Recent Talks on Generative AI & Job-Seeking

Estimated Reading Time: 25 minutes

Recently, I was asked to give some talks on the role of generative AI in the job-search for Endicott College and Northeastern University. I had higher hopes for them being more dynamic and richer in the live session but unfortunately, they both happened while I had COVID, which limited my usual ability to bring the energy that I like to have in these. Still, I believe there are things here that folks can find helpful--whether they are job-searching themselves or helping others.

There continues to be a lot going on in generative AI and education. Less about the fact that people are using it and more about how they are using it and how we can think about navigating student and staff usage of these tools.

Since I last posted about my work, there's been a couple new and exciting things that have happened including being interviewed for this article, being name-dropped in Forbes, being a guest on the Future Trends Forum with Bryan Alexander (so cool!), and being a guest on the AI Launchpad Webinars: Creating AI Policies for K12 & Higher Ed.

As is my habit, I've created an annotated slide deck that includes each slide, text, and additional resources and prompts that folks can also dig into.

Leveraging AI for Career Growth & Professional Opportunities

Hi all,

I’m Lance Eaton and I’m excited to discuss with you the role of AI in work, where it is, where it might be headed, and what sense we can make out of it.

Today’s talk is an extension of work I’ve been doing for 15 years in education and technology. Particularly, I’m thinking about how the digital age changes the game for how we pursue jobs and build our professional identity. I’ve been doing workshops on building professional digital identities using social media and other practices for a decade. And well, the arrival of generative AI has me thinking how that tool will change how we pursue and engage with our careers.

Lets get started!

What are we doing today?

I need to ground our talk in an acknowledgement about the concerns of generative AI. Then we’ve got the focus of the conversation–AI & Knowledge Work–how those fit together and then the ways we can leverage AI in the job-seeking process. We’ll have some final considerations, and of course, questions.

All these the slides and materials are covered with a Creative Commons Attribution & ShareAlike license. The resource link at the bottom is available across the slides and I’ll throw it in the chat. It’s what I call an annotated slide deck where it will provide with the text of this talk as well as additional resources, embedded prompts, and a prompt guide. The annotated slide deck is also free to share.

This presentation was prepared using generative AI tools. I acknowledge that many generative AI do not respect the individual rights of authors and artists, and ignore concerns over copyright and intellectual property in the training of the system.

Additionally, I acknowledge many AI systems are trained in part through the exploitation of precarious workers in the Global South. Also, I recognize that the structures to support the expanse of AI rests on continued large-scale extraction of resources from environments in methods that have long effects on the local populations and in the end, many of those resources (i.e. hardware) are often causing further harm in global climate change and environmental degradation; particularly and directly for the Global South and communities that are historically and presently marginalized.

In this work, I specifically used generative as a collaborative exercise and to test out some ideas about its usage, better understand the tool, and may also demonstrate some of the ways it generates answers. (Inspired by Lawrie Phipps and Donna Lanclos's An Offering)

First, let’s take a look at how generative AI connects with knowledge work–work that I’m sure everyone here is doing or pursuing right now.

So here are some of the currently most popular tools out there. I’m curious about folks familiarity with them. I’m guessing everyone has heard of ChatGPT, let’s go through the rest. For the next 30 seconds, put into the chat which of these you HAVEN’T heard. That is, if you haven’t heard of Claude, then put that into the chat. Write in all the ones you don’t know. You can enter each individually or submit them all at once.

Now, that’s quite the variety of experiences here in the room. Anyone want to try to describe any of them in the chat? Feel free to enter the name and a 1-2 sentence description of what it is. And, of course, no cheating by going to ChatGPT or another tool and having it generate an answer!

These tools are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. And what I want to point out that is distinct about these tools and really, the overall AI hype we’ve felt in the last 10 months that feels different from prior cycles.

First, this AI is different from the AI we’ve been using for the last decade. When we interacted with Alexa or Siri, or advance recommendation systems, these didn’t feel as impressive or easy to use right out of the box. But generative AI–AI that can generate text, audio, image, or video through the use of everyday language–that feels different because of its ease of use.

