Human Interaction Beats A.I. in Getting Your First Job

As a Rutgers professor and a 30-year marketing veteran, this is prime season for me to collaborate with college students graduating. This includes developing their brand narrative, preparing for interviews and securing their first job after graduation.

With each passing year, the recruiting process becomes more technologically advanced and an increasingly challenging hi-tech jigsaw puzzle that graduates need to solve. Recently in Fast Company, Amazon’s VP of human relations stated: “If we are going to hire tens of thousands of people a year—or now hundreds of thousands—we can’t afford to live by manual processes and manual transactions.”

While Amazon and other corporations can’t afford to live by manual processes, I believe that is exactly what job candidates should live by. Let me explain.

No matter how innovative the hiring process has become with the infusion of artificial intelligence (A.I.) and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), human interaction (HI)will ultimately determine the candidates that get hired. This is something every college graduate, members of the tech-driven Generation Z, needs to know. In my book, Decoding Gen Z: 101 Lessons Generation Z Will Teach Corporate America, Marketers & Media, I applaud Gen Z for their tech knowledge, but I want them to rely on human interaction. This also applies to experienced professionals, between jobs or in search of their next act.

In the past, the candidate screening process consisted of a series of face-to-face interviews before the winning applicant was hired. Now, thanks to advancements in technology, most employers are using ATS robots to rank applicants based on specific terms they use in their résumé, or are employing interactive platforms such as LaunchPad (which combines video interviewing, mobile technology and intelligent automation). If a job candidate successfully passes that tech-vetting gauntlet, they may have earned the chance to be interviewed by a computer or a chatbot before they ever have any actual human contact.

However, I believe going “old school” and prioritizing human interaction in the job prospecting process will lead to greater success for job applicants.  

The odds of an individual getting a job via an online job site application which typically utilizes ATS is just 1 out of 250, according to a University of Michigan study. However, an individual can take more of a human interaction approach to job-seeking: employee referrals only make up 7 percent of applications, but 40 percent of hires. In other words, if an applicant leverages their network, they will drastically improve their chances of securing a job than if they solely rely on today’s tech innovations (which are screening candidates and oftentimes eliminating the best person for the job). 

In fact, I am aware of one candidate who recently applied for a mid-level executive position with a Fortune 500 company and was rejected by the ATS robots immediately after he submitted his résumé online. Fortunately for him, he didn’t give up. He took an HI approach, made a human connection with the hiring manager and, ultimately, ended up the candidate who was hired. 

Here are five specific things job candidates can do to bypass the tech-driven screening process and use HI to their advantage.

Rank and Target Your “Top 25”

Just like the weekly college football rankings, rank the top 25 companies where you want to work; take a strategic approach to securing your job rather than just applying online to every job posting you come across. Based on your area of study and passions, draw a circle around your anticipated residential location that encompasses as many miles as you are willing to commute. Once your circle is complete, identify 25 companies within it that match your interests.

Leverage Your Social Networks

Now that you have your 25 targets, mobilize all the human connections in your network of family, friends, neighbors, professors, mentors and past internship supervisors—and don’t forget all those contacts you have compiled online. Proactively conduct outreach to your contacts, with the goal of identifying just one contact each of them has with one of those 25 companies you have ranked; have them make a personal introduction using an old-school phone call, email or face-to-face conversation.

Gain Access To Their Office

Once individuals in your network make an introduction for you with someone at one of your 25 prospects, gain access to their offices by requesting a simple cup-of-coffee conversation. I place tremendous importance on cup-of-coffee meetings. You are not asking for a job; your mission is to gain access, walk the halls and conduct your own research and reconnaissance. If you accomplish this step, you have gained entry into the place where you ultimately want to be employed.

Ready Your Research

Slowly but surely, you are getting closer to a job with your target company while bypassing the entire online recruiting and vetting process. This may be the most critical, yet underestimated step. You now need to research the individual you are about to meet and the company they work for in the same manner you prepared for the most important exam of your college career. You want to know everything about this individual—the college they attended, where they worked prior to their current company, their time in the local 5K run last weekend and even what content they shared on Instagram and Twitter over the past month. You will need to use this all to your advantage to ace the final test. 

Master Your Storytelling

Now that you have walked right through the front door of your future employer, you have one objective: To impress the individual you’re having a cup of coffee with so much that they walk you and your résumé down the hall to the recruiting manager. In order to do that, you need to be confident, articulate and fully leverage all that research you conducted. This is where the art of human interaction comes into play the most.

Again, you’re not being interviewed. However, on this day, you do need to earn your master’s degree in storytelling and compelling conversation.

No matter what job you seek, now and for the next 30 years, technology will play a role. However, by taking an HI approach to your career, you minimize the influence of AI, ATS and other technology, ultimately putting you more in control of your future.

In addition to teaching at Rutgers and writing three books, Mark Beal has developed and executed award-winning marketing campaigns for some of the most recognizable brands for 25+ years.