Using Google Chrome makes you a better employee?!

Just need to park a few nuggets somewhere until I can write a full post about this topic. I’m currently researching the use of new talent signals, data scraping, and machine learning in the hiring process. These excerpts come from the Journal of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, in an article titled, New Talent Signals: Shiny New Objects or a Brave New World?

On the use of big data in the workplace: 

So long as organizations have robust criteria, their ability to identify novel signals will increase, even if those signals are unusual or counterintuitive. As an example of an unlikely talent signal, Evolv, an HR data analytics company, found that applicants who use Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome as their web browsers are likely to stay in their jobs longer and perform better than those who use Internet Explorer or Safari (Pinsker, 2015). Knowing which browser candidates used to submit their online applications may prove to be a weak but useful talent signal. Evolv hypothesizes that the correlations among browser usage, performance, and employment longevity reflect the initiative required to download a nonnative browser (Pinsker, 2015).

On using social media to evaluate candidates: 

“People’s online reputations are no more “real” than their analogue reputations; the same individual differences are manifested in virtual and physical environments, albeit in seemingly different ways. It is therefore naïve to expect online profiles to be more genuine than resumés, although they may offer a much wider set of behavioral samples. Indeed, recent studies suggest that when machine-learning algorithms are used to mine social media data, they tend to outperform human inferences of personality in accuracy because they can process a much bigger range of behavioral signals. That said, social media is as deceptive as any other form of communication; employers and recruiters are right to regard it as a rich source of information about candidates’ talent—if they can get past the noise and make accurate inferences.”

On the use of video interviews for voice profiling:

“Moreover, through the addition of innovations, such as text analytics (see below) and algorithmic reading of voice-generated emotions, a wider universe of talent signals can be sampled. In the case of voice mining, candidates’ speech patterns are compared with an “attractive” exemplar, derived from the voice patterns of high performing employees. Undesirable candidate voices are eliminated from the context, and those who fit move to the next round. More recent developments use similar video technology to administer scenario-based questions, image-based tests, and work-sample tests. Work samples are increasingly common, automated, and sophisticated. For example, Hirevue.com, a leading provider of digital interview technologies, employs coding challenges to screen software engineers for their software writing ability. Likewise, Uber uses similar tools to test and evaluate potential drivers exclusively via their smartphones (see www.uber.com).”

On new technologies barreling ahead without theoretical backing

“The datification of talent is upon us, and the prospect of new technologies is exciting. The digital revolution is just beginning to appear in practice, and research lags our understanding of these technologies. We therefore suggest four caveats regarding this revolution. First, the new tools have not yet demonstrated validity comparable with old school methods, they tend to disregard theory, and they pay little attention to the constructs being assessed. This issue is important but possibly irrelevant, because big data enthusiasts, assessment purveyors, and HR practitioners are piling into this space in any event.”

I’ve said it before but the candidate process is about to get far more opaque.

Interviewing with a chatbot

I’m trying out different HR tech for the first course I’m releasing on futuremeschool.com. Right now I’m examining HR chatbots. Chatbots are becoming ridiculously popular in HR because they save recruiters valuable time. Candidates are comfortable with them too. SHRM reported that 57% of survey respondents confirmed they were fairly or extremely comfortable interacting with AI bots in the recruiting process. In an ideal world the chatbots deliver a premium candidate experience, giving everyone the opportunity to engage with the company.

I’ve been trying to get a look at Mya, the chatbot that interviews you, analyzes and scores your responses, and does the heavy lifting for recruiters. I really really really want that damn bot to interview me in part because I have a crush on its conversational design technology and because I secretly want to be a part time conversation designer.

Natural language processing Mya

But I can’t get Mya to interview me yet as I’m not exactly qualified for their jobs, so no bot access.

Luckily I stumbled on a chatbot for TalkPush, which is a HR chatbot company that makes it easier for recruiters to source. Here’s their pitch:

TalkPush is the first conversation-driven Candidate Relationship Management (CRM) system. On Talkpush, recruiters spend more time talking to qualified candidates, which translates into a better candidate experience and huge reductions in cost-per-hire and time-to-fill”

TalkPush has received about $1 million in funding. Compared to Mya, which has received $34 million and on its Series B funding, TalkPush hasn’t gotten much of that sweet 2 billion dollar plus HR tech funding pie.

Regardless I’m on a mission to try out hiring chatbots and TalkPush made it easy. You can access their recruitment bot from the homepage but you’ll be required to give access to your FB page, an offputting ask since we literally just met (what are you doing with that data?).

However their jobs page gives you access to their bot without having to give over your FB access.

The interaction starts simply enough.

