Data Digest #5: Buzzfeed Quizzes and Angry Artists

Data Digest #5: Buzzfeed Quizzes and Angry Artists

February 1, 2023

The cogs of the data world are perpetually turning. Data never sleeps. Brace yourself for an exciting overview into some of the top data news stories that have been gracing our screens over the past month. 

The Guardian: Buzzfeed using AI for content and quizzes

If you were a pre-teen in the 2010s, chances are you’ll be all too familiar with the wonderful world of Buzzfeed quizzes. It was a universal experience: coming home from school and heading straight for the computer, where instead of doing homework, you’d wile away the hours doing quizzes to find out ‘what character from the Vampire Diaries’ or ‘what type of Converse trainer’ you are. It was the pinnacle of pre-teen procrastination.

Well, turns out Buzzfeed is moving with the times, as they’re now planning to incorporate artificial intelligence into their online quizzes and content. According to an internal memo sent out to employees, the company will begin using technology by OpenAI, the company that is also responsible for ChatGPT, the famous (and controversial) new chatbot tool that is taking the world by storm. Buzzfeed is the latest in a string of journalistic platforms to begin using artificial intelligence for content purposes. Whilst the technology is not perfect by any means (human editors are still required to scout for errors), is it only a matter of time before journalism as we know it changes forever?

The Guardian: BuzzFeed to use AI to ‘enhance’ its content and quizzes – report

The Telegraph: Shopping habits diagnosing ovarian cancer?

According to a new study, data from loyalty cards could indicate early signs of ovarian cancer in women up to eight months before diagnosis. Women suffering from ovarian cancer in its earliest stages may experience problems such as bloating and indigestion, and so many turn to over-the-counter medication to resolve these issues, believing it to be nothing serious. It may now be possible to harness this purchasing data to diagnose women with the disease earlier.

Early diagnosis is vital when it comes to treatment. 93% of women diagnosed with the disease in its earliest stages survive for five years or more, whilst the outlook is much less positive when diagnosed at the latest stage, as low as 13 percent. Thus, this data could be a gamechanger and could save the lives of thousands of women.

The Telegraph: How your shopping habits could help diagnose ovarian cancer eight months earlier

Wired: ChatGPT as a means of cheating on homework

As mentioned earlier, ChatGPT is currently causing quite the sensation in the tech world. The chatbot is able to respond to a vast array of queries with astounding accuracy; it can solve computer bugs, answer problem-solving questions and even recommend reading material based on your taste in books.

Whilst many companies are already rushing to adopt the technology (see above), others are less enthused about the prospect of ChatGPT infiltrating their workplace. Teachers, in particular, feel like it might spell disaster for their students. New York City’s board of education has already banned it as a pre-emptive measure.

As we know, the technology has the potential to answer pretty much any question you throw at it. Does that mean that students could ask the chatbot their homework questions and copy the answers?

Well, when some teachers put this to the test by asking the technology some typical questions themselves, the answer turned out to be a pretty resounding no. Whilst ChatGPT has the ability to answer questions and solve problems itself, there is one consistent flaw: the answers don’t read as authentically human. No 11-year-old child would be capable of answering the questions in the way that the chatbot does, and equally, no GCSE student would plausibly be able to submit an essay written by the software. So, while ChatGPT has its fair share of uses, the days of students realistically being able to use it to cheat in exams and on their homework are still a long way off.

Wired: ChatGPT Is Coming for Classrooms. Don’t Panic

BBC: Covid-19 modelling data draws to a close

It seems like the dark days of the pandemic might well and truly be behind us. The UK Health Security Agency announced at the beginning of this month that it will stop publishing Covid-19 modelling data. It has been deemed no longer considered necessary for the sake of public health, due to the fact that people are living with and managing the virus in a much more controlled way, thanks to vaccines.

When we were still in the throes of the pandemic, many of us were religiously checking the R-rate (reproductive rate of the virus), as it was being updated weekly. Since April, this has been reduced to a fortnightly update, and now, it will no longer be tracked as vigorously. From now on, the medical community will continue to monitor the disease, reintroducing the modelling data if necessary (if a new variant of concern emerges, for example).

BBC: UK Covid modelling data to stop being published

Financial Times: Getty Images files lawsuit against Stability AI

Generative AI may seem like a fun, innocent tool at first. Many of us have dabbled with the LensaAI app to see what we’d look like as cartoon characters after the platform went viral on social media. But how ethical is this technology in reality? Generative AI cannot exist in a vacuum. It’s built off the back of billions of pieces of artwork made by real, human creators.

In light of this, Getty Images has filed a copyright claim in the UK High Court against one such platform, Stability AI, which is a free tool that generates images for users. Getty claims that Stability AI copied millions of images – many of which potentially came from Getty’s store of over 135 million images – in making their technology a reality.

Tech companies across the globe will be particularly invested in this case. The way it unfolds will have huge implications in the future. If the court finds that it is not okay for Stability AI to process artists’ work for their own purposes without giving credit or compensation and that this is a copyright infringement, similar AI tools will all need change tack to avoid similar lawsuits themselves. Whatever happens, this case could significantly change the course of AI development in the UK.

Financial Times: Art and artificial intelligence collide in landmark legal dispute

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What is ‘career cushioning’ and should you be doing it?

What is ‘career cushioning’ and should you be doing it?

January 17, 2023

Let’s not beat around the bush: the world is currently in a state of economic chaos. War is raging in Ukraine, businesses worldwide are still licking their wounds in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, a cost-of-living crisis has gripped the UK and countries worldwide are experiencing rising inflation with an average inflation rate of 7.4%. A dark, heavy cloud of global gloom has descended upon us, with whisperings of layoffs and redundancies haunting many office corridors worldwide.

Major corporations such as Peloton, Meta and Twitter made headlines throughout 2022 by laying off employees en masse, whilst Bloomberg reported that the pace of redundancies in the tech sector was approaching early pandemic levels. Whilst Apple didn’t follow suit by letting go of thousands of employees, the company opted to freeze hiring instead. You would be forgiven for confusing the current state of the hiring market with the Wild West circa 1890. In the words of Olivio Rodrigo, ‘it’s brutal out here’.

