How can employers manage candidate use of AI in job applications?

Rather than banning the use of AI completely when it comes to recruitment, employers should provide guidance to candidates on using ChatGPT in the application process, experts tell Lucie Mitchell.

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AI in the recruitment process is now widely used by both recruiters and job applicants, with an increasing number of jobseekers are turning to generative AI platforms like ChatGPT for help with writing cover letters, fine-tuning CVs, or completing application forms. This is raising concerns amongst employers, who are keen to ensure they recruit the right person for the job whilst preserving the integrity of the hiring process.

Some recruiters describe a mismatch between high-quality applications and a poor performance in interviews, while others say they have received a surge in high-quality applications that all look the same, as candidates are using the same AI tools for their applications.

Further research by Arctic Shores found that 72% of candidates regularly use some form of generative AI, while a fifth are using it to help them complete assessments or job applications. However a 2024 survey by Resume Genius shows that over half of hiring managers viewed AI-generated CVs as a red flag, with 20% describing it as a key issue which could prevent them from hiring a candidate.

The benefits

Some employers have decided to ban the use of GenAI tools in the recruitment process, but could this be like trying to put the genie back in the bottle?Instead, perhaps employers need to recognise that there are benefits for candidates who use AI tools when applying for jobs, and that the best course of action is to adapt their selection process to reflect the current recruitment landscape.

“AI is a great time-saving tool,” explains Alastair Brown, CTO at BrightHR. “It’s important to empathise with candidates who are being asked to write a unique cover letter for each position they apply for, with many employers wanting personalised CVs to boot. Job hunting can be a stressful, time-consuming process, and AI puts some power back into the hands of the employee in terms of managing that time.”

Use of AI in the recruitment process can also make some positions more accessible, he adds. “Sometimes a cover letter is not the best measure of how well someone can do a job. For people from non-native English-speaking backgrounds, or those with neurodivergences, AI can help them to overcome the barriers to work that exist.”

The drawbacks

Of course, there are some drawbacks to using AI in job applications, and employers must be aware of these so that they can ensure candidate quality remains high.

“AI can create mistakes in terms of grammar and repetition and even state inaccuracies as facts,” says Brown. “This particularly relates to qualifications and experience, where AI can turn ambiguity into embarrassingly false information.”

There can also be a lack of personalisation in job applications from candidates that have used AI, meaning they often look very similar.

“Employers should be aware of clunky, unnatural phrases and sentence structure in cover letters, applications and CVs, as well as American spellings, which can be indicate AI use.” advises Victoria McLean, CEO & founder of City CV. “As AI tools are becoming more sophisticated at replicating natural language patterns, it’s even more important to stay vigilant and seek out authenticity.”

Employer best practice

What is the best way for employers to manage candidates’ use of AI in their job applications?. “Recruiters need to adapt, or risk being left behind,” warns Brown.

“While AI can assist with many tasks, it can fall short in areas requiring real-world problem solving skills, teamwork and ethical decision-making. By tailoring assessments to include exercises which simulate real-world challenges, introducing group discussions to assess teamwork and collaboration, or simulating ethical dilemmas to evaluate candidates’ decision making skills, employers can maintain human involvement throughout the hiring process and utilise methods that can’t be manipulated,” he adds.

McLean believes it’s important for employers to be clear and upfront about AI: “This means recognising its widespread use but also advising candidates on what is acceptable during the application process and what isn’t.”

There is also another way of thinking about it, she adds: “If candidates have shown they can customise AI and use it effectively, isn’t this a skill in itself? Workplaces are integrating more AI to save time and resources and reduce the risk of errors and inaccuracies, so why take it out of the recruitment process when it’s increasingly present within the rest of the business?”.

Educating candidates

Rather than banning the use of AI completely, maybe employers need to focus on providing guidance to candidates on using ChatGPT in the application process. “Transparency about what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to the use of AI is now a key part of the on-boarding process for many businesses,” comments Mark Standen, director of technology at UK recruiter S&You.

“Establishing a policy on the use of AI from the outset means that employers can empower candidates to use technologies like Chat GPT effectively during the application process and help promote the best outcome for all. This includes setting guidelines for candidates on best practice around the use of keywords, formatting and customisation, providing in-depth feedback on individual applications and sharing success stories of how AI has worked well previously.”

Brown adds that advice should not necessarily be given just on the use of AI, but specifically to what extent AI should be used. “If AI is used by a job seeker to create an entire application, then clearly that is abuse of the tool, and shows a lack of moderation and trust in their own abilities. This should be advised against.”

Risk of exclusion

Finally, employers need to take steps to mitigate the risk that AI may be preventing them from accessing under-represented groups or selecting the best applicants, to ensure that they are not missing out on key talent.

“When there is huge competition for the same role, standing out is even more important, and that’s where talented, maverick candidates – who may give unconventional responses that may not fit the AI data criteria – could be missed or penalised,” remarks McLean. “As well as this being disheartening for them it is also a concern for the employer, who could unknowingly overlook a great candidate. Now that AI is involved [in recruitment], retaining human involvement is even more important to check that great applications don’t go under the radar.”

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