When Technology Gets In The Way of Humanity

If we ever get to meet and get to know each other, you’ll find out pretty quickly that technology has been woven into what I do for just about my whole career. 

Up until recently, I don’t think that I have ever considered technology to be a real roadblock to anything that I wanted to do. If it appeared that that was ever the case, I always had a backup — if the fancy electric drill didn’t do the work, I could always pull out the manual one. If the website wasn’t letting me do what I wanted, (with a bit of work and patience) a human (via email or the phone) could always be shaken loose from one of those interminable phone trees to talk to me.

My ability to overcome technology roadblocks was, until now, something that I lived with and worked around.

It’s me, my personality and the relationships I form with others that are going to be in the chair doing your work. It’s not my resume.

I think, however, that I may be close to meeting my match. Here’s the story:

I am on the verge of another major career change in my life. I’ve done the career change thing before (about 10 years ago) but this time it’s a bit different. Part of any career change is applying for jobs. Ten years ago it was pretty easy for you to have one-to-one face time or voice time with the “gatekeeper”, usually an HR professional recruiter who had the job of talking with you on the phone to gauge your “humanity” and how you might fit into the company.

Today, the gatekeeper has switched from being a human to being a “bot”. It’s bots like Indeed.com or Monster.com and others who are driven by algorithms and if your “score” (driven by how many keywords match their ideal candidate) is high enough, they will let you through to a human.

Here’s the problem and challenge. No matter how good my resume is or how high my algorithmically generated score is, in the end, it’s me and my personality and relationships that are going to be in the chair doing the work. It’s not my resume.

Let me give you an example. In my current job (which, by my choice, I sadly will be leaving soon) I recently hired an assistant. This person I hired would have never in a million years come to me from one of the bots. The reason is that he had none of the experience that I was looking for in his employment history. He did, however have skills and a personality that I knew were valuable to me because of his previous academic experience and what he had to do as part of getting a degree. It was only after I met him face to face and had a personal interaction with him that I found out he had some key qualities that would make him a success:

  • He was energetic
  • He demonstrated a willingness and capability to learn new things
  • He was curious
  • He was honorable and personable

None of these things could be communicated to me via his resume. They were only things that I could learn by human interaction. Had I just gone by his “score”, I would have missed out on hiring a person, who in the end will be an outstanding employee.

These bots, which, I’ll admit are sophisticated pieces of technology, are doing huge damage to the process of building a balanced company. Employment bots are acting as gatekeepers who have no ability to evaluate the personal soul of a person. What they do is put an algorithm before personality.

OK, I hear the scream of the Human Resource professional who is saying that these bots are helping them sift through the mountain of applications  so they can identify qualified employees. I’ll acknowledge that this may be a good thing but I also have to ask if, as business professionals we send out an invitation for employment,  why don’t look at the whole person instead of using a computer generated score as our first screen. What does that say for a company and the humanity of its workforce? Not much, I’m afraid. 

Let me leave you with one other personal story that drives home the point of how technology can get in the way.

I recently had success in getting through the bot gatekeepers when I applied for a position. I got a notice (from the bot) that the employer had looked at my resume and decided that “I could proceed to the next step”. (Cue the deep bow here).

The rest of the note explained that I needed to log onto a website, and call a  number where I was going to participate in a 10 minute automated phone screening. During this screening, I would be asked a series of questions that I would have to answer. (I had two minutes to answer each question).

I followed the instructions and went through the procedure. The interview consisted of three standard questions (“Why do you want to work for our company?”, “Tell me a bit about yourself”, and “Tell me a time when you failed at something and how you handled it”).

I went through the “interview” and followed the instructions (although their on-line process had some real technical problems and it took me three tries to complete the interview).

This whole process got me to wondering. Did I really want to work for a company that couldn’t afford 10 minutes to call me and find out what I was like as a human being? Didn’t they want to hear what I thought, how I laughed what my voice sounded like?

Is this a preview of what work and career and corporations are coming to? Divorced from humanity, human contact and feelings and just driven by algorithms? If so, we certainly are in for some really big changes.

Other interesting items related to this post:

Mathbabe.org is a blog written by Cathy O’Neil. She has written an excellent book called “Weapons of Math Destruction” about the danger of our increasing reliance on algorithms.

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