So, why exactly are so many companies resorting to mass redundancies? Mainly due to the looming threat of an impending recession and the consequent need to cut costs wherever possible.

In light of these developments, it’s no surprise that many of us are seeking new ways to future-proof our working life against outside forces beyond our control. The last thing any of us wants is to be made redundant, left out in the cold with every door of opportunity around us firmly closed. In the midst of such an anxiety-inducing economic situation, employees are asking the question: how do I prepare myself should the worst-case scenario become a reality?

Enter ‘career cushioning’, the latest in a string of career trends that appears to be making serious waves on social media and beyond (the hashtag on TikTok has 75,000 views thus far). As is the case with many career trends, the term ‘career cushioning’ is derived from dating slang. In the dating world, ‘cushioning’ involves actively pursuing new romantic connections whilst still in a committed relationship, gearing up for an impending breakup.

When it comes to your professional life, however, the process of ‘cushioning’ is a little more ethical. ‘Career cushioning’ is a way of protecting yourself against a potential job loss, by making yourself more employable so that you can bounce back from redundancy more quickly. Not to be confused with ‘quiet quitting’, ‘career cushioning’ is an insurance policy that involves implementing measures to safeguard your working life whilst still remaining as committed as ever to your current role. It does not by any means indicate a changing attitude to work or shifting loyalties, but rather functions as a safety net in the face of an uncertain future.

So, the question is: should you be ‘career cushioning’?

Short answer, yes. No matter how secure you may feel in your job, there’s nothing to be lost (and everything to be gained) from focussing on professional self-improvement and broadening your horizons.

There is no set formula or secret recipe when it comes to ‘career cushioning’. It’s whatever you make it, and the process looks different for everyone. For some, the best way to gain some career confidence is by brushing up on industry knowledge and regularly researching market trends to stay in the loop, whilst others may boost their employability by creating a personal brand on LinkedIn, nurturing and expanding their professional network in the process.

Upskilling is another sure-fire way to improve your chances of getting noticed by prospective employers and recruiters. Invest in your professional development by signing up for classes or courses to gain certifications that you can proudly display on your CV or LinkedIn profile, signposting with keywords.

Even though ‘career cushioning’ does not involve actively seeking new opportunities, engaging with recruiters is always a good idea. Not only can they add you to their database to keep you updated on relevant opportunities, but they can also provide you with expert advice on the job market.

An often-overlooked way of cushioning your career is by proving that you’re an asset at your current place of employment. If you’re happy and satisfied with your job, go above and beyond to demonstrate how indispensable you are to the company so that they couldn’t bear to let you go. Have an honest and open conversation with your boss to explore ways of developing your role at the company, finding out if there are any opportunities that can further your personal growth. Make your presence known, engage positively with colleagues, work proactively and put yourself out there.

However, at the end of the day, there’s no guarantee that this will protect you in the long-run. Whilst you should definitely do your all to prove your worth, even the most dedicated and talented employees fall victim to mass layoffs, which often have nothing whatsoever to do with your contribution to the company.  Some things simply lay outside of our control, so it really is wise to do everything you can to prepare for the worst, taking matters into your own hands.

Whilst there’s nothing wrong with investing in your professional development and scoping out potential opportunities, it’s crucial that you draw a line in the sand and don’t get caught up in the whirlwind of an all-consuming job search. ‘Career cushioning’ is, after all, an insurance policy against redundancy, not an avoidance technique that sees you neglecting responsibilities at your current job. Look at it as an extra-curricular activity rather than a full-time project; by all means, spend your spare time upskilling, networking and updating your CV, but don’t let yourself fall down the rabbit hole of a job hunt that involves mindlessly scrolling through job boards and sending off mass  job applications during working hours. Establishing boundaries is key.

And, if you do find yourself getting a little too invested in a full-blown job search, ‘career cushioning’ might not be the solution you’re looking for. It may suggest a genuine desire to work elsewhere and a lack of satisfaction with your current role. If this is the case, perhaps you should be taking more drastic measures to address this more fundamental problem with your job. That’s an issue for the here and now, not the future.

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Making new year’s career resolutions…and sticking to them

Making new year’s career resolutions…and sticking to them

January 4, 2023

It’s January, and we all know what that means: the inevitable return of new year’s resolutions.

For many of us, December is a hazy month of unreality, characterised by the consumption of too much food and alcohol, with one day blurrily melting into the next as time loses all meaning. And then, out of nowhere, January hits like a ton of bricks, rudely awakening us from our festive slumber.

The month of January ushers in new beginnings, wiping the slate clean in preparation for positive life changes.

But, for some of us, the prospect of making ‘new year’s resolutions’ is daunting. It fills us with dread because deep down, we know that when December rolls around in twelve months’ time, we will have failed to stick to many (if not all) of our resolutions. By the time the month of January runs out, so too does much of our enthusiasm to achieve our goals for the remainder of the year.

But how do we keep up momentum and stick to our resolutions throughout 2023? According to a recent survey, 58% of the UK population will be setting themselves new year’s resolutions this year. Data from Statista has ascertained that around 20% of these will be work-related. Let’s explore some of the steps you can take that will help you stick to your career resolutions throughout the year.

Keep it realistic

Perhaps you’re starting out the year with the dream of finally receiving a long-awaited promotion or a glittering new job offer. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, it’s wise not to set these larger aspirations as your new year’s resolutions.

For one thing, these goals are too vague to measure over the course of a year in any meaningful way. How do you go about achieving them? How do you know you’re making any progress?

It’s far better to set smaller resolutions that are realistic and trackable. Perhaps there’s a project that you aspire to work on, or a professional certification you’re looking to complete. These smaller resolutions function as the building blocks that lay the foundations for your grander aspirations in the long-term.

It’s also important to keep your list of resolutions short and sweet, or else you may end up feeling swamped under the weight of expectation. Set yourself 5 realistic goals to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Do it for yourself

Far too many of us buy into the age-old narrative that we need to be achieving a certain amount in our career according to what society has deemed ‘success’ and ‘failure’. There’s a pre-determined path laid out in front of us, and we often fall into the trap of aligning our goals and aspirations to these societal expectations. We end up setting career goals for the wrong reason: with the sole intention of impressing others and appearing outwardly successful.

