Training Today’s Professional for Tomorrow’s Workplace

Tricky Interfacing or Tricking Interfaces: Learning How To Navigate the Robot Gatekeepers

By Lance Eaton

Anticipating the future of professional education is a fun game. It never fails to provide clues that skills training is going to keep evolving in dramatic ways.

So we might have figured out that by 2020 everyone would have a tablet empowered with a personalized learning environment to guide people to new knowledge, skills, and of course, income. If not tablets, then it is definitely going to be Massively Open Online Courses (a.k.a. MOOCs) that would lead people to binge upskill. And people still get excited about earning badges (or micro-credentials), just one of the many forms of gamification out there. And please, don’t get me started on the blockchain.

But what does that mean if one is trying to establish or re-establish a career path? In truth, it means one should look at educational trends with a skeptical eye – especially those that push technological solutions. These usually are driven by companies looking to sell software, hardware, and services as the solution to learning problems that may not even exist.

What it means for the common person is that the skills that will suit them best have less to do with educational trends and more to do with understanding how working and hiring is shifting. A particularly valuable type of training to have moving forward is to learn the technology of hiring in order to more effectively respond to or even trick the software – because that’s the skill that will get you in front of an actual person.

Organizations everywhere are overwhelmingly focused on increasing profits through saving time, reducing redundancies, and replacing human labor with computers. In their pursuit of efficiency, companies also use such tools in hiring. Perhaps most notably, they use resume scanners that categorize your resume. They also video interviews with webcams that use AI to assess your qualities even before humans interact with you. After all, the hiring process is a time- and money-intensive process; if companies can have a computer spit out a score based on a set of algorithms that predict a successful hire they will happily invest. If this is an acceptable practice for judges, then CEOs have nothing to worry about, right?

It almost goes without saying that these tools are problematic and may increasingly perpetuate biases of the programmers and employers, but companies are increasingly relying on them, so it means people will need to learn how they work and also how to game them so they can advance in the hiring process. Job-seekers should be prepared to leverage their knowledge of hiring technologies to help get themselves in front of human employers.

So how does one get a leg up on bots in the workplace? Here is one strategy for getting past the bots and interacting with real humans. I then follow it with a larger strategy about artificial intelligence in your particular realm of work.

How to get in front of a person

The first strategy requires a few steps. The first step is to research how AI and other technologies are used in hiring practices throughout your industry of interest. Some industries are fully buying into AI hiring technologies while others may not realize these exist. Therefore, people should research their industries to see what employers may be using.

This step involves searching the web with keywords related to the industry as well as terms like artificial intelligence, AI, bots, machine learning, automation, etc., along with language such as hiring, on-boarding, interviewing, and other employment-type terminology. People will inevitably run into distractions such as articles about how employees will be replaced by robots and AI. It’s best to avoid reading these too much – it can be as depressing as it is inaccurate, at least for the time being.

With a fuller sense of practices in place for an industry, one should determine what hiring technologies a company may be using. The company might provide this on its website or hiring portal. If no information is available, one might call the HR department to inquire about what industry-related AI hiring software they use. Networking can help here – reaching out to folks who are or have worked at a company and who might have knowledge about technologies used in the hiring process.

The next step in this strategy is researching tactics for working with specific AI hiring technologies in specific industries. If one cannot find out if a company is using AI in hiring, but it is a common practice in the industry, it is safe to assume this company also is using it. This research should focus on how to highlight one’s qualifications to appeal to AI technologies. You may luck out and find an article or other resources specifically targetted at AI within a given industry. Determining keywords and structure will be a matter of being up to date on your industry as well as closely studying the particular job ad (and others like it).

These steps are used to help prepare the resume and for the application stage – or the document-portion of the applying for a position. But you also should be prepared to deal with AI in different ways. In particular, keep an eye out for the increasing use of AI in one-way interviews where applicants use a webcam to answer questions and prompts without having the opportunity to read the body language of another person. That’s right, your next job interview could be conducted by AI. There are articles and pieces that can provide tips to perform well, and doing recorded mock-interviews might be helpful as well.

So this first strategy is more focused on how to navigate the use of AI. The second strategy focuses on the companies that have been sold services that automate the hiring process.

Dealing with an automated hiring process

The first step in this process is to take a big breath and learn a bit about what is happening with AI and what is fanciful thinking. Like for other technologies, there’s an awful lot of predictions being made about what AI will do in the next twenty years, but many are more science-fiction than fact.

AI is going to be tempting to every industry, especially since it will be peddled by tech companies as the greatest thing since the PC to come to the workplace. The tech industry will be working hard to find ways to sell the software of AI to companies to decrease staffing numbers and increase profits.

Inevitably, no matter what industry you work in, AI will shoved into it in the next decade if it hasn’t already. That’s the only tech prediction I’m comfortable making.

Getting educated to prepare for AI

So what does this mean for your future education endeavors? It means you will need to learn more about AI and pursue what I consider to be the best three positions to hold in your industry.

Position #1: Be the human that AI can’t be

While AI will be crammed into many industries, there’s still a lot of things that AI doesn’t do well or for which it won’t be useful. You need to develop skills and abilities to occupy that space. It is going to vary by industry so it may be useful to spend time learning about the basics of AI, or even interviewing folks who work in AI to get a better sense of what may or may not be feasible for your industry.

Position #2: Be besties with AI

An observation that is often made about the threat of technology replacing humans is that not only does it usually fall short, but it also misses the bigger potential of what happens when technology and humans work together. One of the often-touted examples of this is what is known as Centaur Chess, which is a version of chess that involves a human and AI working as a team. The results of this pairing provide better outcomes when humans team with AI.

For this position, it means thinking about what AI is good at and then figuring out how it could be even better with a human. Rather than vying for a position in lieu of AI, a person can work to find ways to be more productive with AI. The first people to prove themselves flexible in this regard will be the ones to define new positions in their fields.

Position #3: Become the industry AI expert

This strategy leads to blending your current knowledge about the field and types of jobs you desire with learning about and either developing or adapting existing AI for your industry. This may seem like a lot, but getting started in AI is not as hard as you think. Yes, learning it can be challenging if one is new to the realm. But places like EdX or Coursera regularly offer MOOCs on the subject matter that people can take for free for pay (usually $100-$200). Then, of course, there are lists like this that pop up quite frequently online that show all the different places one can learn to learn how to create AI and what to do with it.

Of course, this is merely a prediction about technology and education, and we all know how wildly inaccurate these can be. So take it all with a grain of salt and in the meantime, I’ll be letting my tablet’s personalized learning assistant walk me through a strict regimen on how to create AI that I can build onto the blockchain that will add a badge for every MOOC I complete. I better hurry up. I’ve only made it to level 37.


Lance Eaton is the Associate Director of Learning Design at Brandeis University, a part-time instructor at North Shore Community College and Southern New Hampshire University, and a PhD student at University of Massachusetts, Boston. He currently writes about such areas as teaching and learning, audiobooks, and academic piracy. His musings, reflections, and ramblings can be found on his blog: http: as well as on Twitter: @leaton01.

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