AI in job applications: the arguments for and against

In today’s competitive jobs market, many job hunters are using AI to bulk out applications. What do hiring managers think? Can you really automate a CV?

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

From data privacy, to tech layoffs, there are few industries where artificial intelligence hasn’t caused consternation. Now, it’s the turn of the recruitment sector, as hiring managers battle it out over the latest hot topic: should job seekers be allowed to apply to a job using AI?

Across the country, candidates are employing free generative AI tools, like ChatGPT, as their own personal job coach. With just a simple prompt, the tools will write out their resumes and cover letters, research interview questions, and draft email messages in mere seconds.

Clearly, there are benefits aplenty for the candidate. Hiring managers, however, are less enthused. The sudden upswing in AI usage has caught many off guard, with several of the biggest advantages and drawbacks yet to be uncovered.

We spoke to various HR experts about the conundrum, each of whom hold different views about the role of AI in job applications. Below, we’ll explore each line of reasoning to see if ChatGPT belongs in today’s interview room.

The arguments for

Supporters of AI in recruitment present a wide-range of arguments to back their claims. Largely, most of the people we spoke to said the adoption of the technology was inevitable. They contend it should be mined for its significant opportunities and growth potential.

“AI removes bias in the application process”

One recurring compliment given to AI was its ability to remove bias within the hiring process. Robot recruiters, supporters say, are blind to demographics and can appraise a candidate without human prejudices.

This might be too bold a claim. After all, the software can only be as impartial as the data it is trained on, and there are plenty of examples of AI recruiting tools that have been swayed towards certain groups. Statistical bias is still a threat.

The technology is more defensible, however, when it comes to applications. Specifically, the idea of accessibility. Generative AI tools, like ChatGPT, can assist people who don’t have the type of personality skills commonly relied upon to wow in an interview.

Richard Collins is cofounder of CV Wallet, a career management app. He praises the democratisation of AI tools as a positive step towards fairer hiring practices.

“Traditional application processes have been biased towards native speakers and those from certain educational backgrounds” he argues. “Someone’s ability to write a cover letter is no indicator of their ability to do the job. With AI, we can focus on a candidate’s true potential.”

“It shows smart thinking”

It might be tempting to view the use of AI as an example of laziness from the candidate. After all, why can’t they just write a cover letter themselves? However, this argument is a bit like asking why the inventor of the typewriter couldn’t just write by hand.

Technology is constantly coming up with new ways to disrupt our traditional way of working by helping us to do things faster and more efficiently. Proponents of AI ask: shouldn’t we be congratulating those that are smart enough to take advantage of it?

Charlotte is a 25 year old job seeker. She says she has been using ChatGPT to help create a large volume of cover letters at speed. According to her, this approach is evidence of lateral thinking, not laziness.

“Engaging with the latest technology to streamline repetitive tasks shows good time management and an openness to changing work style,” she argues. “It also makes sure you're hitting all the key job requirements recruiters are looking for.”

Collins agrees. He admits that CV Wallet recently hired a candidate who gave a presentation written by AI during the interview process.

“They were honest about it, and we found it quite intriguing,” he recalls. “We ended up hiring them because we value their honesty, and we believe that using AI could make them more productive in their role.”

“Hirers are using it already”

The use of AI in job submissions might have caught some recruiters unawares. But it is hardly a new addition to the industry. Tons of innovative startups have cropped up in the past few years to supercharge company hiring practices.

Take the recruitment platform, Gigged.ai. Deployed in the early stages of the application process, it uses machine learning to capture information from hundreds of documents at a glance. Inarguably, this is making the process much smoother for the employer.

Given the high volume of work required to apply to a job, AI can prevent applicants from spending hours labouring on a submission that might not bear career fruit. So are they simply playing catch up with their potential employers?

Charlotte says she started using AI after writing several cover letters from scratch, but then hearing nothing back. “It felt like a complete waste of time to have dedicated a couple of hours to never even receiving an email of rejection,” she says.

As a result of her efforts, she’s had more reward than pushback. “I’ve been called back for more follow ups and interviews as I’ve been able to complete applications faster,” she divulges.