If you really want to stick to your resolutions this year, you need to dig deep in order to determine what it is that you truly want yourself. Your career goals should be determined with your own happiness and satisfaction in mind. Drown out the white noise of other people’s expectations; their opinions are not a solid motivation that will help you achieve your goals. Think deeply about what you want and where you want to see yourself, irrespective of social pressures and external influences.

It’s all too easy to fall victim to ‘mimetic desire’ (aspiring to achieve what others have), emulating others rather than focussing on yourself. Make sure your resolutions centre around your genuine wants and needs, or else there’s little chance of you sticking to them.

Prioritise your mental health

Obsessing over your new year’s career resolutions poses the very real risk of causing ‘ambition anxiety’: the desperate desire to succeed professionally in a bid to impress others. It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of winning and achieving, when in reality this could be costing your mental health big-time. Keep in mind that incorporating your career resolutions into your working life should feel like a marathon rather than a sprint: it’s a process that requires patience if you want to see long-term progress, and you can’t let yourself be overwhelmed by a desire to succeed.

Put your mental health at the forefront this year to remind yourself that there’s more to life than achieving your career goals. To avoid sinking under pressure, remind yourself that the stakes are not as high as you think: there’s more to life than succeeding at work. Don’t let your career aspirations dictate your life. Dedicate time and space to a new wellbeing practice this year, such as meditating, eating healthier foods, or simply going for a twenty-minute walk outside every day.

Get support

Sticking to your new year’s career resolutions can be daunting, but you don’t have to face it alone. In fact, leaning on others can be incredibly helpful when you’re setting out to achieve your goals throughout the year. Take advantage of the support system already around you (or else cultivate a new one); whether that means turning to friends and family, expanding your professional network, leaning on colleagues, or even enlisting the help of professional mentors.

And whilst you’re at it, seek out someone who can function as an accountability partner. Let your boss know what your career aspirations are and check in with them regularly to gauge how well you’re doing over the course of the year. Or, if the thought of giving your boss another opportunity to critique you sounds like your worst nightmare, ask a colleague to be your accountability partner instead.

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Data Digest #4: World Cup Winners and Exoplanets

Data Digest #4: World Cup Winners and Exoplanets

December 6, 2022

The cogs of the data world are perpetually turning. Data never sleeps. Brace yourself for an exciting overview into some of the top data news stories that have been gracing our screens over the past month. 

Nature: Data model predicts a World Cup winner…?

We’ve all seen the videos circulating on TikTok of animals in a zoo predicting the winner of a World Cup game. Paul the Octopus dominated social media during the 2010 World Cup with his accurate predictions, whilst his psychic successors Marcus the Pig and Taiyo the Otter also provided light-hearted entertainment to football fans across the globe.

However, these prophetic animals are no match for a new data-driven predictive model, developed by a team of epidemiologists at the University of Oxford. The mathematical model uses data from past performances to assess which team has the highest chance of winning the World Cup.

So, which team is taking home the trophy, you may ask? Well, it turns out the team with the highest chance of winning (13.88%) has already been knocked out after a disappointing group stage: Belgium was sent packing after their lacklustre draw with Croatia. No predictive model is fool proof, but perhaps now Brazil, who have the second highest chance of winning (13.51%), can prove the model’s efficacy themselves. 

The predictive model has a good track record of getting things right: it correctly predicted that Italy would beat England in the Euros 2020 final (much to many of our dismay). But that’s the thing about football, and this World Cup in particular: nothing is certain, and you should never underestimate the underdogs. 

Nature: Maths predicts World Cup winner

The Guardian: Long covid patient creates app to track symptoms 

When Harry Leeming began to experience the long and gruelling effect of long covid, he felt isolated and alone, due to the medical world’s lack of research into the chronic condition. There’s still so much that healthcare professionals do not understand about it, and so Leeming sought out a solution of his own. He decided to develop an app dedicated to helping people who also struggle with the condition. The app, called Visible, is also designed to draw the attention of the medical community towards the impact of long covid.

It allows individuals to track their symptoms and adjust their activity levels accordingly, while feeding this invaluable data back to healthcare professionals and researchers. The app lets users track their symptoms through certain digital biomarkers, such as sleep quality, heart rate, and the menstrual cycle.

The app isn’t limited to long covid sufferers; people with a whole host of other chronic conditions can benefit from using the app, too. When used over an extended period of time, people struggling with long-term health concerns can come to understand trends and patterns regarding symptoms, so that they know not to over-exert themselves. Thus far, the app has received over $1 million in funding, and it’s on track to transform many peoples’ lives for the better.

The Guardian: Long Covid: the patient who’s made an app to track symptoms

Forbes: Telescope data unearths details about distant planet

Data collected from a telescope has been able to ascertain the entire chemical makeup of a planet 700 lightyears away. Sounds like the plot of a sci-fi movie, right? Well believe it or not, it’s true – and it’s an extraordinarily exciting development for the scientific community.

Scientists have been examining the exoplanet WASP-39 since summer this year, but the James Webb Telescope has single-handedly transformed our understanding about it. Thanks to its advanced sensitivity technology, its data has revealed the entire chemical profile of the hot gas giant. The planet is home to a vast array of familiar substances, including water and carbon monoxide. However, the planet is nothing like earth. We won’t be settling on WASP-39 anytime soon.

Forbes: New Webb Telescope Data Reveals An Alien World Like Never Before. Next Comes Earth-Like Planets

NY Times: Coding AI triggers lawsuit

This summer, Microsoft launched a new tool called Copilot, which uses artificial intelligence to generate computer codes, and is intended to make professional programmers’ lives easier. Doesn’t sound like there’s anything fundamentally wrong with that, right?

Not necessarily. Whilst most people in the programming industry have embraced this new technology with open arms, Matthew Butterick, an open-source programmer, has taken issue with Copilot, and has filed a lawsuit against Microsoft and all other major companies that have encouraged the adoption of this new technology.

Butterick’s main qualm is this: the code being generated by Copilot was not conjured up in a vacuum, but rather built out of vast pools of pre-existing data. The technology most likely draws upon computer code that had already been posted on the internet by other programmers. Thus, Copilot is allegedly, according to Butterick, taking credit for work that is not theirs. He believes that work has been indirectly stolen from creators without their consent.

