Your trusted resume expert… a robot?

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Artificial intelligence (AI) is truly woven into the fabrics of our lives, including job search. Most mid-sized to large employers are using technology and AI tools in the recruiting and hiring processes, and there are also tools that job seekers can take advantage of, as well.

For example, one such tool that I introduce my clients to is Job Scan, which will compare your resume to a job description you’re going to apply for. This helps you tailor your resume to that specific job posting. Even if you’re working with a recruiter on a job not publicly advertised anywhere, this can still be handy.

In a future post I can explore the nuances of how this tool works and why tailoring is preferable to using the exact same document every time without any changes.

There are also other AI and technology tools that are more questionable and less helpful, of course. (Also worth exploring in future posts!)

For now, what I want to address is how to handle a robot’s advice.

Human intelligence vs. AI

AI is an incredible advancement, and as most of us know, there are A LOT of things that computers are very good at that the rest of us simply aren’t as good at.

Robots have been beating humans at chess for years now—remember Deep Blue’s famous chess victory in 1997? Yes, certain types of thinking are easier when you have the memory and speed of a computer.

Limitations of software

Here’s the problem: software is only as good as the people who created it, and most robots we deal with in everyday life don’t excel at everything we throw at them.

For example, if you’re having a complicated marital problem, would Siri be a good source of advice? Probably not. She can find information on the Internet for you, but don’t expect her to give the kind of advice you could get from a marriage counselor or a friend who’s been married for 35 years.

Robots are lacking when it comes to analysis that requires common sense, empathy, and emotional intelligence.

A client example

I had an executive client who, based on my recommendation, ran her resume through Job Scan to tailor it for a job posting. A recommendation popped up saying that her resume was over the recommended length.

However, what she didn’t notice was that it said “unless you are applying for executive jobs.” The software simply isn’t (or at least wasn’t at the time) capable of analyzing the fact that there were VP titles in the resume, and then tailoring the advice based on the fact that she was at that level. Now, if she had read it more carefully, she would have understood that this didn’t apply to her.

One-size-fits-all “rules of thumb”

The other issue is that the software is set up to detect whether you’re over a certain word count (which has since been increased); even if you’re only one word over, it will be flagged—even though being one word over wouldn’t disqualify your application if you applied for the job.

These types of guidelines from an AI tool are usually based on best practices that are applicable to the lowest common denominator of people. Your needs might be slightly different, depending on your industry, career level, target employer, target job, and unique career situations.

You could think of it like government dietary guidelines. They’re based on what will probably work best for most people, but your needs might be slightly different if you’re an athlete, diabetic, celiac patient, or have a food allergy. In those instances, you could work with your physician, dietician, or trainer to determine what will be best for you.

Handling a robot’s advice

Back to my example. My client tried to trim her resume to get it under the magical word count that the robot had recommended (yes, that was sarcasm). But there was so much important information; she trimmed a bit, but couldn’t get it down much and mentioned this to me when we talked again.

I reassured her that the platform clearly states that this isn’t applicable if you’re applying to executive jobs. However, I was left feeling a bit disappointed that she had trusted a robot over me.

When you’ve invested a significant amount of money in working with an executive resume writer who is certified, has spent more than a decade mastering her craft, attends conferences in her industry, contributes to popular resume and career books, is quoted about resume topics by major media outlets, stays current through monthly professional development, is a member of four different professional associations for the resume and career industry, and has a recruiter consultant on her team…why not at least run these things by her first?

At this point, advice from robots needs to be taken with a grain of salt. AI job search tools range from useless to helpful, but even when it’s helpful, you also need to balance it out with the opinions of human experts and your own common sense. Oh, and while you’re at it, please don’t replace your marriage counselor with Siri. 😉

The job you WILL be recruited for

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I’ve heard it so many different times from clients in all different fields, from logistics to marketing to nursing: “Well, I never thought about doing this before, but they found my resume online and they really want me–they said I’d be great!”

After hearing this from a lot of different clients over the years, I hate to break it to you: they’re picking you and a whole lot of other people.

The job they’re all talking about? Life insurance sales! While it may seem flattering that a big-name life insurance company has picked YOU, please understand that their outreach is part of a continuous and robust recruiting effort.

Why do they recruit so aggressively?

This area of sales is one of the highest-turnover jobs out there: about 80% turnover! So they constantly need to replenish their workforce and find new blood.

The reason for the high turnover is simple: being a life agent is usually 100% commission, meaning you don’t receive a base salary. It’s an easy job to land, but a hard job to succeed in. It’s only suited to hard-core salespeople who love networking, cold-calling, and selling.

