Use the Web to Get Stuff Done…Better.
The world is a tough place* and as a graduate student, I will do anything in my power to make my life easier, especially in school. Balancing school, employment opportunities (applying, interviewing, etc.), keeping my amazing wife happy, family, fitness, extracurricular activities, grocery shopping, and subsequently cooking; I mean, come on, sometimes I feel like I need two of me just to get out of bed in the morning. I genuinely do not understand how the Part-Time community, especially parents, completes this MBA program. Luckily, I have come across a few tools that have helped me ease the burden of these “equally” essential tasks throughout my day.
(*Obviously, I say all of this in a bit of jest, and I am entirely grateful for the opportunities I have. However, there are more real-world severe problems that we are combatting these days: the invisible wounds Veterans come home with every day. Learn about how to help our heroes heal.)
According to my weekly Grammarly Insights Weekly Digest, I wrote 16,563 words, 138 alerts, and 1,598 unique words used this past week. According to the AI insights, most of my writing has been confident, friendly, and optimistic…hmm, it sounds like someone has been writing a plethora of cover letters.
We spoke briefly about Grammarly during our second class. I cannot recommend Grammarly enough to anyone who does any written work, sends professional emails throughout the day, or evaluates their performance based on their overall quality of work – written correspondence included.
Have you still not mastered the passive and active voice and when they are appropriate to use? Grammarly. Are you aware that you use the same word repeatedly? Grammarly. Are you unsure of all of the English language grammar rules? Grammarly. Delivery, engagement, and clarity suggestions based on machine learning and artificial intelligence.
AI systems use the idea of natural language processing algorithms to make a tool like Grammarly possible. Machine learning, for example, is a particular application of AI that involves teaching an algorithm to perform tasks by showing it lots of examples rather than by providing a series of rigidly predefined steps. Another example of this in our everyday lives is a commuter estimation within a maps service.
Grammarly’s AI system combines ML with various natural language processing approaches (Google is doing some cool stuff with natural language AI right now). Natural language processing gives computers the ability to understand text and spoken words in a similar way to humans. NLP uses rule-based computational linguistics, statistical data, machine learning, and engineered language models that allow computers to process human language, specifically written language in Grammarly’s case.
I use the Grammarly Chrome extension, which integrates directly into Google Docs, Gmail, and virtually any other text-based input platform on the internet (but not WordPress, sadly), and uses the same rules and governance as the host site. Grammarly is double encrypted, which means that you and only you are reading anything you write in Grammarly. For more on the security of Grammarly, see this Grammarly White Paper. All Grammarly server-side infrastructure uses Amazon Web Services, arguably one of the most secure cloud service providers available (I’m partial to GCP, #biased).
Grammary has a free and premium version; both are great options to help improve your writing.
VMock – Get Your Resume Past Application Tracking Services
I have submitted more than seventy-five applications to internships and full-time positions over the past year. The percentage of resumes I have submitted versus the number of responses I have received is probably around 33%. How is that possible? How is it that when I submit a resume, someone reads it, probably says “no thank you, Brett,” and then never sends me a rejection notice? The problem that I have recently learned more about is that I assumed that someone read it. The majority of companies now use application tracking services software to rank and filter applicants accordingly based on broad criteria the company programs into their ATS.
Application tracking services look for key features of a resume, including keywords, gaps in work, examples of technical skills, and other specific criteria the company chooses to scan. There are benefits to application tracking services, including scaling the number of applications a human resources department can accept. In addition, companies can quickly sift through thousands of applications to ensure that each resume is at least looked at, even if it is only by a computer.
According to themuse.com, over 98% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS of some kind. So, if companies are using software to filter my resume out, shouldn’t I use software to make my resume stand out to these application tracking services? VMock thinks so, and for the record, so do I.
VMock is a personalized, automated resume tool that uses artificial intelligence, data science, machine learning, and natural language processing to provide instant feedback to your resume. In addition, Vmock helps improve customers’ career fit, LinkedIn optimization, provides a job board of recommended jobs to apply to, and even suggests ways to improve your elevator pitch. VMock candidates are given a score based on 100 and are provided specific examples of delivering a more powerful impact to whoever or whatever is reading your resume.
Check out this video explaining more about what VMock is and how using AI can accelerate your resume. Unfortunately, Boston College has not provided this benefit to their students yet, but a quick email to Career Services would undoubtedly help.
Adobe Reader, Speechify, Natural Readers, et al.
This year, I have found myself as busy as I have ever been as a student, and to make matters worse, I have about a 30 to 40-minute commute to school (self-inflicted, I know). Usually, on my way to school, I consume podcasts, listen to an audiobook, or call family and friends to try and get some value from the single skilled function of driving (that is, until I get a Tesla). But, as I’m sure all of you are aware, there is a plethora of reading assigned to MBA students, arguably too much, and purchasing the audiobook for a case-based class generally is not an option.
I contemplated using TaskRabbit to pay a person to read all of my assigned cases at the beginning of the year to make a more efficient time of my commute. At the same time, I drive back and forth to school, but that, unsurprisingly, was very expensive, and given my lack of salary right now, that expense did not excite my wife all that much.
Thus, I turned to the internet; there must be a solution to this problem. I have found many tools that can help this process. For example, Adobe Reader can read your PDFs back to you, albeit in a computerized voice. However, it works well, and users can adjust to the speed of the narration, and it satisfies the requirement of listening to a case while I’m driving to school.
Other options that I have tried out are Speechify and Natural Readers. There is a trial word count before Speechify requires you to pay for their services. $140/year was a little rich for my blood, and I decided to find an alternative solution. I have only recently started using Natural Readers, which comes as a Chrome extension. So far, so good, although the default and free voices are a bit dull.
In Conclusion…The Robots are Running the Navy!
As technology continues to decrease the barrier to entry of AI/ML, data analytics, and natural language processing, we will continue to see innovation in products that make our lives more efficient. For me, that means writing more accurately in less amount of time, submitting quality resumes to future employers, and finding different ways to “read.” All three of these tools save me time and allow me to be more efficient with other aspects of my life.
One caveat to these transformations is that we are making machines more intelligent, giving up more of our data, and increasing the risks of cyber threats exploiting these companies. Therefore, it is worthwhile to understand the security infrastructure these new technology tools use and decide whether or not you feel comfortable providing your data so that the machines can grow more competent.
I would be curious to hear of any other tools you are using in your day-to-day life that would pique my interest.