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Will Employers Be Fooled by Bots That Apply for Jobs?

As generative AI-powered bots become plentiful, employers must be vigilant about nonhuman applicants.


A woman sitting at a desk looking at her laptop.

​In a sign of the rapidly evolving tech environment, Forrester Research envisions at least one high-profile company hiring a nonexistent job candidate in 2024.

This prediction could prompt plenty of handwringing about artificial intelligence among HR professionals. "Use of bots and generative AI by candidates will require recruiters to employ retaliatory, protective AI in response," Forrester warns in a new report.

J.P. Gownder, vice president and principal future-of-work analyst at Forrester, outlines two AI scenarios that might cause an employer to hire a nonexistent employee.

Use of Generative AI Software by Recruiters

Gownder said generative AI software embraced by recruiters is capable of "hallucinating"—presenting false or misleading information due to a lack of accurate data.

"Imagine if a recruiter queries the system to ask which candidate fulfills parameter X best and the system makes up a candidate altogether, and they have few safeguards in place. They extend an offer, but there's nobody to extend it to," he said.

Boston Consulting Group explained that HR professionals are increasingly adopting generative AI, which the firm said "can create content from disparate sources and quickly summarize multiple data sets." Consulting giant McKinsey & Co. identified recruiting, performance management and chatbot-enabled professional growth as some of the areas where HR professionals are incorporating generative AI into their operations.

Use of Generative AI Software by Applicants

The Forrester report noted that generative AI can allow a candidate to apply to dozens, hundreds or thousands of jobs in an automated fashion. In this case, generative AI also can "hallucinate," Gownder said, producing a "nearly unrecognizable" application compared with a submission from a candidate who didn't employ generative AI.

The AI-using candidate "doesn't realize their resume was so mismatched," he said, "and gets hired under false pretenses."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Using Artificial Intelligence for Employment Purposes]

Avoiding AI Hiring Missteps

HR consultant Theresa Fesinstine, whose specialties include AI, said the Forrester prediction raises concerns about the possible pitfalls of AI in the hiring process.

"However, there's room for a contrarian view that is more optimistic about AI's role in talent management and recruiting," Fesinstine added.

When thoughtfully and rigorously developed, AI holds the potential to enhance the recruiting process rather than disrupt it, she said. For instance, AI can automate routine tasks, offer deeper insights into candidates' capabilities and promote the erasure of "unconscious biases."

Fesinstine offered these recommendations for avoiding hiring mishaps like the one described by Forrester:

  1. Beef up candidate verification practices. Video interviews and other tools can help validate that a candidate actually exists.
  2. Balance AI with human involvement. "AI can handle initial screening and data analysis," she said, "while humans can take charge of interactions and judgment calls that require emotional intelligence and intuition."
  3. Step up AI training. Training recruiters and hiring managers on AI capabilities and limitations can help foster more effective use of the technology.
  4. Reduce "mischief" triggered by AI. "Employers should invest in AI that is designed and audited for ethical practices, ensuring that the algorithms are transparent and free from biases," Fesinstine said.
  5. Track updated guidelines. Monitoring revisions of legal and ethical guidelines surrounding AI in recruitment can help ensure responsible use of the technology.

"By focusing on the symbiotic relationship between AI tools and human judgment, employers can leverage AI's strengths while safeguarding against its weaknesses," Fesinstine said. "This preventive approach should not only focus on the AI itself but also on the culture surrounding its use—creating a climate of continuous learning, ethical usage and vigilance that can turn AI into an asset rather than a liability in talent management and recruiting."

Is AI ‘Mayhem’ on the Horizon?

Labor and employment attorney Sahara Pynes, a partner at law firm Fox Rothschild, noted that Forrester refers to the potential for "mayhem" in making its AI prediction. She doesn't go that far in her assessment of AI's future in recruiting.

"As with any new technology, there will definitely be a learning curve and some growing pains. I'm not convinced 'mayhem' is the right word," Pynes said. She added that "as human learning catches up to technological innovation, I imagine in a decade we won't remember what life was like without these AI advances."

Labor and employment attorney Michael Elkins, founder and partner at MLE Law, shares Pynes' skepticism about looming AI mayhem in recruitment. He criticized Forrester's prediction as "extreme fearmongering."

"As with any new technology, there will be fear and kinks that need to be worked out," Elkins said.

"When television was introduced, so-called experts predicted the world would turn into zombies and grind to a halt. When personal computers hit the open market, so-called experts predicted the total demise of the initial PC generation," he added. "Throughout history, every new technology evolution is met with extreme predictions, many of which are completely unfounded. AI is no different."

Nonetheless, Elkins cautioned that employers should be careful with AI. For instance, he said, they shouldn't fully automate recruiting.

"Employers are generally responsible for the adverse consequences of using AI, even if they're using a third party for the AI," Elkins said.


John Egan is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas.

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