HRChatbotinteraction

HRChatbotInteraction

I was a bit put off by the questions about contact info before I even got to see the jobs. Then again I’d submit this info on a resume, so I suppose it evens out in the end.

There were also a few typos in the exchanges. I thought it reflected poorly on the company since in the US, typos result in the immediate death of your candidacy for employment. Then I found out the company is based in Hong Kong and China, so the conversation is likely written by a non-native speaker. Makes sense now (I see an opp for some talented bilingual interns!)

But then the experience gets a bit lame.

HRChatbotexample

This wasn’t so much a conversation as it is a display of information. After I asked what a (Demo) Job Position is, I got nothing. Radio silence. So I checked in.

HRChatbot5

Aaaaand it seemed like we were back at the beginning. This reminded me of the awkward experience I had with IBM Watson’s chatbot. So I typed in an alternative job. Then we were back on track. Interestingly I was supposed to tell them about my relevant work experience. I wondered what they meant by that. Should I write paragraphs? Is this the place for a short, two-sentence summary of my qualifications, similar to what I’d write in a cover letter intro or say to a recruiter on the phone? Should it be a list of companies? Positions? Software? Skills? Am I being evaluated on the time it takes to answer questions, similar to video interviews? I had no idea. So I just added some fuckery to advance the convo and see the other questions.

HRChatbot hiring future of work

HRchatbot example

As you can see I wasn’t a good candidate. But the questions were interesting reminded me of an initial phone interview.

The flow and expectations in this exchange are a bit problematic though. As a job seeker, I may not have samples of my work or a summary of my work experience on hand during the chat interview. Since I had to put in my contact information before I saw the jobs, it’d be hard to take a break, go get that information, and return to the bot to continue the conversation. Usually a candidate takes a look at a job, builds the required documents based on the job, then returns to submit. This experience was like an application and phone interview in one.

Also the inability to engage at times makes me wonder what candidates should do when a bot fails. Any interaction with an employer should be considered evaluative. This leads to questions about best practices for candidate behavior. What should a candidate do if they’re stuck engaging with a bot? If the chatbot fails, what are the next steps for the candidates? If the chatbot misunderstands their information or can’t answer a question, does the candidates get bumped to a human? Can a candidate press 0 or some magical combo to get a live human?

If I were advising a candidate, I’d tell them to take screen shots and contact a recruiter directly with questions. It’d work in the candidate’s favor maybe. It could show that the candidate is a proactive, problem solving candidate. And it’d (hopefully) help the team improve their bot.

So for all job seekers out there: brush up on your professional written communication skills. You’re going to need them beyond writing cover letters to get past the bots.

The pain of upskilling

The benefits of the comfort zone are appealing. Steady (though not always satisfying) incomes, “secure” jobs, relaxed routines, and predictable schedules are as comforting to humans as they are to animals. In this phase, people limit their learning to things they learn on the job, not knowing that yesterday’s lessons rarely solve tomorrow’s challenges… Without skill upgrades or a willingness to learn, people are caught in a rut. They are unable to see when the next trend is about to catch up or when the current one is about to die. For the few that can see the new trend, the pain of having to upgrade their skills far supersedes the pleasure of staying in the comfort zone.- How to stay relevant in today’s rapidly-changing job market

Since reading this article I’ve thought about the above paragraph multiple times. The last part about the pain of upgrading our skills nailed it.

No doubt, professional change is painful. I’m part of a generation where the narrative has always been college degree = career success, full stop. Two degrees and five professional jobs later and I’m wondering if I’m staring at irrelevance in five years if I don’t upskill. I quit my well paying, secure job at Yale last year because I was stagnant with little hope of gaining new, relevant skills that prepared me for the future of work. While I’m starting my own company, I’m concerned I’m not keeping pace with the technical skills needed to stay relevant. Should I take a side job designing chatbots? How can I fit in learning to code in python so I can get closer to working with AI systems? I’m not thrilled by self-paced learning, so what are my options? Where do I find the time?

Telling people they need to update their skills and #alwaysbelearning is the first step. But the next step is harder. How do we teach people reskill? How do we help them identify what to change and how to change it?

That’s what I’m setting out to change with FutureMe School. Forget resumes and cover letters, I’m teaching people how to build career agility. I’m struggling through my own upskill/reskill fails as I carve out time to build in-demand tech skills. I’m also launching a weekly Instagram live event on FutureMe School: ReSkill Thursdays. It’ll be one part sharing my experience and one part coaching others on their reskill options. I’ll highlight interesting programs, online courses, and workshops too to help people think about their options.

With FutureMe School, we’re going to take the mystery and pain out of upskilling for the future of work.