I mean we’re several years since the launch of the Metaverse and can anyone tell me what that really is and if they have visited it?

The lift to figure out what the Metaverse is, how to access it, how to create in or with it, and why it would be better than other things–that’s a lot of figure out.

But with much of the generative AI stuff, it comes in the form of a chatbox…something that’s been around for decades and to which we’re quite familiar with. See a textbox on the computer, enter text.

That’s what all of these did well right out of the gate. Still, it took something terribly complex and nuanced and made it usable in a textbox. That’s a devilishly easy invitation.

Claude & ChatGPT are text-based AI chatbots that you can converse back and forth and that’s primarily what they do. Bing & Bard are from Microsoft and Google and can be chatbots but can also be integrated into your search. DALLE & Midjourney are AI image generators where you put in the description and they generate the image based upon the description.

The fact is that there are thousands of AI tools out there and I encourage you to do some research to find the ones that are right for you and your work. For the purposes of this presentation I’m going to stick primarily with the most known tool, ChatGPT. And I’ve included resources in the annotated slide deck for you to learn about other tools.

Right here, I’m highlighting a few additional tools–tools that I’ve found relevant to my industry (higher education) that I’ve seen making the rounds.

I’m curious. Put into the chat which of these AI tools that you’ve heard of.

There’s some additional info on these tools in the resource. I’m not going to actually talk much about them. These tools are gaining more attention and interest in academia and while I think some schools will start to use them more consistently going forward, I also don’t think they will be the tools we’re using in 5 years.

We’re in the rapid diffusion of AI tools right now and so I’m hesitant to put my stakes on any one tool because I think in the next year or two, we’ll also see a great consolidation of tools or clear platforms that will be the winners who scoop up the others.

And yes, those are likely to be folks like Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook. Because one of the things that’s going to make a difference in usage in these systems is how easily they can integrate our digital selves into and create hyper personalize guidance. And those big companies often already have a decade or more of usage history about us.

Before one can really maximize the benefits of generative AI, one has to come to it with a critical eye. It is only as intelligent as the questions you ask and the answers you can understand enough to be critical of. What do I mean by that?

Well, AI doesn’t answer questions in the way that you or I do. It doesn’t think holistically about the words and sentences used to ask it something. Instead, it uses a heck of a lotta math to calculate the probable relationships across the different bits and parts of words–not the entire word themselves. It calculates those relationships and looks within its large language model for its own patterns and tries to produce a probable answer. And it does so with unerring confidence. So it may seem like it knows what it is talking about, but it is not thinking about it the same way you or I do.

So the first thing you need to really leverage AI well is to have knowledge of what you are asking it so you can assess the answer. If you don’t have such knowledge, then you will want to make sure your critical analysis skills are front and center in the way you engage with generative AI and the answers it gives.

Conversational & thought-partner

With that in mind, then it becomes a really interesting tool to help you out in many different ways.

It can be a really helpful dialogue partner. You can ask it to challenge, reframe, or reflect your ideas and thoughts. My partner finds really interesting ways to engage with AI to elicit ideas or refine her thinking. In truth, this area is really helpful for all of us when we're trying to figure things out and don't have colleagues, mentors, or friends to help us make sense of ideas in the world or just in our head. Many of us are often doing work on our own time-tables or silos. Generative AI can be a useful sounding board to clarify or extend your ideas.

Task minimizer

I've started a practice now where anytime I need to do a tedious task, I ask myself if generative AI could help.

For instance, every semester, I have to create a list of dates for syllabi I’m creating for my courses. So rather than toggle back and forth between a calendar and write out the dates. I just asked ChatGPT to generate a list of dates in a particular format for every Monday from August to December and to indicate if and when there are holidays that week. That’s a prompt I can use every semester.

I might not have eliminated the task but I have reduced it and I think that's where we'll be with generative AI for the next few years.