And this wouldn’t be the first time that AI tools have come under fire for potentially infringing copyright laws. Many artists have had this issue in the past, with their work being used to train art generator tools and other types of AI technology. Whilst Microsoft and other major companies claim that their use of other creators’ work falls under ‘fair use’ in copyright law, the ethicality of this development is still very much up for debate.

NY Times: Lawsuit Takes Aim at the Way AI is Built

Metro: Catching out deepfakes in real time 

‘Deepfakes’ are plaguing the internet right now. They have the power to singlehandedly destroy people’s trust in online sources. This technology often stems from malicious intent, and ‘deepfakes’ have the capacity to ruin lives at the click of a button. The news is flooded with stories of women being targeted in fake pornographic videos, or politicians being framed in fake government announcements. They’re a dangerous threat to the sanctity of the internet, costing companies $188 billion in cybersecurity, according to research by Gartner.

But a glimmer of hope is on the horizon: Intel has developed a new technology that is able to determine whether or not a video is real in milliseconds. The new tool – FakeCatcher – looks at biological indicators, such as blood flow, which give away whether the video features a real human being or not. This technology could be a gamechanger, limiting the damaging impact of ‘deepfakes’ by denying their plausibility in the blink of an eye.

Metro: ‘FakeCatcher’ can detect deepfakes in real-time with 96% accuracy

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Bouncing back after redundancy

Bouncing back after redundancy

November 21, 2022

woman lying down on bed

Getting laid off is a worry that constantly lingers in the back of many employees’ minds, with a 2019 survey revealing that more than a third of UK workers fear redundancy. These statistics would no doubt be significantly higher if you were to ask the same question now, post-pandemic, in a world where redundancy looms over many employees like a black cloud.

Layoffs have been hurtling like a tornado through the tech sector in particular, with Amazon this week revealing plans to let go of 10,000 employees, and Elon Musk presenting employees at Twitter with an unforgiving ultimatum: work “long hours at high intensity”, or move on. With shockwaves like these being sent through powerhouse tech companies, it’s easy to see how many of us feel vulnerable in our positions.

Whilst the number of employees made redundant reached a peak in May 2021, the number is ominously creeping up again. But if you happen to be made redundant yourself, what happens then? Your first instinct may to hunt for a new job at the speed of light, all guns blazing. But this could actually prove to be detrimental in the long run. Here are some of our top suggestions for bouncing back after redundancy.

Take a breather

First of all, take a step back. Redundancy, especially when it comes like a bolt from the blue, can flood your brain with emotions: anxiety, uncertainty, anger; you name it. The best thing you can initially do is shelve the job search for a few days, or as long as you can afford to, as a time to process your feelings about the situation. You don’t want to make any important decisions whilst still getting over the initial shock of the blow.

You’ll thank yourself in the long run. If you begin looking for a new job straight off the bat without letting the dust settle, you may be carrying negative, unresolved feelings with you into the initial stages of the job hunt. Recruiters will be able to sniff any lingering resentment on you from a mile off, so it’s best to take a breather in order to put your best foot forward when the time comes.

The same applies to LinkedIn. The last thing you want to do is start ranting on social media. A hiring manager’s eyes may fall upon these tirades, and it could be a bad reflection on you. An HR magazine poll found that most HR professionals think that people should not overshare on LinkedIn, and angry rants about ex-employers definitely falls under that category.

Figure out where you stand

Assessing your financial situation is a crucial step. If you calculate how long you realistically have to look for a job, buoyed up by the cushion of severance pay and any other potential unemployment benefits, you’ll be able to better map out your path for the future. Work out where you can afford to make cuts in the meantime, in order to further reduce any potential anxieties or stress that risk wiggling to the surface.

Ease into the job search

Diving straight into a job search after years of employment at the same company can be daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. If you dip your toe in gently, you can take control of the situation. There are many steps you can take to gear up to a successful job hunt.

For one thing, refamiliarize yourself with what’s going on in your particular sector, gauging the steps those within it are taking to be successful. After years at the same company you may have developed tunnel vision, losing sight of the bigger picture.

One way of gaining industry knowledge is by networking with former colleagues, friends, respected people in your sector, and recruiters. Every conversation is a building block that levels up your confidence. Make a mental note of their advice, using it to hone the image you present to hiring managers. Listen to their market insights and their tips for updating your CV with an attentive ear. Recruiters in particular can help you understand how to leverage your recent experience in your CV to put your best foot forward.

Make the most of it

Let’s be honest: no one wants to be made redundant. But there is something to be said for making the most of a less-than-ideal situation. You have the chance to take a breath and genuinely think: where do I want to take my career now? What are the things that are most important to me that will make me feel fulfilled? It could be the perfect opportunity for a much-needed rethink. Give yourself the chance to reflect to get a sense of what you liked and didn’t like about your old job, which is helpful moving forwards. Just like coming out of a relationship, you don’t want to dive into the next one too quickly!

Once you’ve come to terms with redundancy, you can confidently put yourself back out there on the job market. When talking about your layoff, remain calm and composed, framing it as an opportunity for new adventures whilst acknowledging the positive impact you contributed to the company. Keep in mind that layoffs often aren’t personal and don’t diminish the role you played during your time there.

And remember: in today’s climate, being made redundant is not something to be embarrassed or shameful about. It’s an all-too-common reality that hiring managers are highly familiar with. A quick scroll through LinkedIn is in itself enough to prove how supportive people are to those going through it: our feeds are often home to people talking about their recent layoff and saying their open to work, and the comments restore our faith in the LinkedIn community. The posts are frequently flooded with comments from others offering their support and guidance. You can bounce back from redundancy, returning better than ever.

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The new normal: embracing a ‘squiggly career’

The new normal: embracing a ‘squiggly career’

November 11, 2022

Once upon a time, spending decades in the same role at the same company was considered ‘the done thing’. Our grandparents would find a job and stick with it all the way through to retirement, climbing the ladder from entry to senior level. Joining a company was as binding as a marriage contract, and employees were expected to be as loyal to their company as to their husband or wife. But nowadays, the prospect of a job for life is about as alien and unimaginable as it gets.