Study abroad in… Evangelical America

It’s winter. I’m hibernating and on a podcast listening rampage. The latest: A secular student chooses a different experience for cultural immersion. Kevin Rose, a journalism student, joins Liberty University to understand a new perspective and get material for a future book.

This is a such a delightful story about stepping outside your comfort zone and remaining open to people who live wildly different lives that you.

There’s such potential for cultural exchange within our own country. People could experience one another’s views and have face-to-face conversation. It’s definitely not as glamorous as eating gelato on the piazza during your study abroad semester, but the impact of that cultural exchange experience within the US could be so beneficial.

Listen to this Moth episode here.

Where has the conversation gone?

The Boston Globe reports on how technology creates employee isolation which in turn causes work place interaction to suffer. From remote work to employees plugging into earbuds to escape open office noise (and annoying coworkers), employees are less engaged with each other at work. Fewer workplace interactions between employers result in less creativity, less productivity, and less motivation.

The solution? Design interactive spaces and create opportunities for employees to engage. One solution offered up by Humanyze, was to create a mobile coffee cart to stimulate impromptu conversations between different teams. The coffee station was strategically places between departments who worked on projects together to improve spontaneous conversation.

“If you create an environment where random people bump into each other, then every so often pretty amazing things will happen, and even more frequently, good things will happen,” said Ben Waber, chief executive of Humanyze, which analyzes workplace interactions and has seen its business quadruple in the past year. “It’s building those levels of trust so the right stuff can happen more frequently.”

This article is so timely. It’s no wonder organizations are starting to think strategically about conversation and interaction design. The decline in workplace conversation has been happening for years now. Chances are, you’ve had one of these things happen already today:

You texted or did emails during a meeting

You put in headphones to avoid a conversation with someone

You put in headphones to avoid the noise in an open office space

You emailed someone who sits near you instead of talking to them

You continued an email chain that could have been solved by picking up the phone and discussing it

You didn’t pick up the phone when someone called

You avoid a difficult conversation, instead opting to email it

You pulled out your phone during a lunch with coworkers

All of the above are conversation avoidance behaviors.

Here’s the truth: I did all of those things in my last workplace. And I watched my coworkers do similar things. None of these actions are wrong. In fact, they’re all social norms in the workplace. In my last workplace I saw opportunities for conversations – spontaneous or productive – decline on the regular. Management was constantly on their phones during meetings (despite insisting on a “no laptops during meetings” policy), including during interviews with potential employees. One of the deans was notorious for being on his phone during meetings unless it was his turn to talk at people (yes, at, not with), when he’d use his brute manners to command absolute attention for his turn. The leader of our department consistently emailed difficult news rather than having conversations in person. Everyone was so busy. Few people had time to give you their full attention for a conversation. Many people outright avoided it. I took part in conversation avoidance too. Because here’s the thing: this was normal.

I’m fascinated by the evolving social norms around communication in the workplace. I’m nearly done reading Sherry Turkle’s, Reclaiming Conversation, which is a must-read book for anyone who’s noticed how our communication habits are changing. Her book dives into the decline in conversation between people in the workplace and the impact that it has on organizations. But she goes beyond just the effect on the workplace. She examines family relationships, dating, and friendships too. She puts a spotlight on the digital communication tools we use and how it changes our relationships, often not for the better. The themes that Turkle covers in her book – less conversation between people, obsession with our phones, less connection at work between colleagues – are all familiar themes. What makes this book so perspective-shifting is the in-depth examination of the impact digital communication is having in our everyday lives. She combines ethnographic observations and hundreds of interviews with students, professionals, and families, to share perspectives that should challenge our apathy towards the negative effects of digital technology.

The book has certainly challenged my apathy. It’s also helped me better understand the experiences I have with job seekers. The job search is a persuasive act, one that requires communication and conversational skills. The interview and negotiation process are conversations. Informational interviews are conversations with (ideally) interesting people. Yet so many job seekers struggle when I tell them they can’t negotiate over email. In coaching sessions I’ve seen blank faces when I have explained how to conduct informational interviews. So many job seekers lack confidence in themselves to know what to say or how to sound interesting. They seem uncomfortable with the idea of starting conversations with strangers. Students panic at phone interviews. Now, none of these things have ever been pleasant. Job seekers have never enjoyed them. But in my conversations with job seekers so much coaching revolves around how to have conversations with people. My networking workshops have evolved now to teach people how to have a conversation: how to enter them, what to say, how to be engaging, and how to exit. It seems so basic and yet every time I do it I get loads of positive feedback. The emphasis isn’t at all on career – it’s on conversation.

