Computer Says “No”

(Originally published on LinkedIn August 2020)

I’m playing corporate word bingo at the moment. The complex and unfathomable game of chess with recruitment ‘tools’ that have their very own binary idea of who gets through to the human stage. If I miss a keyword in my application, does that automatically push me into the ‘bin’ pile? If I haven’t liked or commented on enough LinkedIn posts, will that forever exclude me from a chance? If I have too many pictures of cats on my Instagram, does that activate a ‘cat lady’ alarm that sends me a pair of comfortable shoes and a cagoule rather than onto the next stage?

I feel inadequate when some LinkedIn influencer posts their idea of what a successful day of job hunting entails. I start to feel guilty if I find myself looking at slow cooker recipes rather than being a professionally appropriate keyboard warrior.

I do understand why these hoops are there for us to jump though, it would be an impossible task to sift 500 applications for one job in any efficient and consistent way. That said, I think that the time some (most?) of us have to spend learning ‘The Way of the Keyword’ is frustratingly high. Is this the only way that recruitment can happen? Is Neurodiversity really catered to when the rules of the game are so ambiguous? Who knows. All I can do is try my best. The playing field, level or not is already getting muddy, and I’m going to get into the game and enjoy it!

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of Covid 2020, If I could offer you only one tip for the future, knowing keywords would be it. The long-term benefits of keywords have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience, I will dispense this advice now. Enjoy the extra time this year affords you, regardless of what has brought you here, Don’t regret wasting all of that time on an employment dating site, networking for a job you don’t really want. In 20 years, you won’t remember why you wanted it. There are huge possibilities before you, and you are capable of finding a job you love, not just use it as a means to an end. You are not as unemployable as you imagine. Don’t worry about the future, worrying only paralyses. Instead, have a plan and make it happen. Adapt along the way, but never forget the goal. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your mind, the kind that blindside you in March of 2020. Do one thing every day that scares you. Don’t be reckless with other people’s dreams. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours. Don’t waste your time on negativity. Sometimes things are good, sometimes they’re not so good. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself. Believe the compliments you receive. You are not an imposter. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how. Keep your old ‘thank-you’ emails. Delete the others. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t. Drink plenty of water. Be kind to yourself. We’re all getting older. Maybe you’ll get that dream job. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll fail. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll be redundant again in ten years. Maybe you will have been promoted for the second time. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s. Enjoy your talents. Use them every way you can. Don’t be afraid of what other people think of them. Feedback is good. Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your own living room. Read the rules. Even if you don’t always follow them. Do not read beauty magazines, and if you do, make sure you recognise them for what they are. Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future. Understand that good opportunities come and go, but with precious few you should grab them when you can. Work hard to quash your fears, because they are the biggest thing that stand in the way of your success. Live in London once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Cornwall once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel. Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasise that when you were younger, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders. Respect the achievements of others, no matter how small they seem to you. Don’t rely on anyone else for your success, because when you get it, it will taste bitter. Accept help graciously, but make sure that you do the heavy lifting. You never know when you may be expected to do it all on your own. Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85. Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth. But trust me on the keywords.

Adapted from Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young by Mary Schmich

Originally published at



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