Ask a millennial or Gen-Zer if they plan on staying put in one role for the rest of their working lives and they’ll most likely laugh you out the door. There’s a sea change taking place amongst the workforce as they refuse to be typecast or put into one single box with little to no room for manoeuvre. In a world defined by constant change, disruption, anxiety and innovation, workers are turning their backs on the concept of a linear career trajectory that puts their personal wants and needs on the backburner. The workforce of today is yearning for a career path shaped uniquely by and for themselves. If employers want to keep their businesses operating competitively, they need to be attracting talent by accepting an undeniable reality: a ‘squiggly career’ is becoming the norm.

What makes a career ‘squiggly’?

The term ‘squiggly career’ was originally coined by Helen Tubber and Sarah Ellis in their best-selling book exploring the demise of the linear career trajectory. However, a ‘squiggly career’ does not simply mean flitting from job to job and frequently transitioning from one industry to another. More than anything, having a ‘squiggly career’ is a mental state: it’s moving past the traditional view that success is defined as climbing seamlessly up the corporate ladder, opting instead to look at your career path as something fluid, that should be determined by your instinct for growth and learning, wherever that may take you.

Embracing the squiggles

Pursuing opportunities based on your own sense of personal fulfilment would have once earned you the rather derogatory title of ‘job hopper’, but nowadays it’s something that we should be embracing and celebrating. ‘Progression’ is no longer synonymous with promotions and pay rises; it’s an inward journey towards personal development.

Rather than moving upwards in a company, you may want to move sideways, dipping your toe into different roles and functions. We’re witnessing the rise of the multidisciplinary team, where people are choosing to work as a cross-functional pool of resources. When you’re working in an agile squad, you’re broadening your skillset and not limiting yourself to one single role.

The point is, the term ‘career’ is itself becoming increasingly difficult to define in any kind of concrete way. The one-size-fits-all definition of a career would’ve served well thirty years ago, but now? There is no longer a set formula that people have to follow. According to research by Zippia, the average person changes jobs 12 times over the span of their working life, and most people spend less than five years at a company. Due to technological developments, the flexibility of our working life has evolved beyond recognition. There are currently around 4.8 million self-employed people in the UK today, an all time high. Rather than living for work, today’s workforce is making work a part of their lives that works for them. Done right and embraced to its full, a ‘squiggly career’ has the potential to be limitlessly liberating.

Adapting as an employer

As today’s workforce embraces the ‘squiggly career’, hiring managers need to adapt to this changing landscape. Ultimately, the power is in the candidate’s hands, and in order to attract top talent, businesses need to be prepared to make changes to accommodate the shifting motivations and desires of the workforce.

Employees with a ‘squiggly career’ want to work for a values-led company that aids and supports their learning and development, offering flexibility and a degree of freedom. Dangling a promotion in front of your employees is no longer enough to keep them at your company; in today’s climate, there’s bound to be competitors out there that would lure them away with just as enticing an offer. To build a loyal network of employees, managers need to be leaders in the true sense of the word, genuinely investing in the training and support of those working for them. The average candidate in today’s market is not fickle, but also won’t likely put up with a career that doesn’t provide them with the things that matter most to them, such as the ability to show their strengths, build their skillset and stick by their values. The more organisations enable their workforce in pursuing a fulfilling ‘squiggly career’, the greater the payoff for both the individual and the company.

 

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Are we witnessing the downfall of the cover letter?

Are we witnessing the downfall of the cover letter?

October 28, 2022

letter writing

Embarking on a job search is no walk in the park. Sprucing up your CV, dusting off your designated ‘interview suit’, filling out the same details on another online application portal for the 100th time…

But if there’s one part of the job application process that fills us all with dread, it’s writing a cover letter. As you glide effortlessly through every step of the online application, you’re suddenly met with a request that stops you in your tracks, like a guard that magically appears at the gates of a fairy-tale palace. There it is, standing out on the page in bold letters: please attach cover letter here.

Nowadays, the cover letter feels like an anachronistic remnant of the past that has somehow lasted all the way into the 21st century. It’s the most tedious and time-consuming step in the job application process. According to a recent poll from Fishbowl by Glassdoor, 58% of professionals believe that a cover letter is superfluous. Meanwhile, a 2017 survey revealed that only 26% of recruiters consider cover letters an important element of the hiring process.

So, this begs the question: is the cover letter dead and is it about time we buried it? No, many hiring managers and recruiters would argue. Whilst writing one is a burden, a cover letter could be more useful to a job application than we care to admit.

A waste of time?

Cover letters appear to be universally loathed by candidates and recruiters alike. For what they’re worth, it can feel like writing a cover letter is a disproportionate waste of time. You could spend hours carefully crafting a cover letter for a specific role, only for it to then go unread. Many recruiters openly admit to skipping over cover letters during the screening process.

In an AI-driven world, writing a cover letter can feel like shouting into the abyss. When you submit your application to an online portal, many larger companies now use AI and machine learning to analyse applications at the initial stages, meaning that cover letters don’t even end up in a hiring manager’s hands. For many candidates, it feels unfair that they’re expected to demonstrate their passion for a particular role and exhibit their personality when they can’t even be guaranteed a human response in return.

In a candidate-driven market, cover letters risk falling into obscurity. When candidates have the upper hand, can companies truly expect cover letters as a prerequisite? It’s easy to see why many candidates consider them to be the bane of their existence. Rejection in and of itself is painful enough, but added to that, all the effort wasted on a cover letter that you composed from scratch? It’s onerous and downright demoralising.

Nowadays, cover letters tend to feel like a routine tick-box exercise. And we’re increasingly finding – to the relief of many candidates – that more companies are making them optional, rather than a component as compulsory as the CV.

A necessary evil?

Though it can be tempting to skip over the gruelling process of writing a cover letter (especially when it’s optional), it’s still wise to go that step further and write one if you’re given the option. However, there’s no point whatsoever in churning out a generic, regurgitated cover letter for the sake of it. If you’re going to go the extra mile, it can’t be half-hearted.

When done right, a good cover letter is your secret weapon. Writing a detailed yet concise cover letter that is specific and targeted to the role in question is a labour of love, one that doesn’t simply go unnoticed by hiring managers. Up against the often mundane and robotic CV, the cover letter is a chance to showcase your personality. It’s your own personal marketing material.

