Through job-matching platforms and AI-powered games and interviews, companies are relying more and more on artificial intelligence to streamline the hiring process. But some job seekers feel frustrated and misunderstood by these technologies.
Malika Devaux is a student at the HOPE Program, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that provides job training. Devaux is looking for a job, and we asked her to complete a trial of a 90-second personality test, which assesses candidates on the Big Five personality traits.
Her results indicated that she was pragmatic and carefree, but Devaux didn’t agree with the AI’s read on her personality. And she found the test confusing. “I think [this test] would have made me lose a chance to have this position or an opportunity finally where I can shine,” she says.
So how can you make the algorithms work in your favor when you apply for your next job?
In the latest episode of MIT Technology Review’s podcast “In Machines We Trust,” we asked career and job-matching experts for practical tips on how to succeed in a job market increasingly influenced by artificial intelligence.
Ditch conventional advice about résumés. Instead of choosing a unique design or color scheme and including robust job descriptions, focus on making it as simple and straightforward as possible, says Ian Siegel, cofounder and CEO of ZipRecruiter.
“Conventional wisdom will kill you in your search for a job,” Siegel says. “You want the simplest, most boring résumé template you can find. You want to write like a caveman in the shortest, crispest words you can.”
In most cases, when candidates apply for jobs their résumés will first be processed by an automated applicant tracking system (ATS), Siegel says. To increase your chances of advancing to an interview, you should submit a résumé that the AI will interpret accurately.
Use short, descriptive sentences to help an AI parse your résumé, Siegel says. Clearly list your skills. If possible, include details about where you learned them and how long you’ve used them, plus any licensing or certification numbers that verify your expertise. “You want to be declarative and quantitative, because software is trying to figure out who you are and decide whether you will be put in front of a human,” he says.
And don’t be discouraged from applying to jobs that require more experience than you have, as long as you meet some of the qualifications in the job description.
“If you have any of the skills listed, I want you to apply to it,” Siegel says. “Let the algorithms decide whether or not you’re a great match, and they will sort you to the top or bottom.”
Create multiple versions of your résumé. Once you streamline your résumé for an AI, you may worry that you’ve damaged its flow and readability. So prepare another version for human review, says Gracy Sarkissian, the interim executive director of New York University’s Career Center.
“Some students tell me, ‘I did what you guys told me to do. I made sure that my résumé was filled with keywords. And now it sounds kind of like a cheesy marketing document,’” Sarkissian says. She tells them to make another one, with a personalized design and format, to send by email or to hand to hiring managers at an interview.
You should also modify your résumé to reflect the description of each job to which you apply, Sarkissian says. Each job posting contains keywords that a prospective employer’s ATS is likely using to prioritize candidates. Choose a few that are appropriate to your experience and sprinkle them throughout your résumé.
Test your résumé with an AI. Upload your résumé and the description of the job you’re applying for to an automated résumé checker like Jobscan. Jobscan will score how well it matches the job description, to help you optimize it for each prospective employer’s ATS. Creating an account on Jobscan is free, and the basic tier of membership offers two match-rate calculations per month.
VMock also provides software to universities and other institutions that issues feedback on users’ résumés by highlighting inconsistent dates and simplifying descriptions of previous roles that aren’t as relevant to the one for which they’re applying.
VMock’s algorithm helps users identify transferable skills as well. The program will say, “Here is something else you did, but that translates into the soft skills that recruiters are looking for,” says Kiran Pande, cofounder and head of products at VMock. “You have communication skills; it’s not necessarily marketing oriented, but you do have good communication skills. You did other things that developed your communication skills. Write about those too.”
Practice makes perfect. Why not use AI to help you prepare for your interview with an AI? Several companies, including VMock, offer tools to help job seekers prepare for virtual interviews.
Interview Stream will ask you questions via webcam and allow you to record and review your responses. The platform offers a 30-day free trial to individual users and is also available through some institutions. Big Interview uses AI to coach users on their interview responses. It offers three packages for individuals, priced at $79 for one month, $149 for three months, and $249 for six months.
The HOPE Program uses a platform called Talk Hiring, which includes 10-minute mock interviews consisting of five questions each. Talk Hiring scores interviewees on their responses, taking into account factors such whether their answers contained a problem, action, and result, as well as the pace and volume of their voice. The platform offers free trial accounts for individual users and partners with organizations for $18 per user per year.
Several AI interview services, like HireVue, Retorio, and Yobs, also let you test out their platforms before your scheduled interview. Some will even allow you to view the personality profile they create based on your performance.
“When we’re interviewing with AI, it feels like a stranger, right? It feels like a stranger without a face. It’s a blank screen,” Sarkissian says. But rehearsing on these platforms allows you to become more familiar with the process: “You can practice, and the more you practice, the better you get at these things.”
And the more information you can find about prospective employers’ hiring processes and the assessment tools they rely on, the better. Job seekers can also find user-generated videos on YouTube and elsewhere about how to beat AI-powered games and interviews, though the quality and accuracy of this advice may vary.
Some AI researchers and disability rights advocates are calling for more scrutiny of AI hiring tools, but the technology’s influence on hiring will likely only grow in the years to come. As we learn more about how these tools are built and used, job seekers will have to find new ways to succeed in the age of algorithms.