The arguments against

Startups has reported on the ‘AI skills gap’, referring to the disconnect between the availability of AI software and jobs-ready talent.

Most of the arguments against allowing AI to apply to a job posting revolved around misapplication, as individuals and businesses struggle to get to grips with the technology.

“Information could be inaccurate”

One big concern for recruiters when it comes to the use of AI to apply for jobs is the phenomenon of hallucinations. This is when an AI tool generates false or misleading information.

Since many people already include some white lies in their CVs, there is a risk that AI could worsen the problem by creating exaggerated skills and qualifications.

Collins admits this could create challenges for employers looking for the right candidates. He proposes that, to tackle the problem, managers must be educated on proper verification techniques during the selection process.

“Job applicants need to show their CVs are accurate and authentic to improve their chances, and employers need access to a complete overview of the verified elements such as identity, right to work, skills, qualifications, and experience,” he sets out.

“If we provide jobseekers with an easy way to verify their credentials, this can minimise the impact of hallucinations, as employers will have already confirmed the candidate’s authenticity before the interview stage.”

“AI applications sound the same”

Artificial intelligence so far lacks human agency and creativity. If every applicant is using the same platform, they will no doubt struggle to stand out amidst a sea of uniform, automated responses.

Neil Armstrong is Chief Commercial Officer at Tribepad, a recruitment tech company. Armstrong echoes the belief that using AI too much could result in a boring application.

“If the company receives 100 emails that all sound the same, and one that shows a real passion and flair, who do you think they will choose?” he questions.

Armstrong says that recruiters will be looking out for job seekers who are using ChatGPT to ‘fake’ interview answers, work histories, or test results. He says applicants should review and personalise anything produced by generative AI to ensure it sounds 100% human.

“ChatGPT can save time, but it’s not a reliable tool,” he adds. “Rather than just use it blind, candidates should use critical thinking to question the output and elaborate and enhance to add personality, nuance and create bespoke tailoring.”

If you think this seems obvious – think again. One recruiter we spoke to told us about an applicant who had pasted ‘generated by ChatGPT’ into their submission in error.

“Companies might hire the wrong candidate”

When it comes to AI in recruitment, the biggest threat to small business owners is that its adherents might use it to win a job they are unsuitable for.

There is no guarantee that an AI tool will accurately assess a job seeker’s suitability for a role. Businesses risk wasting time and money on onboarding and employing an individual who is wrong for the role; potentially leading to hiring regret for the employer.

Similarly, a company could just as easily miss out on identifying the correct candidate amongst a pool of brilliant, but ultimately fictional, contenders.

Ian Nicholas is Global Managing Director at Reed. Nicholas warns that if interviewees do not factcheck AI responses, companies may end up issuing incorrect job rejections. This could cause them to miss out on qualified talent during an already disastrous labour shortage.

“The AI may outline experiences which the candidate may not truly have, or it could easily undersell them,” he expands. “With more and more people using AI to help build their CV, users must be aware of best practices.”

Does the job application process need updating?

We’ve weighed the pros and cons of wielding AI to apply to a job. In truth, there is little that recruiters can do to stop the freewheeling artificial intelligence bandwagon. But this could be an opportunity to steer it in another direction.

Indeed, Charlotte says recruiters who oppose the use of AI for job applications should adapt or be left behind. “If they don’t want people to use ChatGPT it might be time to update the application process for jobs and ask questions that AI can’t help with,” she shrugs.

She might have a point. We’ve highlighted the mistakes and outdated practices that today’s managers commonly make during the hiring process. Many, such as ghosting applicants or setting overly-long assessment tasks, could be behind AI’s surging popularity.

Bosses should use the advent of AI to audit their own talent strategy. Do your questions invite unique responses? Are you properly vetting a candidate’s CV? Blindly embracing AI is not the answer here, but neither is rejecting it outright.

That ChatGPT is now an open tab on job seekers’ laptops proves the market is adapting. It’s time for business owners to do the same.

More on this: uncover how AI can help you manage the hiring pipeline with our guide to using AI in project management.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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