Think of it this way. Hiring managers spend hours sifting through an endless pile of CVs belonging to faceless applicants, yawning as their eyes lurch carelessly over each one. But then, all of a sudden, the catchy opening line of your cover letter catches their eye. If you use the cover letter to your advantage – as an opportunity to show what you’re made of in a way the CV does not allow you to express – it breathes some life into your application.

Sure, there’s every chance that a hiring manager is inundated with applications and never happens upon your cover letter in the first place. But it’s crucial to change your mindset. As you’re composing a cover letter, don’t think to yourself: this is a waste of time, no one’s going to read it anyway. Instead, tell yourself: I’m using this added opportunity to make sure a glimmer of personality shines through on my application. Adopt a more positive mindset about the possible outcomes of writing a cover letter. You have more to gain from writing one than you have to lose by not.

And in particular cases, a cover letter is indispensable. Particularly if you’re working in a creative field or industry. If this is the case, the cover letter serves as a prime opportunity for you to sell your wares; let your creativity shine forth from the page in a way that isn’t possible simply by listing your skills and successes in your CV.

A cover letter is also critical if you’re looking to change careers completely. If you’re looking to pivot into a new sector, you should be utilising the cover letter as a chance for you to clearly explain how your experience is transferable to a new role. A cover letter gives you a voice at an otherwise pretty restrictive early stage of the application process; a voice that you can then elaborate on once you’ve made it to that coveted interview.

Granted, that doesn’t make writing a cover letter any easier. Useful as they may be in certain cases, they’re a pain to create. The easiest way to tackle this issue is creating a cover letter template, and simply adapting this to the role in question. That doesn’t mean just copying keywords from the job ad into your template; you still genuinely have to think about what you can bring to the company and why you want to work there. But having a template at your disposal makes the thought of writing a cover letter that little bit less daunting.

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Navigating self-doubt in the job search process

Navigating self-doubt in the job search process

October 13, 2022

Scrolling through a job board, your eyes light up as you stumble across an ad for your dream career opportunity. Five little words peek out at you from beneath the job title: your profile matches this job. You can feel yourself growing drunk on excitement but are cautious not to get carried away just yet. You’ve been down this road before, and you’re wary that a tripwire could rear its head at any moment, instantly sobering you up.

Alert and tense, you scan the job description with eagle eyes. Check, check, check. Your experiences and skills align near-perfectly with the job expectations listed. The stars are aligning. You edge slowly towards the apply button when all of a sudden, you’re stopped in your tracks. There it is, the dreaded roadblock on your path to success. In faint grey letters, yet somehow tauntingly glaring out at you, right above the apply button. Over 200 applicants.

And just like that, your confidence deflates like a week-old birthday balloon. You suddenly become aware that an army of hundreds of faceless robots is up against you. Your mind is instantly flooded with self-deprecating thoughts. That little voice in the back of your head begins its age-old tirade: they’re all just as qualified as you, if not more; they’re all more confident than you; they’re all more creative and intelligent than you. How could you possibly stand a chance?

Believe it or not, up to 85% of people suffer with feelings of self-doubt. According to a survey by Forbes, 6 out of 10 executive women most experienced imposter syndrome at times of pivotal change in their careers; whilst searching for a new role, for example. It can feel incredibly isolating, but it’s far more common than we think. Even the most seemingly confident among us are probably suffering from it in silence.

But what can we do to tackle these toxic and inhibiting thoughts?

Reach out to recruiters

Liberate yourself from the chains of the dreaded job board by getting in touch with recruiters specialising in your field. When working with recruiters, you no longer feel like a number buried at the bottom of a towering pile of anonymous applications. When you face the job search alone, simply floating your CV out into the abyss, this will instantly put you on the backfoot and make you feel pessimistic about your chances of succeeding.

Finding a recruiter that is a good match for you is a godsend when it comes to tackling self-doubt. Suddenly, the job search seems a little less daunting, as you’re treated like an individual, and the process of hunting for a job feels less cut-throat and more human.  

A good recruiter will have a vested interest in you feeling your best throughout the job search. To an extent, they act as your cheerleader, instilling you with some much-needed confidence about your capabilities as they guide you through the job application process.

Don’t fear rejection

The belief that rejection is synonymous with failure seems to be entrenched in society, when in reality this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s about time we changed that narrative.

It’s natural to experience that all-too-familiar sinking feeling when an email comes through from a hiring manager, starting with the classic refrain: thank you for applying. We regret to inform you

However, this shouldn’t knock your confidence and make you doubt yourself. Rejection is a sign of determination. It’s better to apply for opportunities and get rejected, than simply sit on your hands and have nothing to show for it. Rejection shows that you’re putting yourself out there, and that takes a lot of courage.

Surround yourself with positivity

In order to overcome self-doubt, it’s crucial to immerse yourself in an environment brimming with positive energy. But there’s no hard-and fast rule stating what this looks like.

For some, following successful influencers on LinkedIn might be the answer, as their inspirational stories could serve as a source of motivation. For others, this might be the most detrimental move imaginable. It could set the wheels of a toxic cycle of comparison in motion, feeding into even more self-doubt. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference, and you need to figure out what works for you. Your social media feed should be a positive space, not one that makes you feel bad about yourself. Filter out anything that makes you feel inferior or less worthy.

When cultivating a positive circle around you, it could be worth considering mentorship or coaching. This doesn’t mean you have to enlist the help of an expensive self-help coach; it could be as simple as messaging someone in your field that you look up to and seeking out their advice. There’s no shame in dropping them a line asking for their insights.

Optimistic self-talk

Negative self-talk has become far too normalised. Until we start being kinder to ourselves, self-doubt and imposter syndrome will continue to linger.

Whenever we put ourselves outside of our comfort zone, we risk exposing ourselves to damaging, self-deprecating thoughts. We’re genetically hard-wired to desire safety and security, so when we undergo big changes and face periods of uncertainty, our minds play out ‘worst-case’ scenarios as a defence mechanism, to guard against failure. However, this often spirals out of control and leads to catastrophising.

