Google Duplex: To err is human

Image result for dr smith robot gifs

In early May, Google’s “Duplex” dominated the news (in addition to preparations for a certain UK wedding). Demos of the robo-caller, sounding disarmingly alive while scheduling haircut appointments and dinner reservations, had us humans talking.

Its authenticity was bolstered by a smattering of ums and uhs. All that was missing were a few “likes”, and an upward inflection at the end of sentences — as in, “I want to um, like, make a reservation for Saturday night?” The initial creep out factor for many was high.

Duplex raises a number of ethical questions, because it’s so lifelike. Among them: Should a bot be obligated to identify itself as such, when there’s a human on the other end of the line – especially if the call is being recorded?

A pre-recorded telemarketing message doesn’t necessarily start out with, “This is a recording…”, but then again it’s pretty easy to spot after a few seconds. If the first few sentences don’t tip us off, we realize we’ve been duped once we try asking a question.

Then, we usually hang up.

Duplex is interactive. It can pivot, for example, if the flesh-and-blood hostess replies that there are no tables available at 6:30. It will then inquire about a table for two at 7 p.m.

I’m not a product visionary. I don’t see a two-inch wire and think, “If I bend this a few times, I could use it to clip loose papers together and call it a ‘paper clip’.” But it’s easy to see the utility of a robo-caller that gets mundane tasks done, while sounding authentically human.

So, what if the task isn’t mundane, at least to some of the humans involved?

As I watched the Duplex demos, I flashed back to a job interview from a few years ago. It was a first-round screener — an exercise that doesn’t usually require much prep, but is a way for company and candidate to size each other up. Mostly it’s a forum to assess whether the candidate is fundamentally under/over qualified.

It’s also an opportunity for a candidate to get a first read on cultural fit. Occasionally, companies – especially the “hot” ones – forget this.

Overcoming Your Fear Of The Phone

The aforementioned interview involved a recorded phone screener. I had never heard of such a thing. I went through a 20-minute online “training” to learn how the tool worked, and how the interview would go.

I was issued an applicant ID, and could call at any time within a date range. A series of pre-recorded questions would be put to me, and when I was ready to answer each one I was to press a button and begin speaking at the beep. When I stopped speaking after each answer, the tool would take my silence as a sign I was finished, and move on to the next question.

It wasn’t like a voicemail message that could be re-recorded if I wasn’t happy. I had one shot.

I am not sure why I went through with the interview. I have no clue who, if anyone, even listened to my recorded responses. Because I spent that interview essentially talking to myself, I never got a sense of how it had gone. What’s more, I learned absolutely nothing about the role. There was no way to ask questions.

Here’s what I did learn about the company and its culture:

The company was more interested in checking boxes – “Did she confirm she has 5+ years of experience doing XYZ?” – than in interacting to assess personality and cultural fit.

The corporate culture was not for me. Whether I was, as I suspected, overqualified for the role, the company had demonstrated that employees were just numbers. Widgets.

The company misjudged the balance of power between us. I was interviewing them too, and they bombed.

I can easily imagine Duplex serving as a more sophisticated version of the unfortunate interview tool I experienced. It could certainly help move widgets along the assembly line faster, and at lower cost. But, does it stand to reason that a bot will be as effective at screening out the “bad” fits?

And what if the strongest candidates remove themselves from consideration, because they believe they deserve a flesh-and-blood partner for the interview dance?

I hope companies that ultimately gain access to Duplex technology use it appropriately. Booking a table for Saturday night dinner is a mundane task. The two-sided evaluation of a human being’s fit for a role is not.

This is not to say that a non-bot interviewer cures all ills. I also recall a phone screener where the interviewer – who sounded like a summer intern – read verbatim from a script.

But that’s a story for another post…

Rock’em Sock’em Robots

All The Rookie Moves

Goldfish jumping from one fishbowl to another.
Photo: K&J Communications

How long does it take for a new job to no longer seem new?  For the rookie on the team to no longer feel like a fish out of water? I can’t say precisely, but I know it takes more than one day.

Today was Day One in my new position, and I am exhausted. Awake half the night thanks to a wild windstorm that knocked out power to parts of the Bay Area, I dragged myself into the shower this morning… where my shower rod inexplicably collapsed. Water everywhere, wet shower curtain and liner underfoot.  This was not on my morning agenda.

My bus was late and crowded, and as I’ve previously shared, I had no badge to enter my floor in my new building. I only managed to slip in without being late on my first day, because I decided against ironing any of my clothes this morning.

I have a new job I’m really excited about – or I will be, once I can start doing it. Today was all about typical “getting settled in” stuff.  My laptop was ordered weeks ago, but has not yet arrived, so I was forced to use a loaner – which took more than 30 minutes to boot up and log on to.  This will be a daily occurrence, until the new computer shows up.

My iPhone arrived, and I spent more than three hours trying to activate it. Note the word trying here. Tomorrow, I’ll climb right back on that horse and hopefully have more success.  The experience almost makes me long for my old blackberry.  Or a Palm Pilot.  Even a Franklin Planner.

