough. And they take a lot of folks that they want to be there out of the gate, and they’re young, and your brain doesn’t fully develop until you’re 26. And when you’re 18 you don’t quite know what you’re doing, and why you’re there, and that’s great.

Dr. Jon C.:                         But I think it’s important to highlight that they have, like right now you could take, if we put our resumes right now against somebody in the military applying for a job that we might be relatively equally qualified for. Well, we’re seasoned veterans in a lot of areas of business. But someone who’s 21 years old, that’s DD 214 in whatever it might be, has things that don’t translate on paper, but should to boat race us to that job.

Dr. Jon C.:                         So the important thing is really learning how what you’ve done translates to what you do, or what they’re asking for. So the big question when you look at that is to look at a job description, and HR people are literally trained to this. When in doubt, what’s the one thing you defer to whether or not you want to hire somebody or whether or not somebody can, and it’s the job description. It’s usually a paragraph. If you read that job description and you say, yeah, I can do that job, then you can do that job. That’s kind of industry standard about that. So take that job description and say, have I done some version of this? Okay, great. Tailor it to that.

John-David M.:                And extrapolate it out beyond the obvious, which I think is, from what I can gather, one of the bigger things in military in general, but also broader than that, like a struggle with a lot of educators, have a lot of qualifications that are beyond what they think because they’re thinking X plus Y equals Z. And it’s like, nah, these are skills that are applicable in many, many, many, many, many different areas. These are human problems.

John-David M.:                And I think one of the things that we want to get across is there’s a blend between the human element of this, it’s always been there, and the technology element of this. Because guess who’s developing the technology? It’s humans. It’s as human psyche and it’s coming to reality. And we haven’t gotten to where, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s not coming back trying to kill anybody that I know of, you know, the Terminator stuff yet.

John-David M.:                We are at a point where it’s a supportive tool. It’s a tool. Just as it was 100 years ago whenever the assembly line was developed, and things like that. We’re just at a very advanced state. And we’re not going to go into future implications in this episode, but what we do know is that people are using these tools to try to narrow down a pool into something that they can find relevant.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Everything about AI and ML is using computational. Right now, if you said multiply 324 by 565, if I had to do it in my head-

John-David M.:                Yeah. Take a little while. Carry the zero.

Dr. Jon C.:                         It would take a while. This computer sitting in front of me can do it 150 million times faster than I could. So why wouldn’t you utilize that power? The goal of AI and machine learning, AI specifically to this realm, and specifically to HR and hiring managers is to take a lot of the noise out of what’s going on. Not to say that certain that resumes are noise, they’re not, but what is noise is the human element of reading 200 resumes because we have natural cognitive exhaustion about doing that.

John-David M.:                Of course.

Dr. Jon C.:                         So it just makes sense to try to simplify that the best we can so that everybody has that fit. AI gives us the opportunity, gives HR folks the opportunity, hiring managers, and everybody within HR departments to spend more time being strategic with that hiring manager. Oh, and by the way, as some really fun clients of ours have said, we know we’re not the only show in town. You’re right. That HR professional has other people that they’re serving within the the company.

John-David M.:                That’s exactly right. And there’s also the you only have so many hours in the day to dedicate to this. How do you know how much you should allocate? And this is something that I’m personally terrible about, is saying what’s the minimal amount of effort that I needed to give to get the job done?

Dr. Jon C.:                         Right. At least.

John-David M.:                I mean, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re a hiring manager, and you’re asking somebody from HR to do this, and they have eight other people asking for the same kind of jobs, how can they possibly invest the amount of time to vet the information that’s coming in to say, “No, you should add these keywords.” They can’t do that. There’s just not enough time in the day.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Not to mention the fact that our brains stream things together. So if I were to tell me that, “Hey, we need to find right now, we just got a new house, and we need a really good candidate to do mosquito spray in our backyard, and we also need a contractor to fix our deck, and we need somebody to reroof, and we need somebody to, I don’t know, soundproof our studio right here.” Well those are four distinctly different… All right, there’s so much overlap that your brain will do so that individual now can focus on what their expertise is.

