Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid experiences artificial intelligence at work

Confessions of a benefits managerIt is all over the news: artificial intelligence (AI) is coming to get us. I have never found our organisation particularly endowed with intelligence, artificial or otherwise, so it is hard to see how it might work out here. I would love to be able to automate more of my work so that I can focus on the interesting bits, but I suppose the worry is they could automate the whole lot and put me out of a job. I am already seeing so much of life being dehumanised and rarely for the better.

Big Bad Boss has been particularly annoying lately and, once again, I have been thinking about moving on. I spend a quiet afternoon poking around on LinkedIn to see what is out there. Despite all the gloom in the news, there seems to be quite a few companies hiring in reward right now. It is interesting to see how differently companies are using technology in their recruitment process. Some continue to work with head-hunters and others look for direct applications. I have noticed that I get a better response when there is an actual person on the other end, particularly as you can ask questions filtering out a poor match before going through a tedious application process.

Automated processes

Unfortunately, most of the jobs I am interested in applying for have no contact listed, just a big ‘apply’ button which takes me directly to their applicant tracking system portal. Other than my email address, there is just a box to upload my CV. There is no chance to review how the data has been parsed and briskly I am thanked for my application. It is a worry; my background is unusual, and I do not know how I will fit into standardised boxes.

The second application works in the same way, but at least I get to review what I have submitted. As I feared, the portal has made a right mess of my CV, putting organisations I have worked for in the education box, and losing job title changes for promotions in the job description. Luckily, I can edit and put it right. I make a note to simplify my CV to help any future applicant systems to load my data correctly. I realise I will stand no chance at all with my first application.

The third application is where it gets scary. I have simplified my CV and made sure all the key words on their requirements are included. I submit as instructed with no opportunity to edit. An email appears instantaneously to tell me I do not have the right skills for the job. Eh? I’ve listed all those skills on my CV, and I have more than the requisite number of years working in benefits. Something must have gone wrong, so I decide to submit again. A new message appears to tell me I have already applied for this job. No kidding.

Re-writing CVs

A thought occurs to me. The system is clearly preselecting on some criteria other than my ability to do the job based on my skills and actual experience. Using another email address, I apply again uploading the same CV but with my current job title tweaked to exactly match that in the advertisement. Let me be clear: I am not applying for a role at an altogether different level, just one where the job naming convention differs slightly. My CV is accepted straight away and I am thanked for my application. The thing is, I am not sure I want the job anymore. If the HR team is so narrow-minded as to set automated selection criteria that someone must have the exact same job title, it is going to be a very frustrating place to work. I mean, surely even AI would have come up with a better process than that.

As it happens, I get an email in a week or two saying they had an unusually high response to the ad and unfortunately, I have not made the cut this time. It is fine, but it seems odd that anyone got through the preselection, given they would even have the same, rather obscure, job title. I wonder if my CV was ever seen by an actual human, and how intelligent a human at that. But it is fine, really. Just fine.

Human contact

The fourth job I want to apply for has an actual human as a contact. Better still, it is a recruiter I have worked with before. He gives me a lot more detail about the job so I can tailor my CV accordingly. When I send it over, he asks me if I have ever had feedback on my CV? I have, and usually it is very positive, but recently I have just simplified it to take account of the automated portals that seem to be ubiquitous.

The recruiter is not impressed. He wants a ‘proper’ CV, by which I sense he means paragraphs describing achievements rather than bullet points. I re-write it and have to say it looks a lot better. He asks for further amends to highlight certain projects they are looking for experience in and to emphasis my global experience. I think that was already covered in the second version, but I reorder my achievements and add the word ‘global’ where relevant. I hate rework and I feel a tiny bit patronised. I suspect the recruiter is one of these people who are driven to establish their superiority. Still, whatever it is, I let it go because the nice thing about dealing with a person rather than a portal is that I have had the chance to make these tweaks. Now I am just waiting to see if I get an interview.

Next time: Candid becomes a mental health first aider.