My predecessor left a pretty messy desk for me to clean, and only three of my moving boxes arrived this morning – the fourth is MIA – which means I am only partially unpacked.

I have a new office phone number for the first time in nine years, that I haven’t yet memorized, and I did not have time to set up a new voicemail message for it. I was almost successful in setting up my wireless headset, though: I can listen to conference calls, but unfortunately no one can hear a word I’m saying.

Logically, of course, I know all this will pass. By next week, my desk will be clean and organized, all my technical devices will be working properly and I won’t need to ask directions to the restroom or kitchen.  But it was incredibly frustrating to spend nine hours at work, without successfully completing even one task I started.  This must be how members of Congress feel. (Boom!)

There is some good news: I met with my new boss this morning, and discussed some high level deliverables for the rest of 2013. I have a good idea what’s expected of me, and I like that.

Even better, after work I got a haircut that turned out OK, and still had time to buy and install a shower rod. That means tomorrow, I can wake up and shower… and start the whole process all over again. I may even have time to iron.

Pray for me?

A Chunk Of Change

Photo of Von Trapp children singing "So Long, Farewell", Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music
“So Long, Farewell”, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music

Today was my last day in the division of my company that I’ve worked in for nearly 10 years. Ten years! I am looking forward to my new role doing something quite different, but it still feels strange.

I am someone who is energized by change, so I have no regrets — but personal goodbyes often throw me. And this wasn’t even a BIG goodbye, or a LONG goodbye. My new building is only a few minutes’ walk from my old one, so I can grab lunch or drinks with friends there any time – until they forget all about me, that is.

Last night, my boss generously organized a small going-away happy hour for me, and I had a subtle case of butterflies beforehand. As a rule, I don’t like being the center of attention, so that was part of it. I was also conflicted: What if tons of people showed up, and I had hours and hours of small talk ahead of me? Even worse, what if NOBODY showed up?

In the end, the group was big enough to keep the conversation flowing, yet I only had to run through my new job description once, after which I had time to stuff my face with pub food and wash it down with Newcastle Brown. I was even able to leave early enough to do laundry before crashing in my PJs, in a carb coma. And when I weighed myself this morning, I’d only gained three pounds! (Ah, the joys of partying in one’s 40s.)

I’ve determined that some of my finest hours in a job come after giving notice, because based on personality tests like Gallup’s StrengthsFinder — I’m highly responsible. I obsess about leaving everything in perfect order, all tied up with a bow. Unfortunately, the stress that accompanies that usually manifests itself as flightiness and forgetfulness, and I end up losing the security badge to my office building.

You can’t make this stuff up – every time I have changed jobs, I have lost my security badge. I can hang on to the same badge for YEARS, but sometime during my 2-3 weeks’ notice, I will misplace it. Two jobs changes ago, I was also moving apartments so my life was insane – and I lost multiple badges in just a few weeks. The security office in my building threatened to start charging me a per-badge fee. It was that bad.

So in keeping with tradition, today I had to confess to the administrative assistant for my new team that he’d need to order me another badge, because I’d lost mine. In other words, I pissed off the office admin before I even started. Excellent!

Find new job: CHECK! Participate in one happy hour, with ambivalence: CHECK! Lose security badge: CHECK! So I guess that means my job here is done, and it’s time to start a new job… over there.

By Monday I’ll be ready, so bring it on? No wait, that’s not right. I mean, BRING IT ON.

Job Searching Highs and Lows

An exhausted woman falls asleep at her desk, amidst paper and notebooks.I recently accepted an offer for a new position at my company, and will transition to the role in one week — but I am still tying up a few loose ends from my months-long job hunt. To start, I am closing out a partnership with a resume writer I hired to develop both a resume that would stand up against the dreaded scanning software used to screen applicants, and a new LinkedIn profile.

Using a resume writer was not a decision I took lightly. It can be a big investment, as well as time-consuming. I did my research, sifting through a long list of vendors and methodically rejecting those who didn’t have the right accreditations, a Better Business Bureau rating, good references or yelp reviews, and a compelling website. I also eliminated writers who collaborate with clients only by email – a questionable approach in cases like mine, involving a shift in career direction. Finally, I required a brief introductory meeting with a writer before I would commit, to test out our creative chemistry. (Remarkably, some resume writers refuse to do this.)

I settled on my guy, and prepared to pay his sizeable down payment, then stumbled across the job opportunity that next week will become My New Job. I knew I was a good fit for the role, but there was no guarantee I’d come out on top. What if I put my resume writing on hold, and spent weeks interviewing, only to lose out to another candidate? With the holidays approaching, that could mean pushing my search into 2014. 

Enter Murphy’s Law: Based on my personal history, I had a hunch that once I plunked down cash to begin the process, my job search would take off. And it did.  In fact – I kid you not — I accepted the job offer a mere two days before I approved the final version of my resume. Suddenly, I felt all dressed up, with nowhere to go. 

