Career Centers Can Prep Students for an AI World

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Wednesday, January 31, 2024
By Brenda Stover, Kate Grady
Illustration by iStock/Igor Kutyaev
How can students use artificial intelligence appropriately, effectively—and creatively—in job searches? The Villanova School of Business offers tips.
  • Because AI is already transforming a broad range of sectors and industries, business students who are proficient at using it will maximize career and employment options.
  • Career center professionals can show students how AI could improve their business writing, especially as they draft résumés and cover letters for their job searches.
  • Students need to learn how to craft prompts, personalize AI-generated content, and recognize when AI presents incorrect or biased information.

When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), the genie is out of the bottle. The technology is already a valuable tool in the workplace, and its importance will only climb from here.

In a 2023 survey from McKinsey, 30 percent of respondents reported that their organizations are already using AI regularly in at least one business function, and 40 percent said their organizations will be increasing their investment in AI. Furthermore, respondents predicted that the widespread adoption of AI will reshape many workforce roles in just the next three years. When it comes to AI, there is no turning back.

That’s why, at the Villanova School of Business at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, we are not shying away from AI; we are leaning in. We know that many students already rely on AI to help them complete their coursework, even if they don’t want to admit it out of fear of violating academic integrity policies.

We believe that students can learn to use AI appropriately, effectively, and creatively, all while gaining a valuable workplace skill. Once they understand the potential benefits of generative AI and learn how to avoid its risks, they will expand the toolbox at their disposal to advance in their careers.

AI can be particularly valuable in helping students launch their job searches—if it’s used correctly. Providing that guidance is one of our goals at the business school’s O’Donnell Center for Professional Development.

If you’re a student, you might benefit from some of the practical tips we have put together for using AI in the job search. If you’re a career services professional, you might find that our approaches could work at your own universities.

AI and the Job Search

At the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Conference last spring, employers and recruiters reported seeing an increasing number of AI-generated cover letters appearing in their inboxes. They noted how easy it was to discern which letters were written by machines versus humans. One person had received three nearly identical cover letters with different names attached. At that point, ChatGPT had just launched seven months previously, and these stories highlighted how quickly the tool had gained traction.

While career services professionals are eager to help students use AI in their job searches, we want them to realize it is so much more than a shortcut for drafting cover letters and other written communications.

Recruiters are seeing an increasing number of AI-generated cover letters, and they say it is easy to discern which letters were written by machines versus humans.

At the Villanova School of Business, our sophomore professional development seminar focuses on the full life cycle of career development. We now have incorporated best practices for AI into that class, particularly in the sessions that are dedicated to writing business communications, including résumés, cover letters, and thank-you notes. We have developed a corresponding co-curricular workshop, which allows us to address this topic with students at a deeper level.

In addition, the universitywide Career Center provides students access to an AI platform that helps them in their job searches. The platform not only checks résumés for spelling, grammar, and length, but also reviews them to be sure they include action words, industry keywords, and lists of job skills.

The platform offers a feature that allows students to upload their résumés alongside posted job descriptions to determine if their skills and experiences are articulated in ways that align with the positions—and it makes suggestions for improvements. We utilize this tool for foundational résumé review in the professional development curriculum required of first-year students.

Show and Tell

At the O’Donnell Center, our overall message to students is that they should experiment with and embrace the potential of AI, while being discerning about when it is appropriate to use. Tools such as ChatGPT can help them generate résumés and cover letters, but students must consider how to incorporate their authentic voices into the materials they submit.

We illustrate the pros and cons of AI through show and tell, including live demonstrations. When we provide examples of problematic AI-generated content, our students can see that the technology lacks the specificity and authenticity they must display to secure interviews, internships, and jobs. Our goal is to teach students to think of AI as a creative tool and help them figure out how to leverage it to further their growth and development.

