Tips for Securing Careers in AI: Communication - 05 Dec 2018

This month we contribute tips focussing on communication as a means to improving one’s prospects for Securing Careers in AI.

Whether you are approaching the job marketplace from a background of software engineering, natural sciences and mathematics, social sciences or the humanities, the most important qualification is often one’s ability to talk the talk. Though often negatively associated with dishonest schmoozers and salesmen, the ability to talk well is essential to expressing intent and sharing understanding.

As with any skill, improvement is to be gained through practice. So whilst reading, consider situations where you can hone your skills – valuing diversity in audience. Every individual perceives differently and requires white-glove treatment with respect to effective communication.

A first focus should be on transforming acquaintances into comrades, particularly when faced with an interviewer. Relating one’s own experiences to that of another can be particularly effective for this, the bond of a shared anchor builds a personable and memorable connection and improves likeability.

At the start of conversations one should aim to build an understanding of the knowledge and background of the other party, whether that be an individual or group. Knowledge of the backgrounds of others provides anchors around which to connect meaning, incentivising the use of appropriate vocabulary, analogies, metaphors and phrasing. Be attentive of your audience and watch for signs of reciprocated attention, understanding and interest.

To improve the efficiency of communication, identify topics that are important to the other party, decide on an appropriate amount of time to focus on each and update one’s assumptions on-the-fly by asking questions and watching for facial cues (or listening for auditory cues!). Often times the details of experiences do not matter so much as learned skills and the opportunities they unlock – make it easy for the employer to identify reasons to hire you!

The purpose of conveying meaning can get lost behind a zeal to demonstrate intelligence, particularly in technically focussed academics. Avoid the trap of the excessive use of jargon and technical terminology, particularly toward multidisciplinary or otherwise poorly known audiences. Whilst a focus on precise communication can convey exact meaning, there is a trade-off in loss of generality, a risk of pin holing a conversation and of allocating time poorly with regards to subject utility.

Naturally one should intend to demonstrate strengths in sought skills for the role that is being applied for - intelligence, which itself should be considered as a mixture of qualities, may only be one of these. Ensure that effort is made to consider the desired attributes for a position. By knowing what an employer is looking for, you will be able to better position your experience in relation to their desires.

It is helpful to draw links between desired attributes and your own experiences, for example: Why did you apply to the summer programme, how did it add to your professional value and what did you achieve in outcomes? Is it because you wanted to develop skills relevant to the position? Did you do that?

If some desired skill is identified to be lacking before or during an application then one may decide to express an interest in personal development, or find an alternative demonstrable approach to developing that skill.

The framework of ‘Why, how, what’ gives a natural approach to conveying the purpose of knowledge prior to it’s receipt, improving intake, and has been used to great effect in marketing. Check out this video for more on that!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this first issue of Securing Careers in AI. Next month we’ll discuss how you can prepare your technical skills for demonstration.

Written by
Timothy Seabrook
firstname.lastname@oxai.org