That little voice wriggles to the surface, spewing the same-old rhetoric: what if you get rejected; what if everyone judges you; what if you never succeed? For every what if that comes to mind, conjure up a so what? For every negative outlandish outcome, arm yourself with a counter-thought to keep self-doubt at bay.

Stop caring what others think

One of the main things that holds us back and limits our self-belief is the fear of judgement from others. Our minds are constantly abuzz with worry about how we are perceived by our colleagues, bosses and friends.

We fear the prospect of people seeing us fail. That familiar internal voice creeps up on you like clockwork: it’s embarrassing, you’ll look silly. People will think you aren’t any good at what you do.

We shouldn’t let the opinions of others damage our self-belief. Do things for yourself, and don’t preoccupy yourself with how it comes across to outsiders if things don’t go exactly to plan straight away. Ultimately, you’re taking proactive steps to change your life for the better, and in the long run this will pay off. Better to live a full life putting yourself out there and taking risks than live a half-life worrying about what other people think.

 

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Data Digest #3: DNA Detectives and Hotel Hijacks

Data Digest #3: DNA Detectives and Hotel Hijacks

October 4, 2022

The cogs of the data world are perpetually turning. Data never sleeps. Brace yourself for an exciting overview into some of the top data news stories that have been gracing our screens over the past month.

The Telegraph: catching criminals via ancestry websites

Law enforcement professionals don’t simply give up on “cold cases”. They don’t put up their hands in surrender and admit defeat, leaving the files in a dark room in the corner of a police station to gather dust. Police are always investigating historical cases, in a bid to provide families with some long-overdue justice. And recently, a new technology has helped to crack the code on hundreds of unsolved crimes.

Investigative genetic genealogy uses DNA data alongside traditional genetic genealogy to uncover culprits who are yet to face repercussions for their actions. This technique garnered major media attention four years ago, when distant relatives of murderer and rapist Joseph DeAngelo posted their genetic data to the ancestry website GEDmatch, ultimately leading to his arrest.

IGG has been hailed by many as a breakthrough technological development. However, this technology is rife with ethicality concerns. Those using ancestry websites could never have imagined that their DNA data would end up putting someone they’re related to behind bars. Ultimately, consumers have raised valid concerns about the risk this technology poses of crossing the line. It’s also unlikely to have as much of an impact in the UK as in the US, where DNA databases are known to be more advanced.

The Telegraph: How police are using DNA from ancestry websites to catch murderers

The New York Times: Smartphone data predicts suicides?

Is it possible to predict suicide by using smartphone data? That’s exactly what a group of Harvard psychologists are trying to figure out. A research project currently underway is experimenting with new developments in AI and machine learning to gauge whether it’s possible to predict suicide and prevent it before it happens. Patients participating in the study are being monitored through their smartphones via biosensors, a GPS, questionnaires, etc. The information garnered from these different technologies is fed to researchers at the Harvard psychology department, who then decipher what it can reveal about the patient’s current mental state.

Researchers are keeping an eye out for an array of warning signs, such as the patient’s sleeping pattern or a worrying result on a mood questionnaire. If a patient is flagged as reporting unusual or worrying behaviour, indicating that they plan on hurting themselves, a researcher will get in touch with them via telephone call, and call 911 to attend to them.

With a plethora of data (quite literally) at our fingertips, it makes sense to be tapping into this resource by potentially saving lives. However, this kind of monitoring isn’t without its fair share of controversy. For one thing, it is undoubtedly impossible to predict every suicide in this way. It would be perfectly easy for a patient to mislead clinicians, simply by not being totally candid with their questionnaire answers. There’s also the very real risk of false positive results, which would lead to patients facing the trauma of an unwarranted intervention. And it’s also likely that a vast number of people experiencing suicidal thoughts would not be in the headspace to consent to this type of monitoring in the first place.

The New York Times: Can Smartphones Help Predict Suicide?

BBC: Hacking hotels

The Intercontinental Hotel Group were in for a nasty shock when they discovered that a Vietnamese couple had hacked into the company’s computer system. The couple proceeded to reach out to the BBC on the messaging app Telegram, holding up screenshots like victory trophies to prove that they had indeed gained access to the company’s Microsoft Teams server, as well as their internal Outlook emails.

The pair originally planned a ransomware attack, but when they realized that they had been stopped in their tracks, they went ahead and caused as much damage as they could anyway, purely out of spite. They proceeded to perform a wiper attack, which destroys data and documents, never to be retrieved again. Whilst they did not obtain any customer data, they did manage to get hold of some corporate data.

The hackers infiltrated the system via a misleading email attachment, that led to an employee downloading a deceptive piece of software. They were then able to make their way into the more private quarters of the computer system without much hassle. Why? Because of the absurdly easy and common password: Qwerty1234. The first password you’re warned against using in ICT lessons in primary school. It was equally surprising that 200,000 IHG employees had access to this sensitive content. This incident could serve as a reminder of the importance of putting a watertight security system in place, to protect against malicious attacks such as these.

BBC: IHG hack: ‘Vindictive’ couple deleted hotel chain data for fun

The Guardian: TikTok and children’s privacy

Following an investigation conducted by the Information Commissioner’s Office, TikTok has been issued with a ‘notice of intent’ regarding a potential breach of UK data protection law between May 2019 and July 2020. The app now could face a fine of £27 million. The ICG’s preliminary findings are that TikTok may have processed data belonging to children under the age of 13, without parental consent. As part of this alleged breach, TikTok may have exposed special category data, such as the children’s ethnicities and political opinions.

Whilst the investigation is still very much underway, TikTok representatives dispute the findings of the preliminary investigation thus far. The app is just one of over 50 other online services currently being investigated by the ICU, in a bid to assess whether they too are complying with child data protection laws. Meta also came under scrutiny this year, when they were fined £349 million for allowing teenagers to create online profiles that openly displayed their personal phone numbers. The world of data privacy is a minefield, and companies have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable users of their online services.

The Guardian: TikTok could face £27m fine for failing to protect children’s privacy

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Quiet Quitting: Cop-Out or Constructive?

Quiet Quitting: Cop-Out or Constructive?