The industry’s willingness to bring in people who’ve never done sales means that many of them won’t last long at all.

These companies are avid users of job boards and they often target recently unemployed people who have uploaded their resumes to job boards.

One thing should be clear: don’t allow yourself to be overly flattered by receiving recruitment messages for these positions.

If you’re going to move your career in an entirely different direction, it should be based your long-term career goals, not based on the mere fact that a company is desperate for new recruits and gives you the impression they’ve chosen you because you’re special.

Is it right for you?

If you’re in sales and love it, but want to change industries, this could certainly be an option. You’d be selling a very meaningful product that can make the difference between a good quality of life and a terrible quality of life for families when they face tragedy.

Do your research first to learn more about the pros and cons of working in the industry, and also compare it to other industries.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, life insurance agents make a median wage of $48K a year, with the lowest-paid making less than $26K and the highest-paid making more than $117K a year. The creme de la creme can make multi-six-figures, but we’re talking about a select few.

I suspect that many of the lowest paid ones are folks who do it as a side hustle and retirees who do it as a part-time source of income to supplement their savings, investments, pensions, and social security.

Could this be a temporary source of income?

If you’re thinking of doing this while you’re in between jobs, you need to understand that this is NOT the type of job where you can reasonably expect to start making good money right off the bat.

You could put in 40 hours a week and make $0 if you don’t close any deals. (Meanwhile, working that many hours could also stymie your search for an ideal permanent position.)

Commission-only sales is similar to being a solo entrepreneur or freelancer in many ways. It takes time and effort to build the business, and very few people make a good living in their first year. (Let’s just say I did NOT make six figures during 2009, my first full year of being 100% self employed.) Over time, it’s possible to do well with the right strategies, execution, and work ethic.

What other temporary options are there?

There are other ways you could make money while you’re in transition. If you have experience and contacts in a particular industry, you could try picking up consulting or freelance work relevant to your profession.

For a marketing executive, this could mean filling in for a fellow marketing exec who’s on maternity leave. A logistics executive could consult on the redesign of a distribution network. This experience can be incorporated on your resume and LinkedIn profile to fill the gap as long as you make it clear it’s temporary.

If you’re really strapped for cash, have limited options, and need anything you can get, there are also “gig economy” jobs like Uber, Lyft, and Instacart–or you could get a job delivering pizzas. While these jobs might not have the white-collar vibe of insurance sales, they can produce immediate income rather than the mere hope of possibly making commissions.

Your biggest work-at-home problems, solved

I’ve been working remotely for 12 years now, so to me it seems like the most natural way to work–but I’m realizing that for a lot of people it takes some getting used to.

Based on personal experience and what I’ve heard from clients, friends, media articles, and questions I’ve gotten over the years, here’s my take on some of the challenges folks deal with when working from home.

What if I’m tempted to do housework?

This is one a lot of friends have mentioned over the years. Their concern is being tempted to do a load of laundry or wash the dishes during the workday. Whether this is OK or not depends on the nature of your work and what you have on the agenda that particular day. Can you put laundry in and still meet all your work obligations that day? Is it a simple load of towels that merely needs to be put in the washer and then transferred to the dryer, or is it clothing that will need to be folded promptly as soon as it’s dry?

I don’t see a problem with rinsing your lunch dishes and sticking them in the dish washer–it takes 30 seconds. But if you’re spending half an hour doing dishes during the workday, that’s likely a problem. You could spend half an hour at night to make up for the work you missed, but deviating from your normal schedule could set you up for failure. (More on routine in a bit.)

What if I’m tempted to slack off?

This is a problem even in the office. At the office, we can waste a lot of time chatting and joking around with co-workers about things that have nothing to do with work. Building camaraderie is great, but there comes a point when then socializing can get in the way of getting things done.

At home, the biggest thief of your time is the Internet. Here are some suggestions to make sure you don’t find yourself going down too many rabbit holes online:

