Saturday, November 18, 2023

AI: The Mediocre Solution

"Looks for what's there. Not what you want to be there. You will see the truth soon enough." - Sherlock Holmes (Enola Holmes)
It’s decades ago, and young me is in a theology class where the teacher explained essay writing by saying, “your opening paragraph should contain your thesis statement. I have found a good way to do this is to say, ‘the thesis of this essay is…’” My heart sank. I wrote excellent essays in school. I honed my craft by reading exceptional essays, by reading about exceptional essays, and by asking exceptional people to review my essays. Including a sentence in your opening paragraph stating the thesis is not how an exceptional essay is written. If you do that, you have done something immensely gross and wrong. The thesis of this essay is to explain how AI writes truly unexceptional essays.
Robot Writing a Resume at a computer in the style of Disney as pixel art
I was recently searching for work, finding openings, applying, and I used the experience as an opportunity to figure out how AI could help me along in this process. The first step to getting a job is the resume. I tried two AI approaches. First, I fed my resume into OpenAI and asked, “Make my resume more compelling.” Second, I fed my resume into a few of the dedicated resume AI tools. The result of both of these approached was the AI attempting to make my resume 10x more generic. AIs removed my voice and replaced it with generic resume BS. Of all the changes that it made, I incorporated about 10% of it back into the resume I was providing. Yet, here’s the thing. I’ve hired a lot of people. I have read A LOT of resumes. I have read A LOT of truly BAD resumes. If your resume presentation is bad, AI is going to make your resume mediocre. Maybe that’s what you need. Give it a shot and if you think, “wow, way better” than it probably is.
Next came the dreaded cover letters. Look, when I hire people, I don’t ask for a cover letter. Let your resume stand on its own and let your objective be your cover letter. If you say, “I am seeking a job where…” your objective is mediocre; punch it up. Or don’t, I’ve hired people with mediocre resumes. I’m not hiring people to write resumes, I accept that might not be their best skill set. I get 100+ resumes and I understand that I make horribly arbitrary and somewhat random decisions about which ten people I am going to phone screen. I miss good people. I may not hire the best person for the job. I’m sorry if you were one of those truly great people I failed to screen and hire, truly. I don’t put a lot of value in a cover letter, because I’m not hiring people to write cover letters, but a lot of job applications require them. What to do? Prompt ChatGPT, “create a cover letter for the BLAH position at the BLOOP company” and it will pump out a one page cover letter.
These cover letters are incredibly mediocre. Incredibly. “I am writing to express my enthusiastic interest in the [Role] at [Company], as advertised on [Where You Found the Job Posting].” I realize that 80% of cover letters start like this but please never start a cover letter like that. This is garbage text. I especially appreciated when the AI would “hallucinate” text, “with my distinguished history in medical regulatory policy…” I have no history in medicine in my resume, let alone a distinguished one, yet ChatGPT really wanted to let employers know that I had distinguished qualifications for jobs I had no business applying for.
For every job that required a cover letter, I had ChatGPT generate one, and then I would aggressively edit the result to include my personal style and to ensure it included basis in reality. This process was less stressful and less time consuming than writing all of them myself, so, win?
As I have learned is a good way to end an essay, I will now summarize a conclusion to my thesis that AI writes truly unexceptional essays. The resume updates from AI bleached my personality out of my resume into absolute generic boredom. The cover letters produced by AI were offensively generic and often hallucinated skills or history I didn’t have. YET, all in all, I think using AI cover letters made my life better allowing me to let go of artisinally crafting each letter and instead letting the starting template be crafted for me. I got very good at editing the cover letter and “punching it up” to be more inline with my brilliant and insightful writing. So give it go, why not?