December 8, 2023

Fudging AI Skills: A New Résumé Tactic?

Half of job applicants admit they exaggerate their artificial-intelligence know-how. Can firms even tell?

Fudging information on résumés certainly isn’t new, but a surprisingly large number of job candidates may be taking it too far with their claims about how well they can handle today’s hot new technology.

A recent survey of job applicants by Resume Builder showed that nearly half of recent job seekers exaggerated their AI skills —and that this approach appeared to be working: A majority of the fibbers were hired, the survey found, although 10% were later fired. “A person saying that they’re ‘qualified in AI’ is like someone saying ‘I’m familiar with Microsoft Office,’” says Chris Cantarella, global sector leader for the Software practice at Korn Ferry.

Applicants’ urge to fudge has two main drivers: First, workers know that AI skills are important, but don’t have them. A recent survey by Salesforce showed that 54% thought that AI would advance their careers, but 62% said that they don’t have the skills to effectively use it. Second, competition among job applicants is unusually steep: Hiring time is at an all-time high of 44 days, and this year there are two applicants for every job on LinkedIn , up from one per job a year ago. Job seekers are submitting 40% more applications on LinkedIn than they did a year ago. It’s not surprising that many of them claim to have AI skills. “AI skills are a tough one, because those capabilities are always open to interpretation—the line is so blurred,” says Dennis Deans, vice president of global human resources at Korn Ferry.

Indeed, experts say the prevalence of fibbing has to do not only with applicants—but also with firms that aren’t yet sure how to screen for AI competencies. “It’s new technology, and right now it’s easy for people to slip under the radar,” says Paul Fogel, a Korn Ferry sector leader within its Professional Search space. He suggests asking candidates questions that will elicit specific answers. What tools have they used? What prompts? How did AI fit into their workflow? What efficiencies did their use of AI create? “Either applicants will give examples or they won’t, and that will give you great information about their actual ability to leverage such tools,” he says.

To be sure, recruiters have seen similar tech-skill exaggerations on résumés before—most recently during the data-science revolution, says Deepali Vyas, global head of the FinTech, Crypto and Payments practice at Korn Ferry. “AI is now the buzzword that everyone wants to use,” she says. The key, she says, is to differentiate between applicants who may have used AI tools like Google Bard or ChatGPT and those who hold deeper expertise in specific subsets of artificial intelligence, such as deep learning, neural networks, large-language models, orr machine learning. Vyas prefers to look for advanced degrees in a specific specialty

Anu Gupta, senior client partner at Korn Ferry, also suggests early rounds of interviews should be conducted by firm executives with high functional skills around AI. Behavioral interview techniques are also useful. “You keep digging deeper,” says Gupta. He suggests asking about a time that a particular skill was used, whether it was used by a teammate or the candidate, and what, specifically, the candidate did. “You have to get down to granular detail. Otherwise, the interviewee is blowing smoke, and the interviewer is blowing smoke right back.” 


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