Another example is I created a list of all the things I typically want to do in a day such as exercise, leisure ready, creatively write, etc. I gave that list and the rough amount of time I want to spend on each. I also included things I must also do such as work 8 hours each day. I explained when I prefer to do some tasks such as working out in the morning. I then loaded it into ChatGPT to design a schedule for me.

Then the cool thing happened. I asked it to create the code for a calendar file and I imported it to automatically populate my Google Calendar.

First Draft/Review

Myself and others have found that it's really great at creating first drafts of things, particularly rhetorically standardized work. If I'm trying to come up with a policy, a feedback form, instructions around certain processes, and the like. I'll use generative AI as my first go to. I’ve used it to create job descriptions, come up with onboarding plans for staff, take initial goes at creating policies, developing evaluative tools, and much more. Since I work at a college that is mindful about audiences and voice, I’m often using it to create writing that uses more accessible language, especially when dealing with complicated issues (such as policy).

Especially now with tools like Claude where I can upload a large text document to provide additional tone, context, and information. It can really help in just creating a first draft rather than staring at blank screen.

And I think that's a thing we don't always value. In much of our work, even if we love it, there's things we need to do that we either don't like or take longer because we procrastinate because of that dislike or it's just more klunky for us to do.

Some sectors are going to be fast to incorporate generative AI if they haven’t already such as accounting, graphic design, computer science, business, marketing, communications, and some areas of medicine while others will be a bit slower such as the health sciences, social work, psychology, and other types of people work. I think there’s still some significant concerns about ethics, privacy and security while also educating people in those industries about what AI will mean for clients and customers.

There’s promise here for helping folks through the things that they struggle with or to quickly get aid and guidance as they need it. Again, having a go-to persona that you can constantly ask questions and get answers is really powerful. It bypasses a lot of different possible concerns such as office politics, angst about coming across as insufficient, or feeling like you’re being disruptive or too needy. None of which may be true and yet folks are likely to spend as much mental energy on the worry as on the task to acquire the help. For folks who may need to ask a lot of questions but not want to press the patience of others or folks who need information in different ways delivered, these tools could really allow for personalized support and guidance.

And of course, I have a concern here too. Right now, AI is still new enough that some folks are using it and being more productive. Ideally, technology should make work easier. But in 5-10 years, I worry about when AI is everywhere. Because that means there is going to be a new heightened level of productivity at work. That is, AI will not give us back time, but will increasingly ask more of us. “Oh, it used to take you a month to produce a report. With AI, you can now and should produce a report a week.” And while sometimes these higher level tasks are rewarding or feel more valuable, they are likely to also feel more stressful when the frequency of demand increases.

That is, while I think there’s lots of ways AI will help, AI is also going to ask more of us the more we use it. We’ve seen this with other technologies and their impact on our expected productivity. Scholarship is a great example. I’m currently finishing my dissertation and it’s focused on how scholars engage on academic pirate platforms to access research literature to produce their own research. One reason scholars are accessing pirate networks is because they feel the demand to produce even more research.

Because we can use computers and email and the internet, the amount of publications required to attain tenure or legitimacy in many fields has changed. I posit that the demand for productivity will increase even more with the rise of AI and that’s something we’ll need to think about and figure out in the years to come.

So let’s take a look at some of the possibilities with AI in the job search process.

One of the things I appreciate about AI is how it can help me and others prepare for new challenges that might be less familiar to us or help us hone in on things we’re uncertain about. In the job search, I have seen it used review a job description and a resume to more effectively help the job seeker apply for the position. It might mean polishing up the resume, clarifying to cover letter, or making stronger connections between one’s past work and the role they are applying for. I’ve also seen folks use some context and the job description to generate what are the most likely questions they will face in an interview and even answer those questions to gain feedback.

But in particular, I appreciate that generative AI can often open up the hidden curriculum of the world. To me, that’s it’s most powerful…and problematic aspect of this tool. It’s powerful because it can be used to help folks get passed artificial, superficial, or discriminatory barriers.

