What job applicants need to know about AI in hiring

A man talking on a video call on his laptop

(shironosov/piscpree)

Artificial intelligence is not just about self-driving cars and Silicon Valley. AI has found its way into nearly every job — and even into landing that job in the first place. Artificially intelligent programs now routinely screen job applications, often before a human hiring manager ever sees a single resume. Companies are also increasingly turning to AI job interviews, a kind of recorded interview that can screen for job knowledge and even analyze body language.

At the end of the day, the same skills that work for the traditional hiring process can be applied to this brave new world. Here are some simple tips on how to sail through the AI systems so you can land your dream job.

Write for the computer — and the human

Employers are increasingly using AI systems to help with screening and sifting through job applications, leaning most heavily on tools known as applicant tracking systems, or ATS. An ATS can automatically compare resumes against the job description and rank candidates based on how well it thinks they fit the qualifications.

That filtering process mostly boils down to how well the software thinks your resume lines up with keywords it notices in the job description or that the hiring manager asked it to search for.

So, how do you spot those key phrases to make an ATS friendly resume?

“The biggest thing is using the job description as a guide,” said Sara Gould, senior assistant director for career engagement at the University of Florida’s Career Connections Center. “Go through it old school with a highlighter, find the language they’re using in their document and then apply that to yours.”

Zero in on required certifications or skills before worrying about “preferred” qualifications. Look for words or phrases that are repeated or meaningful in the industry. See how your background and skills can be shared using this language.

Formatting is also key. If the application specifies what kind of document to submit, follow those directions closely. Typically, a plain Word document or PDF is safe. Fancy graphics or complex columns might confuse the machine reader, so stick to a straightforward layout. Most hiring managers are interested in the substance, rather than the style, of a resume, anyway.

And don’t make the mistake of trying to outsmart the machine. Tricks like posting the entire job description into the resume in invisible white text will get you noticed, but not in a good way. “Those things can be flagged as an anomaly,” Gould said. “It’s a machine learning system, so they’re learning those tricks, too.”

Employers who see these warnings on your application will know you’ve tried to game the system.

But never forget that your goal is to impress the human behind the AI. Avoid robotic lists of keywords. Try to seamlessly weave in the most important qualifications, skills and key phrases into normal language so your own humanity shines through.

Resume keyword scanners also make the personal touch as important as ever.

“Don’t let them stop you from networking, following up, reaching out,” Gould said. “There’s still a person there.”

AI interviews: dos and don’ts

Also known as recorded interviews, AI interviews are an increasingly common screening tool. They typically ask applicants to record themselves answering timed interview questions. AI interviews may also include skills tests, where applicants have to demonstrate field-specific knowledge or answer questions designed to test for critical thinking. While basic programs might just send recordings to hiring managers, the most sophisticated ones can analyze responses, tone, even facial expressions and eye contact.

“Some companies consider the virtual interview the new resume,” said Ja’Net Glover, director of career services at UF.

As part of the transition to skills-based hiring, these virtual interviews and skills tests can help employers find good fits early in the process.

That may sound intimidating, but preparing for an AI interview is similar to how to prepare for an interview in person or over video with a human.

“Ask the employer you’re interviewing with what to expect during the process,”  Glover said. If you learn what software they are using, look up the program’s website and research how it works. You can even use similar tools to practice. Both Google and LinkedIn offer machine-learning-based interview prep.

In addition to doing your research, take the AI interview as seriously as you would any other. Dress appropriately for the job. Find a quiet, well-lit room to record your responses. Imagine you’re speaking with a live interviewer and behave the same way: warm and professional, without a lot of fidgeting.

One advantage in favor of job applicants? They’ll be on their home turf.

“Candidates can control a lot of factors that in a standard interview they wouldn’t have control over,” Glover said. That gives job seekers the chance to practice in the environment they’ll have to perform in. And practice is always the key to a good interview.

“The more they practice, the more it’ll help them feel confident and prepared,” Glover said.

Resources available

UF’s Career Connections Center helps prepare students for navigating the AI-enabled hiring process through instruction, practice and feedback from career counselors.

Starting in the fall 2022 semester, the career center will also provide access to Quinncia, a new machine-learning-driven interview prep tool that provides tailored feedback on resumes and interviews for AI-driven job searches. Just like resume reviews and practice interviews with human coaches — which will always be a good idea — practicing with the kinds of AI software that UF students will encounter can give them a leg up on the competition.

Career coaches also constantly educate other staff and faculty on campus about the evolving use of technology in the hiring process. And they work with employers to identify trends in AI tools to prepare students for what’s on the horizon.

“This technology will continue to evolve,”Glover said. “It’s not going anywhere.”

Eric Hamilton August 10, 2022