The future of work belongs to those with communication skills: the soft skills that allow you to work across teams, engage with people from different backgrounds, and adapt to new situations. These skills are hard to develop if your every day communication takes place on text and email. These skills require a comfort with conversation and the ability to process unstructured, verbal communication. In her book, Turkle shares anecdotes from young professionals who struggle to have conversations because they’re unscripted. They prefer to have time to think about the answer and write a correct response. Open-ended conversations are too risky.

My copy of her book is filled with dog-eared pages. I’m talking about it so much to friends that they’re eyes start glazing over, probably in the self-awareness that they’d like to pull out their phone and check their notifications. Or maybe it’s from boredom with the subject. Or maybe it’s because we’re all little uncomfortable when someone points out the truth about phone overuse and the decline of quality conversations. But none of us talk candidly about the impacts of it. I was at a dinner recently with friends who I hadn’t been together with in ages. The conversation was lacking. I couldn’t figure out if it was a product of not being in each others lives on the regular or the decline of conversational skills due to phones. And then two friends pulled out their phones to retreat, possibly because they were bored (indeed the conversation was boring). I wish I could assign Turkle’s book to all my friends so they were at least aware of how our conversations are interrupted, changed, and impacted by phones. Now when I’m socializing with friends this book is all I can think about.

If you’re new to Turkle’s work or interested in how the role of digital technology affects the workplace and family watch her talk below.

Do executives need to upskill?

Sixty-two percent of executives believe they will need to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce between now and 2023 due to advancing automation and digitization.

As for solutions, 82 percent of executives at companies with more than $100 million in annual revenues believe retraining and reskilling must be at least half of the answer to addressing their skills gap. Within that consensus, though, were clear regional differences. Fully 94 percent of those surveyed in Europe insisted the answer would either be an equal mix of hiring and retraining or mainly retraining versus a strong but less resounding 62 percent in this camp in the United States. By contrast, 35 percent of Americans thought the challenge would have to be met mainly or exclusively by hiring new talent, compared to just 7 percent in this camp in Europe (Exhibit 3). – Retraining and reskilling workers in the age of automation, McKinsey

Two thoughts from this report:

  1. Do executives think they need to upskill? Maybe their inability to see the training needs, new jobs, and workforce of the future is shaped by their inability to reskill.
  2. Americans who think their companies are going to invest in them and their future career are mistaken.

I need to put this glorious gif somewhere

My love (obsession?) for career education is deep. I could talk about how we train people for the job search and the future of work for hours (and sometimes I do). I love listening to peoples’ work lives. But I know career education isn’t the most entertaining subject. As much as I try there’s only so much I can do to transform traditional career advice like “research all the companies”and “LinkedIn is your power tool” into engaging content. Enter, gifs. I love gifs. My newsletters have them. My courses have them. Gifs help me liven up some of the driest parts of my career content (and really, when I say dry I mean desert-dry…)

Today I hit a major milestone in my gif appreciation: I made my own.

I teach people how to build soft skills, specifically negotiation, networking, and public speaking. Unfortunately developing these three skills make people feel incredibly uncomfortable. To deal with discomfort I drive home this motto: embrace awkward. Awkwardness is to be expected when we try new new things. Awkwardness happens with difficult conversations. Stepping outside our comfort zone is bound to be awkward. Avoiding awkwardness is futile. Instead, we should embrace it and power the the fuck through it.

Power-the-fuck-through-it doesn’t make for snappy, corporate friendly workshop copy, so Embrace Awkward is my go to motto.

Anyhow, I’ve enshrined my favorite career advice in a lovely gif for my upcoming course, How to Ask for a Raise.

My day’s work is complete.

Accent party

Your oral apparatus – lips, tongue, jaw, throat – functions likes a machine, a precision tool to produce the sounds of your native tongue. To learn a different accent you have to understand how that machine works, take it apart and reassemble it. – PRI World, Why People are Still Trying to “Lose” their Accent

This delightful episode takes you on a linguistic ride into people’s attempt to rid themselves of their accent. From immigrants to Bostonians to Southerners, people trying to lose their accents share their motivations and challenges.

This episode has it all: tonal languages, tongue stretches, survival words, writing accents into novels, and questioning why its still acceptable to make fun of people with accents. Listen as a Russian woman moves from a Russian accent in English, to a British one, to an American one. It’s an amazing linguistic feat.

So about that graduate program you’re thinking about doing

Nearly 30% of professionals believe their skills will be redundant in the next 1-2 years, if they aren’t already, with another 38% stating they believe their skills will be outdated within the next 4-5 years. – LinkedIn Economic Graph

Has anyone told the students who are putting down 10K for graduate certificates or taking on $90k in debt to pursue uncertain career paths that are at risk for AI disruption? Who’s working to make sure that these programs – especially those outside of elite schools – prepare students for emerging jobs?

Who is responsible for that discussion? Admissions? Career services? Deans?