Bosses catch job applicants using ChatGPT for a boost

It was an unexpected problem. Earlier this year, Christina Qi, CEO of market data company Databento, found that almost every application contained exactly what she was looking for.

The company requires candidates to write a tweet and press release about microwave towers, a niche topic that needs research, Ms. Qi said. Usually, most candidates fail the test. All five passed this time.

The tests — four from applicants for an internship and one from someone aspiring to a full-time role as a content strategist — were all so similar “as if it was written by one person,” she said. Ms. Qi was suspicious and entered the command prompt into ChatGPT, OpenAI’s artificial intelligence chatbot, to see what it could produce.

“Lo and behold, I got pretty much the same answer that all five candidates gave me,” she said.

Since its launch in November, ChatGPT has been a hot topic at dining tables and water coolers. Microsoft, Google, Snap and other companies have built artificial intelligence into their products. People have experimented with using ChatGPT at work. Some even use it when looking for new jobs by tapping the chat assistant to help write cover letters, streamline resumes, and formulate answers to expected interview questions—without necessarily telling the people who are hiring make.

Employers, who have long used AI to screen potential employees, don’t always disqualify applicants using ChatGPT, but they are making efforts to figure out how to evaluate candidates who might be using the tool to give them an advantage.

Attention-Grabbing Applications

After being fired from his previous employer in January, Kyle Mickey began job hunting for software engineering positions along with thousands of laid-off engineers.

The 38-year-old from Colorado said he reached out to ChatGPT for help, initially sharing job descriptions and his resume with the chatbot to see what he would tweak. He then asked ChatGPT to write a letter of recommendation for a position he was coveting. The chatbot thought he was perfect for the job as his technical skills “matched the requirements well”.

Mr. Mickey sent the comments to a recruiter and said ChatGPT endorsed his skills.

“The recruiter immediately said, ‘Let’s talk, I like the creativity,'” he said. Mr. Mickey didn’t get this job but was hired at another company without the help of ChatGPT.


For which part of the application process would you use AI? Join the conversation below.

Ryan Stringham, 31, who lives in Utah and works in product management, used it to write cover letters, including one that got him a foot in the door and later got hired at a smart tech company.

“You’re always looking, you’re always applying, and you get drained,” Mr. Stringham said of job hunting.

He said the bot broke his writer’s block and broke his lengthy cover letter into four terse paragraphs. He said it also helped him prepare for interviews by suggesting new ways to ask about the company culture and job expectations. Rather than asking a vague question about what he should do to excel in the potential position, ChatGPT suggested Mr Stringham detail the timeframe and metrics used to determine success.

Mr. Stringham has encouraged others to use chatbots when looking for jobs, posting about them on LinkedIn and offering advice to other job seekers.

The only place he hasn’t disclosed his ChatGPT usage is at work.

“It helped me get through the application process and the recruiter never asked for it,” said Mr Stringham, adding that he edited the cover letter himself and passed the interviews himself with flying colours.

Microsoft combines the technology behind OpenAI’s ChatGPT with its search engine Bing. In an interview, WSJ’s Joanna Stern spoke to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella about the new tools and how AI will transform search. (Oh, and Clippy!) Photo illustration: Preston Jessee for The Wall Street Journal

“How we present ourselves”

Programs, websites, and other tools that help people correct their resumes and cover letters are not new. Microsoft Office and Google Docs offer resume and letter templates, while companies like Jobscan promise to streamline resumes to grab the attention of hiring managers, recruiters, and hiring system algorithms.

Candidates must combine ChatGPT’s edits with their own editing and voice, said Sarah Baker Andrus, executive director of Avarah Careers, a Delaware-based career coaching firm. Whatever a candidate submits for a job should accurately reflect their skills, she said.

“We are responsible for how we present ourselves,” said Ms. Andrus. “If you decide to use ChatGPT, it pays to ask, ‘Does this represent the me I want to present?’ ”

Employers are already finding ways to catch applicants cheating with AI.

Engineers applying to San Francisco-based Cobalt Robotics participate in a one-hour remote coding interview where they are paired with a co-worker to test their collaborative and problem-solving skills. If candidates take more than an hour, they can finish on their own, but a screening program called CoderPad tracks their work.

Last month, a candidate who wasn’t showing work in CoderPad suddenly had a complete solution, said Erik Schluntz, chief technology officer and co-founder of Cobalt Robotics. He suspected that the requester had sought AI assistance and then copied and pasted their answer.

The company declined to proceed with the candidate without telling the person why, although Mr. Schluntz tweeted about it.

Mr. Schluntz said Cobalt can’t properly grade candidates using AI assistants today, but said he could envision giving candidates more challenging assignments in the future if they want to use tools like ChatGPT as an assistant.

“Giving someone a problem that ChatGPT can solve doesn’t rate anyone – it only rates ChatGPT,” said Mr. Schluntz.

About a week after first discovering the AI-powered applications, Ms. Qi began allowing potential Databento employees to use ChatGPT. The new prompt requires candidates to do additional research and make changes to complement what the AI ​​tool churns out, and Databento gives “extra points” to people who complete the test without a bot.

Although Ms. Qi said she can usually tell when something is written by ChatGPT, the company also enlists the help of a bot detector.

“It’s better to be ahead of the game and accept that people are using this rather than trying to deny it,” Ms. Qi said.

– Cordilia James contributed to this article.

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Write to Ann-Marie Alcántara at

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