Nicky Hutchinson is a Employability and Careers Consultant based on our Penryn Campus.

To use AI or not to use AI, that is the question…

I met a student about 3 months ago who is applying for graduate schemes.  They said they were using AI to generate all their cover letters and CVs.  What an ingenious, time-saving way of creating a cover letter and CV content so that it’s tailored to a job role.  There is a ‘but’ coming and it’s massive…

BUT what this student didn’t know, is that thousands upon thousands of other students are doing it too.  So as employers are receiving job applications written by the same systems it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they sound exactly the same. There are many phrases which are used which become complete giveaways that AI has been used; it stands out a mile off. 

‘Rather than standing out from the crowd, candidates are fading into the background with heartless, soul-less cloned applications which don’t create an emotional response. ‘

On the face of it, when we use a tool like Chat GPT, it writes a cover letter which is so articulate and perfect in just seconds.  It appears far more impressive than anything we could have conjured up ourselves and certainly not in that timeframe.  But set that apparent ‘brilliance’ alongside 50+ other letters that look very similar bar the odd word or personal detail, and it has the opposite effect.  Rather than standing out from the crowd, candidates are fading into the background with heartless, soul-less cloned applications which don’t create an emotional response. 

Whilst we don’t like the idea that our job applications will be sifted by AI in place of a human being during the recruitment process, employers don’t like it when they feel that their candidates are so casual about their application, they got AI to write it for them either.  Employers, when they are recruiting, want to feel like candidates are demonstrating passion and enthusiasm for their organisation and/or their team.  They want to see a candidate demonstrating that this job opportunity is ‘the’ role for them rather than just ‘a’ role.  Employers have a personal stake in their staff and teams; seeing yet another ‘Chat GPT’ application will doubtless give the opposite impression when they see those common phrases crop up. 

A friendly looking robot smiling in front of a brick and wood wall
AI can quickly create a cover letter that seems totally unique, but is actually totally generic

Glenn Matchett, Managing Director of Grammatik Agency posted this on LinkedIn ‘Geez – I’m shocked/not shocked at the number of candidates who think it’s fine to bang out a job application letter using #ChatGPT. We’re currently #hiring…  and I’m already having to sift out those who can’t be *!*!d to do it themselves. Or at least spend 30 seconds to jig it round a bit so every sentence isn’t the same as others chancing their arm the same way…We love tech at Grammatik and #AI tools will have a very welcome place. But human abdication is not on the cards for us and is a race to the bottom imo….’

At the same time, employers are now wondering what they need to do to revisit the application process which we may see changing as larger employers begin pioneering new approaches to talent acquisition.  In the meantime, remember that 85% of the job market for graduates is made up of Graduate Jobs – not Graduate Scheme opportunities.  Many of these jobs sit within small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and ‘who’ they employ is still very personal, just as they have a human selecting interviewees. 

There are two approaches to making job applications.  One of them historically sees significantly more success than the other.  The first is what I call a ‘Spray and Pray’ where you fling out the same CV and slightly edited cover letter for each role you apply for.  This requires a lot of applications, but if you flick enough mud at a wall, some of it is likely to stick, right?  If you want to place your career choices entirely into the realm of ‘chance’ then carry on!  I would argue that using Chat GPT and other generative AI to create job applications is just a quicker way of spraying and praying.  I believe it will leave you doing more applications overall, feeling more rejected and as Glenn Matchett said, put you in ‘a race to the bottom’.

The second ‘quality’ approach remains one where you look at the requirements for a job, research the organisation and spend time planning your application so that it meets the needs of the employer.  Then you invest more time and effort in crafting a tailored CV, cover letter and/or application form to meet these needs.  This is the ‘Decide, Plan, Compete’ approach advocated by the University of Exeter’s Career Zone.  The application should be crafted and written with passion and a heart-felt approach.  Why?  Because this is flattering to an employer.  It has always stood out to employers as demonstrating enthusiasm and commercial awareness in addition to your ability.  They will be more convinced that you really want their role and will get more of a sense of you as an individual.  It might be harder to take the hit of rejection when you have put more effort into an application, but set against the backdrop of a pile of cloned-AI applications, this approach is much more likely to secure a positive response.  You can look back on an application, feeling as though there was nothing more you could have done which is a whole-hearted  and more satisfying approach all round.  

‘You are unique. You are special.  There is a place for you.  An employer out there will see you as their perfect fit and vice versa.  Most employers are embracing AI; employers will be looking for you to demonstrate that you can use these valuable tools and resources. 

You are unique.  You are special.  There is a place for you.  An employer out there will see you as their perfect fit and vice versa.  Most employers are embracing AI; employers will be looking for you to demonstrate that you can use these valuable tools and resources.  But not at the expense of being human and having your own thoughts, ideas, approaches and personality.

If I asked you to consider your response to these questions, what would they be?

  • If you were an employer, how would you feel about getting an application that was written by a robot?  What would that make you think and feel about an applicant?
  • Would you feel comfortable allowing a robot to represent and speak for you?
  • Do you want to invest time writing an application which is heart-felt, genuine and shows off what you can offer, and that demonstrates you really want the job?  If not, is it even worth going for?

Second, there is the question of using AI to trick other systems in using it to respond to aptitude and psychometric tests, commonly used as an early sift of candidates.  The jury is still out on how employers will respond to this over time as they grapple with how big an issue it is for them and how to level the playing field.  If you want an opinion, I think this is cheating as it is not a true reflection of your skill or ability.  If you ever feel compelled to do this, even if it’s to secure you your dream job, I would advise steering well clear.  Honesty is the best policy.  Lying in a job application is usually gross misconduct and a reason to dismiss someone.   Personally, I would never want to secure a job role and always be worried I might get ‘found out’.   

Here are 5 top tips on creating outstanding job applications in an AI market place:

  1. Ask yourself ‘Why am I applying for this job?’ and ‘What is it about this organisation or role that is lighting my enthusiasm?’.  Note your responses.  Make sure you get these across in your application.
  2. Spend time creating a ‘Transferrable Skills Matrix’ before you write your application to create a framework which will help you match up and demonstrate the skills, strengths and relevant experiences the employer is looking for.  Make sure, as you write your application, you cover all of these things off, using your best examples in your CV, cover letter and/or application form.
  3. If you use Chat GPT or other generative AI tool to help you write a CV or cover letter, think of it as just that; a helper or ‘co-pilot’ rather than your complete applications solution.  Think of the outputs as the start of your tailoring process as opposed to the finished article.  Programme the inputs carefully to ensure they reflect some of your unique qualities.
  4. Read through your application and edit it to ensure that phrases sound like you have said or written them.  AI only has a limited number of ways of saying things, unlike you.  Check your letter has not used American English – some employers still object to this.  
  5. Inject personality into applications by ensuring that you include nouns, adjectives and strengths that sum ‘you’ up that an AI tool cannot know or replicate about you.  

In summary, the key message here is that recruitment remains a human process on both sides.  No generative AI tool can create the personal touch that only you can inject into your applications.  In a world where more people are using AI to write their applications, focussing on ensuring each one is tailored carefully to match your personal strengths, qualities, skills, experiences and motivations is key to giving yourself the best chances.