There’s no better example that I can think about than the Cover Letter. For me, the cover letter is the most trite piece of writing ever. It is this rhetorically-loaded piece of garbage that requires the applicant to supplicate themselves before the employer in the hopes of an interview. It’s highly loaded and suspect to cultural, gendered, and racist interpretations. And the thing is, in the vast majority of instances, the job that one is applying for has nothing to do with how well they write a cover letter. In laymen’s terms, it’s bs. And I say that as someone who can write a pretty strong cover letter–at least if my history of getting interviews for jobs I’m applying for is any indication.

The fact that people can now use the job description and their resume to largely craft a cover letter and save themselves a tremendous amount of time is great. Whether folks are multi-language learners, neurodiverse, dyslexic, or just struggle a lot with groveling themselves in written form before a potential employer, it provides a level of support that I think can help job-seekers.

We’ll see shortly how using prompts and spending some time leveraging generative AI can help you understand more about yourself, your skills, and the value you offer.

Often, what it reveals is things that I had not considered or realized. Sometimes, it’s offering something that isn’t true but often, it is capturing things I hadn’t thought of or realized to frame in that way. This can improve my own thinking about the value I offer in my current work when I’m doing an annual evaluation or advocating for improving conditions or requesting a promotion. It can also help me think about how I communicate my value if I’m job-searching.

How might you use generative AI in the job search?

There’s a lot of options here to explore. I won’t go into all of them in this session but the resource will have different prompts around each of them for you to test out and modify.

There’s really 3 big ways that generative AI can help you in this process.

Unpacking your own abilities & skills

Getting a sense of what your own abilities are is trick for most of us, so leveraging generative AI as an self-discovery tool is really helpful.

Anticipating the needs and expectations of your work

Being able to create composites within different roles or industries, rather than sifting through endless searches online is going to more calcify your understanding of work in certain areas.

Bridging you to the work

Figuring out different strategies and ways of representing your work and how ot aligns with the work you seek, is a final way that generative AI can help.

What are the more specific ways that can translate into?

A lot of different ways to utilize generative AI. You’ll see in the resource, there are example prompts for each of these examples. But, lets cover a few while we’re here, right?'

So in this example, I’m asking ChatGPT to help me build out a plan for my target list of companies a student might want to keep in their focus for employment. In dialogue, you can come up with both the steps and industries to further explore. So by entering this prompt, I get this kind of response…

Here’s the first 5 that you can look at. The rest are in the resources. In a nice table, it has laid out the step, the amount of time, why the step is important and different industry examples of what this might look like. If I was searching for a target list within a specific industry, I might ask for those as examples instead.

Generative AI can be helpful to think about how your skills line you up or can be utilized in the field you are interested in. This is helpful to both make sure you have the right skills and in thinking about how those skills might be used in that field…sometimes, in the deployment of a skill, you might find that work less exciting. For instance, in this prompt, I’m asking it to review my experience and skills and connect them to a particular job that I’m interested in.

So–here’s what it put out. There’s more skills identified but just here, it’s clarifying how it’s demonstrated and why these are important skills for the job I’m looking at.

Now, consider that you are about to interview for a particular job. How might you prepare for that interview? In this prompt, I’m eliciting AI to give me guidance on questions to anticipate.

And as an instructional designer, I can definitely see these or close proximities of these questions being asked when I interview folks for these types of positions. What I did with this prompt was to ask it tell me the likelihood of the questions, why the question would be asked, and some points to answer.

What’s great is that I can write up responses and get feedback about the quality of the responses as well.

And even if these questions are never asked or asked in different ways, I’m way more prepared for the conversation that follows.

As those are some examples of prompts to use and consider. There’s a lot more in the resources. And that leads us to consider–what makes a good prompt?

The thing about these tools is that they are only as good as what you give it and even then, there is some work involved to get it where you want.

Anyone have thoughts about what makes a good prompt that they want to put into the chat?

Great responses–yes!

It’s important to maximize the tool by creating effective prompts that help guide the AI in knowing more clearly what you are looking for. Maybe it is intelligence, but it isn’t clairvoyant and so folks need to be provide clarity and context to improve outputs.