This is the first time I’ve had my resume professionally written, so I don’t know if my experience was standard — but it was exhausting. So much self-reflection! There were multi-page questionnaires focusing on my strengths, interests, work style, accomplishments and fundamental values, which I spent several hours each evening completing, until I collapsed – emotionally drained – into bed.  There may also have been a bit of gentle weeping.

I’m not sure all the information I provided made it into my resume, but the introspection and rereading of old performance reviews turned out to be great interview prep – an ancillary benefit I wasn’t expecting. 

Now, the writer and I have moved on to my LinkedIn profile. For better or worse, as more recruiters adopt LinkedIn as a tool, a trend has emerged that one’s profile must be different from (yet not contradict) one’s resume. No more cutting-and-pasting. Thus, a new industry is born.

That said, in some ways LinkedIn still has a touch of the Wild West to it. There are profile photos of children, pets, and stuffed animals, as well as glamorous pics of female subjects that are just one spaghetti strap shy of a boudoir shot. Occasionally you will even see a profile photo of someone doing something incredibly dumb – wearing a red foam clown’s nose, or making the “rock on” hand gesture – presumably to appeal to recruiters from The Improv club?

Image for "Photo Not Available"Some LinkedIn members don’t have any profile photo at all, which reminds me of the sad “photo not available” graphic in high school yearbooks. Generally speaking, kids without yearbook photos were not the coolest kids. So, invest in a professional head shot, guys.

For a brief period, I subscribed to LinkedIn Premium for Job Seekers – a service purported to boost one’s chances of landing a job. I never really understood how most of its features would benefit me, though. For example, the service provides detailed information about anyone who views your profile.  Yes I’m nosey, but why would I want to see a list of people who checked me out on LinkedIn and said, “Meh, I’ll pass”?

Job Seeker Premium also has a private LinkedIn group, with a members-only message board. Some of the posts are helpful, others are just plain odd. Quite a few posts ask how to shut off the Premium service, which isn’t exactly a strong endorsement. It does, however, prove that the Job Seeker Premium message board is censorship free!

I’ll be thrilled to conclude the resume/profile writing process, and launch the output online for the world to see. For better or worse, these days professional networking is an ongoing activity, rather than something done only when you are actively seeking a job change.

Thankfully, networking doesn’t involve interviewing – possibly the most frustrating, demoralizing part of the job quest. Another day, another blog topic…      

Anyone have tales from depths of job search despair to share?  (No gentle weeping permitted, though.)

Giving Up My Day Job

Professional woman reading career section of a newspaper.
Photo credit: Getty Images/George Doyle

I feel like I haven’t posted to In Write Field in weeks. Hang on – it HAS been weeks. Two and a half weeks, to be exact.

When I started blogging nearly two years ago, I set a goal to post at least bi-weekly and generally stuck to that. (At the end of 2012 I had blogged EXACTLY 100 times. How’s that for follow through?) More recently, I guess I just fell out of the habit of blogging, and there’s a reason for it…

Most of my non-working hours in 2013 have been devoted to job hunting. “The search” was all-consuming, exhausting — and for a while, maddeningly fruitless. So now that I have at last received (and accepted) a job offer, and my imminent departure from my current position is public knowledge, I can finally blog about it.

I’ve been squirreling away material, with no public outlet for my frustrations and amusing anecdotes. Now, I have a few things to get off my chest.

My last three jobs have been with the same large financial services company, and it has been nearly 10 years since I conducted an external job search. The process has definitely changed. When I graduated from college – in the dark ages known as “pre-internet”– I decided to try my hand at public relations in New York. Perhaps eager to bump me off the gravy train, my father bought me a P.R. directory as a gift.  It listed every agency in North America, its location, size and client list, and the names of its senior management. Each day, I would zero in on several firms in the directory, pick a few executives’ names, TYPE a cover letter to each, and send it by mail along with my resume. Protocol dictated I make follow-up calls no more than five days later.

Resume inside a bottle.Networking? Back then, networking was for electricians. Sure, we all kept our ears to the ground.  We asked friends to watch for openings at their firms. The very creative among us even scoured alumni directories for someone who might take pity on them. But mostly, a job search essentially meant cold calling.

A few years later, when I finished graduate school, there was a greater emphasis on nurturing alumni connections – yet job hunting was still mostly paper based, consisting of letters of introduction, requests for informational interviews and the ubiquitous three-ring binders filled with hard-copy resumes. Binders full of women… and men!

Now candidates and recruiters have LinkedIn, which has in turn spawned an industry around LinkedIn profile writing. Oh, and let’s not forget behavioral interviews. (I’ve heard we have Google to thank for those.)

One of my favorite behavioral questions, found online:

Q: Do you listen? Give an example of when you did or when you didn’t listen.

A:  Huh?

All topics for another day, and another blog post. See what I mean? Job searching is like breaking rocks – but now I have so much material!