John-David M.:                Exactly.

Dr. Jon C.:                         That’s their whole job. Their whole job is to find expertise for that hiring manager and that department so that their company can do what they’re supposed to do. Now this individual has to love this. And I know that it took some time for the institution of HR to really adopt a lot of this, and there’s still a lot of that going on, but now they have the opportunity to say, wow, we can really do what we were intended to do when we were hired for this job.

John-David M.:                Yeah. Which is a personal question you have to ask.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Find the best people, get the best fitting talent for these jobs with these individuals and these teams, and this, that, and the other, and can start looking for fit. And that’s great. That’s what AI is great at it. It frees us up to do what we’re best at. Right? So right now, you and I aren’t spending a ton of time going through all the websites we need to go through for all of the information that we need for blah, blah, blah. Wrote a script that’s doing it for us. Great. That’s awesome. Now we don’t need to do that. We can sit here and talk to a bunch of people that can’t talk to us.

John-David M.:                I think though what’s interesting, and it puts it back on the hiring manager and stuff like that is understand the limitations too. Because you’re trying to narrow this down as much as you can, and that’s totally understandable. So we all do. I’m not trying to hire a plumber when I need an electrician.

Dr. Jon C.:                         [inaudible 00:20:41] by myself.

John-David M.:                But I mean the point being, there is specialization there. And our society now pushes for so much specialization. As a hiring manager, you also have to be able to screen out some of the specialization to say do I want somebody who does exactly this? Because if so, you better be really, really good at your keywords and what you put in there. Or are you looking for a critical thinker, someone who can learn the job, and then be a great asset of the company. That’s a challenge that AI does not keep up with right now.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Yeah. There are lots of problems.

John-David M.:                Yeah. But let’s acknowledge the problem.

Dr. Jon C.:                         So it can, but this goes back to the overall crux of artificial intelligence. It requires the people that drive it to understand exactly what they want and the magnitude of which they want.

John-David M.:                Right, right. I feel like all of this falls back on the hiring managers to some extent. Well, it doesn’t fall back on them, it starts with them.

Dr. Jon C.:                         [crosstalk 00:21:39] 100% though. This is 1000% on them. Every rise and fall of all of this is on the hiring manager. Seasoned folks get what they need. Now this is where the bias comes in though.

John-David M.:                Oh boy.

Dr. Jon C.:                         The ones that are seasoned know what has worked. Not what will work.

John-David M.:                That’s true. And they assume they know what worked based on today’s technology.

Dr. Jon C.:                         And they assume they know that that’s what it was.

John-David M.:                I mean, honestly, a lot of this boils down to how people are going to spend their time going forward, and using these things as tools to help define that. I mean, Jesus.

Dr. Jon C.:                         It’s the most valuable thing we have. I mean if I’ve learned anything from Mark Cuban in all our relationships and me watching him on television, he says over and over again, “The most valuable asset I have is my time.” I don’t know why more people don’t think like that. I mean, when you got a Nobel Prize winner, Danny Kahneman literally saying, “We spend 95% of our thinking in any given minute,” I think it’s 95%, maybe it’s 90, “thinking about either the past or the future, not the present.” Which is a pretty good indicator that we’re not very good at allocating how we spend our time.

John-David M.:                It’s true.

Dr. Jon C.:                         And actually putting dollars and cents to it, which we’re learning more appropriately how to do. What’s worth our time? Well this is worth our time because, A, we get utility out of this. We enjoy this. But B, we hope to convey and try to consolidate all of what we’ve read and experienced and put it out there, and hopefully expedite other people’s thinking about whatever. I mean, how we spend our time, is probably the most interesting question we have.

Heather McKee:              That’s it for today. Hopefully you picked up some useful tips here on how to spend your time more wisely, whether you’re seeking a job or hiring for one. Don’t forget that you can check out our website, insandouts.org for more content related to this topic and all things we discuss on the podcast. Thanks for tuning in. Catch you later.

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