September 26, 2022

In the not-too-distant past, many of us were caught up in the whirlwind of ‘hustle culture’. Perhaps the mere mention of those two little words triggers your fight or flight response, violently jolting you back into an era of 18-hour work days, and nights spent sleeplessly plotting your path to promotion. Work on the brain, 24/7. Like a flock of sheep, many of us marched in unison up the corporate ladder, petrified by the thought of falling out of line and getting trampled by the herd. The buzzwords #ambition, #grit and #grind stoked the fire of this toxic trend on social media.

Entrepreneurship, success, money, prestige. The golden medals that everyone was aching to win in the ‘hustle’ Olympics. LinkedIn profiles became glittering halls of fame, decked out with proudly displayed trophies. The focus was on carefully crafting a public persona of workaholism. It wasn’t enough to be successful. You had to create the impression that you were head-over-heels in love with your career. Drunk on ambition and adrenaline. Your whole identity revolved around it.

But recently, many people seem to be snapping out of this hypnotic spell. ‘Quiet quitting’ is a recent trend that pushes back against ‘hustle culture’. According to a Deloitte study in 2015, at the height of ‘hustle culture’, 77% of workers experienced burnout at work, and thus many are walking away from the toxic ‘hustle’ mindset. Whilst ‘hustle culture’ was born out of the Great Recession of 2008, ‘quiet quitting’ comes in the aftermath of a pandemic that has dragged on for years, leaving many people disillusioned with their work, or else simply determined to lead a life beyond it.

So, what exactly is ‘quiet quitting’? Is it a trend that employers need to be worried about, or is it not as bad as we think?

What is ‘quiet quitting’?

In a video that has now blown up on TikTok, a young man called Zaid Khan coined the term ‘quiet quitting’ to describe his changing attitude towards work. Despite the misleading name, ‘quiet quitting’ doesn’t actually involve quitting your job at all. It simply means doing the job you’re paid for, without going above and beyond.

‘Quiet quitting’ entails following your job description to the letter. Khan rejects the notion that consistent hustling should be the norm. It doesn’t involve neglecting your duties, but rather setting clear boundaries that you refuse to transgress. ‘Quiet quitters’ are resetting the standard, refusing to make work the centre of their universe. According to a Gallup survey, at least half of US workers are quiet quitting their jobs. Post-pandemic, the trend is particularly evident amongst young people.

Should we be worried?

Whilst there are many potential reasons why someone may choose to ‘quiet quit’ their job, a toxic workplace culture may very well be one of them. Employers may need to take a look in the mirror when asking themselves why employees are not pushing the boat out when it comes to work. Some argue that ‘quiet quitting’ is, by its very nature, semi-confrontational. It could be seen as a way for employees to register the frustration and disconnect they feel with the organisation they’re working for.

According to Gallup data, workers below the age of 35 in particular are growing disengaged at work. The percentage of engaged employees in this age group fell by 6 percent from 2019 to 2022. Meanwhile, the number of young employees who feel cared for by their employers, or think that they have opportunities to learn and grow professionally, fell by 10 percentage points. In this respect, ‘quiet quitting’ appears to be a way for employees to pushback against neglect from their employers. If employers aren’t investing in employee welfare, why should they be going above and beyond for the sake of a company that doesn’t care about them? If managers want a strong work ethic pulsing through the company, they need to find innovative ways to make employees feel looked after and engaged in the company mission. When someone feels like they’re a crucial piece of the puzzle – valuable, and part of something bigger – they’re more likely to be a proactive team player.

And being a team player can actually benefit them on a personal level, too. ‘Quiet quitting’ may not be as liberating for employees as it may seem at face-value. By swearing off any work that does not fall under your job description, you may actually be making your work more arduous and uninspiring than it needs to be. If you’re clocking off at 5pm on the dot and refusing to build relationships with colleagues, you could be killing any chances of cultivating a workplace community. You could be missing out on some of the most exciting and enriching parts of your working life if you refuse to truly immerse yourself in it.

If you’re unhappy in your career, is ‘quiet quitting’ really the answer? To many, it feels like an intrinsically hostile approach to take. A lot of critics regard it as a form of silent mutiny. If you’re not content with your job, perhaps it would be wiser and more beneficial for both parties to have a candid conversation with your employer, to discuss pain points and potentially find a solution. Or else, to look for a more inspiring role elsewhere.

Or is it even a thing?

However, all of this is to suggest that there’s a problem with ‘quiet quitting’ in the first place. Is there actually anything fundamentally wrong with simply doing your job?

The fact that ‘quiet quitting’ is proving to be such a shocking phenomenon to many – one that is making headlines – shows that society is still very much stuck in the ‘hustle culture’ mindset. It suggests that workers simply performing their job without doing additional work, just doing what they’re paid to do, is some kind of sin. In reality, should we be moving away from this unspoken societal rule that puts a pressure on the individual to push themselves to the brink in order to succeed professionally?

Whilst it’s very easy to suggest that someone simply quit their job and go down a career path that grips their interest more, this isn’t always possible. Many people aren’t in the privileged position to be able to up-sticks and leave their job in pursuit of something more enjoyable and personally fulfilling. In times of economic uncertainty, it may feel safer to stay on in a secure role and simply do what is expected of you rather than seek a job elsewhere. Not everyone has the opportunity to find a job that they’re passionate about.

Ultimately, what matters more than anything is the reasoning behind ‘quiet quitting’. It’s not always meant as a passive aggressive protest against working hard. Sometimes, it’s a way for employees to take back their personal power. ‘Quiet quitting’ isn’t inherently a bad thing. So long as employees are performing as expected there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be dedicating more time to their lives outside the office. In fact, it could actually be a good thing. Creating a healthy work-life balance can improve the quality of your work, whilst excessive stress and workplace pressure can be detrimental to the company as well as the individual.

The only time when ‘quiet quitting’ could be concerning is when there’s a truly spiteful sentiment fuelling it. In which case, it’s worth having a candid conversation to resolve whatever issue may be causing it. When an employee wants to take revenge on a company, or sees ‘quiet quitting’ as a way of flaunting their entitlement, it should be addressed, both for the sake of the individual and the business. However, in the vast majority of cases, ‘quiet quitting’ isn’t a problem at all. As long as it’s not being done for the wrong reasons, it’s just a means of establishing healthy boundaries and taking back the agency to find an identity beyond the office walls.

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