• Elana Duffy

Sons, fathers, and robots: humanity in business



A few months ago I grew impatient waiting in the lobby of the unemployment office. As is generally the best use of idle hands and minds, I began to eavesdrop and people-watch those around me. Working in sales, I like to euphemistically refer to this as “niche market research.” How are people getting their information these days? How are they networking for jobs, connecting about products, interacting with feedback?

And really, are they interacting at all, and what are the secondary effects?

At the table closest to me, a young man in his 30s complained about his aging father discrediting his job search:

“He just yelled at me, ‘Why don’t you go out and do something?! Look for a job. All you do is sit around on the computer all day. You’ll never find a job or a girlfriend that way.’ Well, no one sticks a help wanted sign on their window anymore, and girls think you’re a Stage 5 Creeper if you try to hit on them in public. It’s ALL arranged and organized online nowadays. I can fill in a hundred applications and online profiles without spending a cent on gas or dinner.”

But dad's point was interesting. Has technology taken over all the old-school avenues of success?

It made me wonder if there was any way to break through that to an old-fashioned person-to-person network. Is there any room left for the Ghost in the Machine, the Spirit of Humanity, or is our personality no longer useful enough to have an effect or influence instead of or because of the pure numbers and stats off a document?

Looking at a job search, it was only maybe ten years ago we knew a human would be looking at each resume. Now it’s tough to tell if you should just include key words just to get past a robot within the auto-filled, online application. Between ready-made resume templates and job sites with 5000 jobs that “might be perfect for you”, it’s not just your credentials but your ability to navigate a scanning program that get you to the next stage: human contact. That might mean REAL contact: a phone call, or even a personal email. Once you get past the bot, that’s your chance to present your persona and woo someone over. But you have to get there first.

I found that regardless of the bots there will always be places you can drop in an application and show some face-time to make your presence and willingness to work known. Despite all the gadgets and technological “efficiency”, we remain people, and people will always seek out and crave the personal connection. After all, this connection is the basis from which people design products like these same bots that are supposed to mimic human functions such as scanning and sorting in order to make our lives and social interaction, for business or otherwise, more efficient. It is somewhat ironic that these same products designed to simplify our lives wind up complicating them even more.

Your education gives you the skills, your work history gives you the experience, but who and what you are determines your success or failure. And there are some companies that still appreciate that, at least for those applicants who are willing to seek it out. Those that seek it out, in fact, have the added bonus of skipping the bots. And those companies have the added benefit of a more driven person who is inclined to assess the humanity of a company as well as its product, which can be critical in the long run.

This is as applicable in job applications as it is anywhere. The essence of networking in any market is people. If businesses forget that and let their interactions to fall by the wayside, or disappear entirely by automating the process without any human interaction attached, they won’t have anyone to sell their product to, they won’t attract talent supportive of their culture, and they risk losing a company culture altogether. An interaction primarily led by automated responses can’t and won’t speak for itself. Just as it is essential to put a face to a name, which is why corporations spend millions on conference events, a product or service needs a voice to be heard.

So while everything seems to be done online or through some technological interface, as businesses we must still make sure to follow up and ensure people remember there is someone, a person, drafting those emails, creating the ads, and marketing the material. The best way to appeal to the human element of any product is with human interaction, not autobots and mechanized cold-calls. Allow the personality of your people and corporate culture its moment to shine, to fill in the white space of each paragraph. Even with the use of a bot to simplify sorting the thousands of applications you might get, find a way to incorporate humans in order to draw a better pool of humans back to you.

So while the son may be right in his concept that it is possible to apply to all of his jobs from home in his pajamas, the question we as businesses need to ask is whether the father also has a point. Is the overpopulation of robot instead of human interaction is potentially harming our overall market advantage?

People are drawn to people. That is the advantage.

Chris Thunder is a military public affairs specialist turned helicopter pilot with varied military and civilian experience. A writer for many years, he is now a freelance contributor to Present Tense LLC for sales and internal writing.

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