  • Don’t read news during the workday, not even “just one article.” (Unless it’s on this blog? 😉) If you need or want to read some headlines in the morning before you start work, that’s fine. Then, don’t look at any news again until you’re done with your work for the day. News websites are designed to be “sticky,” meaning they want to keep you on there for as long as possible, so you can easily waste 10 minutes when all you wanted to do was spend a minute to read about one thing.
  • Stay off social media until you’re done for the day (unless social media is your job). Again, a quick glance in the morning is fine if you simply must, but resist the temptation to go on during the day. There’s too many things that can turn into a 10-minute rabbit hole. If needed, stay logged out of your social media or remove the apps from the home screen of your phone. Making it a little harder to get on it might make you less inclined to go on when you shouldn’t.
  • Disable annoying notifications about new email, whether it’s a sound or something that pops up. These can be very distracting when you’re working on a project or report. Unless there’s a business reason you need to check email 10 times a day, limit your email checking to once in the morning, once mid-day (if needed), and once in the late afternoon.
  • Most productivity experts recommend not looking at email first thing in the morning until you’ve completed your most important task of the day. That way, you’re guaranteed to get that task done and it won’t keep getting pushed back. If this can work for you, great. But this isn’t always realistic for everyone.
  • If you DO want to check email first thing in the morning, remember that you don’t necessarily need to reply to everything right away.
    You can reply to any urgent emails that require an immediate response, or send a quick acknowledgement email indicating that you’ll reply in more detail later. Yes, this increases the total volume of email everyone has to deal with, but in a pandemic-stricken world where many people are getting used to remote working, it doesn’t hurt to do this to reassure your colleagues and customers that yes, even though you’re at home, you’re on top of everything, and you’re alive and well.

How do I have a routine?

Daily routine and time management. I suggest staying as close to your normal routine as possible. Continue to go to bed and wake up around the same time, unless you weren’t getting enough sleep when you worked at the office. Without having to commute, you should have some extra time that can either be used for increasing your sleep if you weren’t getting enough before, or for exercise, relaxation, cooking healthy meals, or anything else that will help your quality of life.

Yes, the extra time you have could theoretically be used for extra work. You’ll have to decide what makes sense for you. If you have a tendency to over-work yourself, be very careful because this can get out of hand when you work from home.

Work hours. If you don’t normally work at all hours of day and night, don’t start unless the circumstances of your job during the pandemic require it. When you’re at the office, you might work hard to finish your tasks for the day by 6pm so you can be home for dinner at 7pm. If you’re working at home, you might say “Oh, if I don’t finish by 6pm, it’s OK, because I can just work straight through until 7pm–and then work some more after dinner!” This is where Parkinson’s Law kicks in: your work expands to fill the time allotted. If you know you have until 9pm to finish, it will take until 9pm instead of 6pm.

Exercise. Unless you have an evening exercise routine you’ve been sticking to for years, I recommend planning your exercise for the morning. If this is when you have the most energy, great. If you’re NOT a morning person, the exercise will help wake you up (along with your coffee!). Exercising in the morning before work is a way to make sure it happens and won’t get put off until you’re too tired to do it.

Loud pets and children

Does your dog bark when you’re on the phone? Cat meows too much? Children get loud? The tactics here really depend on your particular situation. Here are a few quick ideas:

  • Can you dedicate a specific room as your home office and close the door? I realize this wouldn’t be possible if you’re a single mother with young children and nobody else to look after them. But if you just need to keep your cat away when you’re on video conferences and phone calls, this could eliminate a potential distraction.
  • Find toys that can occupy your pets and children without your involvement.
  • For phone calls, you could use some sort of white noise to mask background noises (you might need to talk louder to compensate). Consider a loud fan, a white noise YouTube video, or even a white noise machine.
  • Be strategic about when you feed your pets, especially if they’re more restless when they’re hungry.
  • Play with your pets in the morning so they’ll be less restless.

Workspace woes

We’re all very different when it comes to the type of workspace we need to be productive. For some, plopping on the couch with a laptop is the start of a productive day. However, if you’re like me, you function best at a desk, in a comfortable desk chair, with a large monitor.

Getting a good setup doesn’t need to be expensive. You can look on the OfferUp app to find someone local looking to get rid of a used desk chair or desk for pennies on the dollar. Remember that a simple folding table can make a perfectly good desk. While it doesn’t have drawers or shelves, this isn’t that necessary if you’re like me and operate a paperless office.

You’ll get used to it

For some, working from home comes naturally and for others it doesn’t. For me it was a fairly easy transition. That might be partly because I had only been out of college for 6 years when I began working from home, so I wasn’t as “set” in an office routine as someone with 20 years of experience in the workforce. Also, my first 3 years out of school were spent working as a daily newspaper reporter–a job that let me set my own schedule (with the understanding that you had to hit your deadline every day and meet expectations for volume and quality of articles).

Even if you take some time getting used to remote work, chances are you can adapt. You likely worked from your dorm room when you were in college, so this isn’t too different (unless there are children in the picture, but they’ll eventually go back to school). You might end up deciding you prefer to stay home as you start to enjoy the perks!