So what makes a good prompt?

Context & details: You have to provide it with a deeper sense of what you’re trying to do. You do this by front-loading useful pieces of information–think about the prompts I showed prior to this. Those had context.

Use “Act as”. This seems to fine-tune and focus the AI model to draw upon differently ranked data and get better quality information. So “Act as a job recruiter” or “Act as a hiring agent at company X” and the like should be helpful.

Frame the response: When useful, explain how you want the response. In a cover letter, you might ask for it to use a professional but lighthearted tone or you might, as I did, ask it to have the output in a table form so it’s easier to read.

Ask it to ask you questions: Notice on one of the prompts I did, I asked it to ask me questions. Get the AI to interview you and figure out what it needs. Sometimes, you don’t know the questions to ask and that can be the starting point for this.

Iterate on past prompts: It’s so important to realize that one of the powerful elements of this tool is that it’s a chatbot. It’s what makes it so easy to use because folks have been using the chat function since the 1990s. What’s helpful is that if you are in a chat thread with an AI, it is also using past questions and comments in that thread to inform its answers. This is hugely helpful and should be leveraged to be an ongoing conversation.

Also note, when I say this, I mean that most of these tools have chat threads–conversations that are contained and can be added to. It’s useful to know that when you are on a different thread–for instance, you’re on thread B instead of thread A, the AI isn’t aware of thread A so it won’t draw in any of that information.

Finally, collect examples that you find useful. You’re lucky you’re here because you’re off to a jump start with the resource I provided where you’ll find LOTS of prompts that I’ve provided throughout this slide deck to help you get started.

Ok, so now that we’ve taken this brief tour of what generative AI can do to help you our professionally, it’s not time to also acknowledge some addition concerns and things to thinking about.

The privacy of these tools leaves much to be desired. It remains unclear with some tools exactly how much what you put into them is held by them both for training of data and later reuse in some way. Though that way is more likely to be mathematical in the sense of not reproducing your words but the probabilistic relationships of your words, it does raise some questions about privacy. This means you want to be careful and thoughtful about your own privacy and what you put into it. I’d be hesitant to put anything that is my own writing or work that I want or intend to show up in other places.

Along those lines, it’s incredibly important to be careful with putting other people’s information or work into these tools since there may be matters of privacy and copyright being violated.

We have the deeper and more serious questions that I don’t have any answers for and grapple with myself every time I think, talk, write, or use generative AI. What does it mean to use tools that are problematic? I mean we already do it every time we get into cars or use our phones. Still, at the forefront of this technology, unlike many others, we’re woefully aware of the problems it represents in its usage. From issues about abusing copyright to employing people in the Global South to do content moderation for a few dollars an hour to the climate impact of energy use to run generative AI to the amount of drinking water used with each prompt–there are serious concerns about using the tool and how it will and does hurt other humans living on this planet. As I said, there’s no good answer here because history shows us that such things don’t stop us from perpetuating the harm. Yet, I would charge each of you to sit with that a bit and be curious about why you are or aren’t ok with that.

Finally, there’s also the question of figuring out what is the appropriate level of help. You’re all adults and you all have so many pressing things. It can be really easy to lean heavily on a tool such as this to do a lot of the work for you to get the job. And there’s some places within the process where it makes sense. But you don’t want to wantonly accept and use the tool without thought and intention. You always want to be thinking about and reviewing its outputs to see if that genuinely reflects you, your work, and your voice. Because while this tool can help in the process, it can’t replace you when you are interviewing or in the actual work and any inconsistencies between who you are in the application process and who shows up to the job is going to have some downstream effects.

A few guiding questions to consider with this:
  1. How does this AI output reflect me? Where does it not properly reflect who I am?
  2. How accurate is the content of this output? How can I verify or validate what it is saying?
  3. Would a friend or colleague who read this AI output that I’m about to use feel like it reflects the person they know?
  4. What aspects within this process of securing a job do I need to be fully in control and comfortable with?
And with that, I think it’s time to turn you and see about thoughts and questions.  Thank you!

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