How to Use AI to Stand Out to Executive Search Consultants

Machine learning technology tools like ChatGPT can make some parts of the job application process less painful, but the most important steps in a job search still involve human interaction. In a new report, Kay Francoeur of ECA Partners offers some suggestions for job seekers to make AI work for them.

June 9, 2023 – Emerging generative AI tech like ChatGPT is shifting the global paradigm for data and knowledge creation and changing human-centric industries like executive search in the process. “At ECA Partners, we’re curious about this new horizon and are taking a closer look at how ChatGPT might impact our internal process and the advice we give to candidates and clients,” said Kay Francoeur, project manager at ECA Partners, in a new report. “Speaking from the perspective of executive search, we know that candidates may have a lot of questions about how AI could change their approach to landing a job. Is it appropriate, for example, to ask ChatGPT to help you write a cover letter? What about having it edit your resume, or using it to bone up for potential casing scenarios in interviews?”

Yet, Ms. Francoeur says, robots are increasingly involved in employment processes. “Though we’re fully human-powered at ECA, in many search processes a whopping 75 percent of resumes are now reviewed by AI instead of human evaluators,” she said. “Even so, the most important steps in any job search are still human-to-human interactions. The networking and relationship-building that is often necessary to obtain an interview, for example, and a candidate’s performance once they have an opportunity to showcase their experiences in front of a project manager like me, are human-centric steps that are critical to someone actually landing a job.”

Ms. Francoeur also notes that many people struggle with finding the time to shine up our lackluster, outdated LinkedIn profiles and clunky-sounding resumes to get over the initial hurdle of just being noticeable and desirable in the first place. A fundamental truth is that you will lose 100 percent of the races you don’t – or can’t – enter, she says, and so tools like ChatGPT, in combination with a healthy dose of human reason, can be powerful aids to move one’s job search forward.

Ms. Francoeur offers a few practical suggestions for job seekers looking for ways to make AI work for them:

Resume Revision

Given that AI bots often see resumes first, paring down your writing style to something this technology can easily process might be essential to making sure your application makes it to a human decision maker, according to Ms. Francoeur. “There is little ethical dilemma inherent in having ChatGPT smooth out sentences and provide concise descriptions of your experience as a step toward getting recruiters to notice you,” she said. “A dynamic CV that reads well is important but won’t replace the networking that will ultimately be much more effective in getting you to the interview stage. You will still also have to be able to explain your specific work history and goals in your own words once you’re in the screening process, so it’s hardly like AI is doing the heavy lifting for you once you get past the first (tech-enabled) gatekeepers.”

Ms. Francoeur also says that there’s an important follow-up question, however: If everyone gets into the practice of relying on ChatGPT to draft their CVs, does this document matter increasingly less? Will other aspects of the interview process carry more weight?

LinkedIn Profile

While ECA strongly recommends examining your LinkedIn profile to ensure that your bio and descriptions of your functional expertise reflect your depth of understanding about your field and show some personality as well, having ChatGPT assist with the first draft can break down one common barrier to keeping your profile up-to-date, which is a lack of just making the time to take this all-important step to help search firms find you.

Kay Francoeur is a project manager at ECA. Before that, she earned her PhD in religious studies and gender studies from Indiana University. As a Fulbright and Mellon fellow in India, she researched the intersection of new religious movements with economic and international development policies, tracking the impact of these shifts on women’s access to quality, affordable sexual and reproductive healthcare. Ms. Francoeur also worked alongside several Indian feminist non-profits and international advocacy groups focused on reproductive and maternal health.  

“Another specific way that programs like ChatGPT can help is through keyword optimization,” Ms. Francoeur said. “Asking ChatGPT to help format your bio with certain keywords you know are highly relevant to your field, and/or running your profile text through AI-enabled software like Jobscan can help quickly optimize your profile for the keywords recruiters are looking for. As with resumes, it’s important to review and tweak the AI’s output to make sure that your use of keywords makes sense and narrates the story that you want to tell about your career. Experienced recruiters can tell with a glance whether a potential candidate might actually have the chops needed to be the client’s next CFO or whether they’ve just thrown together a meaningless finance word salad.”

Cover Letters

We all keep hoping the cover letter will die a long overdue death. As ECA founder Atta Tarki recently commented: “Cover letters have been utterly useless for quite some time now.” But if you are asked to submit a letter as part of an application, it’s better to include something rather than risk being taken out of process for not following directions, according to Ms. Francoeur. She notes that outsourcing some of the initial drafting to AI can help candidates get these letters done and dusted in record time.

When is Using AI Problematic in a Job Search?

In executive search, we’re approaching a consensus that it’s OK for candidates to use AI selectively to fine-tune their profiles and jumpstart writing for simple application documents, says Ms. Francoeur. “But when would the use of AI be considered dishonest, and potentially work against a candidate rather than in their favor?” she asked. “If a job application requires a writing sample, asking ChatGPT to generate this is bald plagiarism. The kinds of disciplines that typically require a longer written work in their process are unlikely to look kindly on formulaic AI-driven essays.”

Ms. Francoeur also explains that another way that using generative AI to prepare for a job interview could put a candidate at a disadvantage is if one uses it to memorize potential answers to common casing questions. “It’s one thing to Google examples of potential casing questions before an interview, or ask ChatGPT for examples of the same, to better prepare thoughts on these questions from your own experiences, and quite another to ask ChatGPT to do your analytic thinking for you,” she said. “Creative answers mean a lot in this part of the interview process. Interviewers have heard a lot of generic answers to these questions before and won’t be impressed by something that sounds canned and rehearsed.”

Ms. Francoeur also notes that there’s an interesting tension to consider, since ChatGPT can do much more sophisticated work than spitting out a dozen creative uses for a brick. Depending on the inputs received, it could serve as a decent sounding board for more complex scenarios, perhaps for mock interviews as you might do with a friend.

“In sum, while NLPs like ChatGPT can make some parts of the job application process less painful, ultimately these tools function best when paired with human discernment and as a frame for human personality and emotion that no neural network can (yet) replicate,” said Ms. Francoeur.

Related: ChatGPT’s Future in Recruitment

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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