Below are the practical tips the O’Donnell Center offers to students:

Learn how to draft specific prompts. This is more of an art than a science, and it’s a skill you can build upon over time. Be specific, include notes about the tone you want to convey, and use the first responses to craft new prompts that generate information that’s closer to what you’re seeking.

Personalize AI-generated content. Recruiters are already seeing the same word-for-word cover letters from applicants who are simply copying and pasting AI-generated copy into their communications. Make sure you incorporate your own voice into any material that has an AI component. For example, draft your own cover letters, then ask AI for ways to strengthen your initial paragraphs.

Students should experiment with and embrace the potential of AI, while being discerning about when it is appropriate to use.

Watch out for AI “hallucinations.” Not everything AI offers is based in reality. Sometimes these tools generate false or misleading information and present it as fact.

Beware of AI’s biases and outdated data. It is only recently that ChatGPT was updated to draw from data generated through April 2023, which means that the technology is not up to speed on the latest developments in the world. In addition, its algorithm is based on human data sets, and such information sources include biases that get incorporated into the AI model.

Consider your individual values. AI is being adopted at a fast pace even as it is still rapidly evolving. There is no one overarching code of ethics, and many companies have yet to develop their own. McKinsey’s survey found that just 21 percent of respondents whose organizations use AI said their companies had established policies around its use. Tap into your own values to decide where and when you’re comfortable using AI, and look for companies that reflect your values.

Get human feedback, too. At Villanova, we urge students to make appointments with staff at the O’Donnell Center or the university Career Center before they send out résumés and cover letters.

Make sure all elements align with your professional brand. Eventually, you will be meeting potential employers face-to-face. If you can’t answer questions about the AI-generated elements of your résumés or cover letters, or if your communication style is drastically different in person, these discrepancies are going to raise red flags with interviewers.

Tip of the Iceberg

If you’re a career services professional, you may wonder where to begin when it comes to helping students work through the implications of AI. Our advice? Run toward AI, not away from it, but do so at a pace you can manage.

Pick something simple to start: Show students how they can use AI to improve sample résumés or cover letters. Go to webinars and watch demonstrations to learn how other career professionals are showing students how to apply AI. Ask industry partners what AI skills they want students to have by the time they graduate.

As students become more skilled at using AI to write résumés and cover letters, we can spend more time holding meaningful discussions regarding career options and decisions.

Next, look beyond written communications and job applications. Coach students to use tools like ChatGPT to develop discussion points and formulate questions before attending networking sessions.

If you’re working with students who are unsure of their career paths, suggest that they use a generative AI platform to explore their options. When they share basic information about themselves, their passions, and their skill sets, the platform can return a list of careers that fit those parameters. You can use that information as a jumping-off point for one-to-one coaching conversations with students who are looking for direction.

Try using AI in your own work, too. For example, when we recently drafted a message for alumni, we turned to AI to clarify the differences between wealth management and asset management. It provided a crisp, succinct paragraph and a chart that detailed the similarities and differences between the two. We didn’t have to scroll through multiple sites generated by a Google search to produce a very clear distinction.

The Next Frontier

Some academic professionals have expressed concerns that AI is going to replace career centers. We don’t see that happening. In fact, we believe AI provides a counterintuitive benefit to those in our profession: time. As students become more skilled at using AI to write résumés and cover letters, we won’t need to put as much effort into reworking a set of résumé bullets or a single paragraph of a cover letter. Instead, we can use that time to hold more meaningful discussions regarding career options and decisions.

At this point, companies and universities have only scratched the surface of what is possible with AI. As the technology continues to evolve, it is imperative for both educators and students to stay informed, engage in continuous learning, and approach AI as a valuable tool in the journey toward professional growth. The transformative potential of AI is vast. By embracing it responsibly, business graduates will be primed to succeed in the constantly shifting landscape of the modern workplace.

Brenda Stover
Assistant Dean, Villanova School of Business
Kate Grady
Associate Director of Experiential Education and Employer Outreach, Villanova School of Business, Villanova University
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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