Students applying for graduate jobs this summer can take advantage of a new personal interview coach. If they send over a specific job description they can receive tailored interview questions and answers — and feedback on their own responses — all for free.

The coach, offered by the job search engine Adzuna, is not human but an artificial intelligence bot known as Prepper. It can generate interview questions for more than 1mn live roles at large companies, in industries ranging from technology and financial services to manufacturing and retail.

For a graduate job in PwC’s actuarial practice, the chatbot spits out questions such as: “What skills do you think an actuarial consultant should have?” and “How would you explain actuarial concepts to a client who is not from a finance background?”. When a user answers a question, Prepper generates a score out of 100, and tells them which parts worked well and what was missing.

Prepper is part of a new wave of chatbots powered by generative AI — from ChatGPT to Bard and Claude. Chatbots are trained on large swaths of text drawn from the internet, including from books, newspapers, blogs, videos and image captions. They can produce plausible and sophisticated text that is largely indistinguishable from human writing.

“In the recent 12-18 months, it’s gone bananas,” says Andrew Hunter, co-founder of Adzuna. “It’s of course very hyped at the moment, but there are lots of clever tools [to aid] recruitment, and help people find jobs more easily.”

AI is not a new tool in hiring and job-seeking. Over the past decade, it has been used primarily to make processes more efficient and cheaper for employers — from searching for key words in CVs, to filtering video interviews of candidates.

But generative AI tools are rebalancing the power dynamic towards applicants. “A lot of the recent improvements we have seen in AI are on the candidate’s side,” says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, an organisational psychologist and expert in hiring technologies. “A few years ago, hirers were pretending to use AI to look cool even if they weren’t. Now they are pretending not to use AI.”

When Chamorro-Premuzic recently tried to hire for a role, he asked a candidate if they had experimented with generative AI. “They said, ‘If it wasn’t for ChatGPT, I wouldn’t be sat in front of you right now.’” Their CV, cover letter and application had all been written by AI.

Chamorro-Premuzic, who respected the honesty and decided it was worth taking on someone who was technologically savvy, hired the person. Others are less enthused, warning AI may signal an end to the traditional job application process.

“Generative AI can create very good profiles — there may be a few mistakes but only the individual will recognise them, not the employer,” says Matt Jones, from the recruitment technology company Cielo. “This raises the question about the relevance of reviewing CVs, cover letters and applications, particularly at the early career stage. I wonder if this is the death knell of the CV.”

For graduates in an increasingly competitive job market, chatbots are a way to cope with a potentially overwhelming process. Ayushman Nath, a second-year undergraduate at the University of Cambridge, says many of his peers have played with ChatGPT, the public chatbot released by the Microsoft-backed OpenAI, asking it to write cover letters for specific companies. He knows people who have advanced through early rounds or secured internships using ChatGPT-written cover letters and applications.

“From what I’ve experienced, it’s good at jumping through the initial barriers. The initial filtering rounds are unpersonalised, they feel very remote and dehumanised. Everything is so automated,” Nath says of today’s recruitment processes.

Nath and his peers have also been subject to automated video interviews run by recruitment technology providers such as HireVue, which records applicants answering pre-determined questions, usually with a time limit for each answer. The recordings are sometimes watched by the employer’s hiring managers; or the platform’s AI algorithms will assess each candidate’s performance, looking for various keywords from the job description.

The company has not launched any generative AI products yet, but its chief data scientist, Lindsey Zuloaga, says her team is testing tools such as interview prep chatbots and new ways to draw information from video interviews. “These systems are powerful, but can also be wrong. How can we implement it with care and an ethical focus?” she says.

Grace Lordan, an economist at the London School of Economics and director of The Inclusion Initiative, which studies diversity in corporate settings, says companies, particularly technology groups, are experimenting with generative AI to conduct initial interviews.

“One of the biggest areas of bias is actually the interview,” she says. “This is when people’s affinity bias, or representative bias, which means choosing people who look like others in the organisation, comes in.”

AI-conducted interviews could go some way to removing that bias, she says. “Generative AI is quite convincing as an avatar. Using AI as another serious data point will allow pushback from the machines [against human bias].”

More employers are also using new assessment methods to broaden the pool of candidates they hire from, amid a global skills and labour shortage and as they push to improve diversity. Automated systems designed for hiring a more diverse workforce can find candidates who may otherwise be overlooked due to health issues, gaps in employment or because they lack a degree or are from a non-traditional background.

But although ChatGPT is a useful starting point for a cover letter or for learning the background of a potential employer, recruiters say it is not a replacement for writing an application yourself.

Nath, the Cambridge university student, says: “Companies are looking for a relationship with people there, like reaching out to somebody at the firm or a nugget of information that isn’t on the website. And these things can only be cultivated by personal interactions, not AI models.”

Hunter, of Adzuna, agrees: “The caution I would give to jobseekers is that AI can act as a good co-pilot but don’t let the tech try and do it all for you . . . It’s very nascent tech, it will spit out cookie-cutter answers. If you let the initial interactions with the employer be fully run by AI, then you aren’t going to be able to do the job.”

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