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More companies are using AI to find and screen job candidates – here’s what job seekers need to know

  • Public scrutiny and new regulation are rapidly changing how AI is used for hiring.
  • Experts say AI hiring systems are overcoming a reputation for discriminating against some candidates.
  • There is no shortcut to nailing AI interviews, experts say, but there are key things to know. 
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The artificial intelligence tools that companies use for hiring have changed dramatically in the past year, due to public scrutiny and new oversight. Getting a job – especially remotely – may hinge on job-seekers understanding the new approaches, experts say.

AI can quickly sort resumes, evaluate responses to written questions, and search for certain qualifications, cutting through hours of drudgery for hiring managers who can focus more on live video or in-person interviews. But AI can also incorporate a company’s biases – especially its unconscious biases – into its algorithms, and end up automatically favoring or ruling out people with certain traits or characteristics.

In one infamous case, it came out that one AI hiring tool specifically favored candidates named “Jared” who played lacrosse. Amazon, too, had to stop using an AI-powered hiring tool after it was found to be discriminating against women

In the wake of those cases and others like it, the recruiting industry has pivoted, picking up new momentum in the remote work era. Utah startup HireVue announced a new partnership with Microsoft Teams last fall. San Francisco startup Miya Systems was acquired by German HR powerhouse StepStone earlier this month, and Washington startup SeekOut raised a $65 million Series C round in March. 

“Five or six years ago it was the Wild West,” says Mark Girouard, an attorney from Nilan Johnson Lewis with expertise in employment law, and the expert who first discovered the tool with the “Jared” bias. “There has been a huge shift in this space.”

Experts say the new focus means any applicant has a right to know if AI is being used in their interview processes, and any company should prioritize transparency in their use of AI for hiring. Companies also have new legal incentives to disclose their practices, with a law in place in Illinois, one being considered in New York City, and federal employment laws being applied to AI and hiring. 

“There’s a real focus on compliance now,” Girouard says. “The law has come to town.”  

Those investing in the space are bullish that, done properly, AI can help job-seekers, rather than work against them. Companies such as IBM are embracing AI that helps prevent humans’ unconscious bias. Fintech companies are doing the same. 

“When effectively designed, AI can flag gender, age, and ethnicity-biased language,” said Elizebeth Varghese, global leader of Talent and HR Reinvention Strategy Client Services at IBM Global Business Services. “This can help improve fairness and infuse inclusion throughout the talent lifecycle, like reducing bias in a company’s candidate screening processes.”

Insider spoke with experts who explain how AI can help improve the hiring process — and give their best advice for job seekers on how to nail the process when an algorithm is involved.

AI can actually help job candidates who might otherwise slip through the cracks

Candidates who are better in-person than on paper can take some solace in knowing that AI might actually give them a better chance than an all-human process, experts tell Insider. Human staffs often never processes a whole stack of resumes, says Girouard. “You can give the human raters data they might not ever receive otherwise.” 

IBM research from last year found that was true. Companies that invested in AI for hiring were able to move through menial hiring tasks like sorting resumes much faster, giving human interviews a priority. That can also make for a more diverse and inclusive pipeline of candidates, the company found.

In one key example of how the use of AI for hiring is changing, HireVue, an artificial intelligence company that makes software some 700 companies use to hire people, pulled the plug on a facial analysis video tool in January of 2020 after public scrutiny.

“We were very confident in the science, but the level of concern that it was creating wasn’t was disproportionate to the value,” Kevin Parker, the company’s CEO, told Insider. As a result, the company dropped all its facial analysis tools in favor of natural language processing and other AI that evaluates candidates’ credentials and what they say in interviews. 

There’s no magic formula to ‘game the system’

For job-seekers, Girouard said there is no magic formula for scoring well with HR hiring tools, and he dreads seeing tips like “here’s how you can game the system for AI hiring.”  

“I worry that if people try to overthink and game the system it’s probably not going to help them because it’s really guesswork in terms of what characteristics the tools are looking for.”

Kerry Goyette, founder and president of Aperio Consulting Group, which uses workplace analytics to help HR teams, agrees. “Candidates can trip themselves up,” Goyette says. 

Instead, experts advise job-seekers to ask questions about how AI may be used in their interviews and applications. The new focus on transparency may give applicants real insights and advantages.  

Parker, the HireVue CEO, said his clients often allow applicants to make multiple recordings of their answers to questions that are processed by AI to evaluate their answers. Job-seekers can practice with the software, and re-do efforts they don’t like. 

Goyette, the hiring consultant, says candidates should know their strengths and weaknesses, and compensate for them in written and oral interviews assessed by algorithms. 

“AI is looking for patterns,” she says. If candidates know they have a tendency to speak, write, or present themselves in a certain way, they should compensate for that. “Introverts need to learn to sell themselves more and express confidence.” 

In remote interviews, extroverts may feel like their hands are tied when they’re going through a hiring process that involves AI, especially if it is online, says Goyette, the hiring consultant. “They’re good at reading body language of their audience, working the room, and they won’t have those cues. They need to prepare and not try to wing it” as they might with a traditional in-person meeting. Those candidates, unable to rely as much on their charisma in machine-graded tests, can stress key qualities the companies might have specified in job postings.

Goyette said companies might not even understand what their own algorithms are looking for. She said she has clients who tell her they hire extroverts – “but that was just what they thought. The truth was their top sales people were extroverts when they were on sales calls. They might have interviewed very differently.” 

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