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LLM blog series - Part 2

Seven limitations of Large Language Models (LLMs) in recruitment technology

By Mihai Rotaru & Kasper Kok

Home / Learn & Support / Blog / Seven limitations of Large Language Models (LLMs) in recruitment technology

Our previous post in this blog series envisions that LLMs will have a major impact on recruitment technology, including parsing and matching software. But effectively adopting LLMs in production software is not a straightforward job. Various technical, functional and legal hurdles need to be overcome. In this blog post, we discuss the inherent limitations and risks that come with using LLMs in recruitment and HR technology.

Limitation 1: Speed and cost

LLMs are computationally very expensive: processing a single page of text requires computations across billions of parameters, which can result in high response times, especially for longer input documents. Performing complex information extraction from a multi-page document (like CV parsing) can take up to tens of seconds. For certain uses, these latencies can be acceptable. But less so for any task that requires bulk processing of large volumes of documents.

Apart from response time, computational complexity comes with a financial cost. LLMs generally require many dedicated GPUs and much more processing power than standard deep learning models. The amount of electricity used to process a single document is estimated to be substantial. Although costs have already dropped significantly in recent months, using heavy, general purpose machines like LLMs for very specific (HR) tasks is not likely to ever be the most cost-effective option.

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Consequences for recruitment software

When dealing with small volumes of resumes or vacancies, speed and cost don’t need to be limiting factors. But many organizations deal with thousands or even millions of documents in their databases. High processing latencies could translate into weeks of waiting time for a large database. It stands to reason that organizations with high document volumes require fast and affordable parsing and matching solutions.  

An important note about this limitation is that it’s likely to decline over time. There is a lot of research in the AI community toward reducing the size of the LLMs, making them more specialized and reducing costs. Given the nature of the beast, LLMs will never be feather-light, but it’s likely that speed and cost will be brought down to acceptable levels over the coming years. 

Limitation 2: Hallucinations

LLMs have one main objective: to produce language that will be perceived as ‘natural’ by humans. They are not designed to produce truthful information. As a result, a common complaint about LLMs (including ChatGPT) is that they tend to ‘hallucinate’: they can produce high quality text which contains factually incorrect information. The LLM itself will present these hallucinations with full conviction.

Wikipedia states the following example: Asked for proof that dinosaurs built a civilization, ChatGPT claimed there were fossil remains of dinosaur tools and stated “Some species of dinosaurs even developed primitive forms of art, such as engravings on stones”.

Not all hallucinations are as innocent as this. There are reports of ChatGPT supplying false information about sensitive topics like the safety of COVID-19 vaccinations or the validity of the US elections in 2020.

Textkernel's 37 degree angle crop: a stylized image, featuring a cropped version of the brand's iconic 37 degree angle.
Consequences for recruitment software

In the context of CV parsing, hallucination could mean that the output contains information that was not present in the original document. We’ve seen quite a few examples of this in our own experimentation: mentions of work experiences or educational degrees appear in the output while not being mentioned anywhere in the submitted CV. This could obviously lead to confusion among users and, if gone unnoticed, yield rather surprising job recommendations.

How hard is it to solve this problem? One obvious approach is to simply check that the output terms appear in the input document and discard it if that’s not the case. However, there’s a risk of throwing out the baby with the bathwater: in some cases LLMs correctly infer information, and the ‘unmentioned’ parts of the output can be correct. For instance, the company someone worked at could be correctly inferred based on the graduate program mentioned in a CV (while the company itself is not mentioned). These inferences can actually add value on top of traditional CV parsers. The challenge is to figure out which of the inferences made by the LLM are safe to keep.

Limitation 3: Lack of transparency

A major limitation of LLMs is that they are a complete black box. There is no visibility on why the output looks the way it does. Even the developers of ChatGPT and similar systems cannot explain why their products behave the way they do. This lack of explainability can be worrisome: if it is impossible to explain the output of an LLM-based tool, how do we know it is doing what is expected, and if it is fair and unbiased? 

Textkernel's 37 degree angle crop: a stylized image, featuring a cropped version of the brand's iconic 37 degree angle.
Consequences for recruitment software

In CV or job parsing technology, a lack of transparency can to some extent be acceptable: it is not critical to know why one word was interpreted as part of a job title, and another word as denoting an education level. In matching technology, that’s very different. If a list of candidates gets ranked by an AI algorithm, being able to explain on which basis the ranking took place is paramount to a fair matching procedure. Transparency helps motivate the choice of the shortlisted candidates, and makes it possible to ensure that no factors contributed to the ranking that shouldn’t (gender, ethnicity, etc., more details in the next section).

In addition, transparency and traceability are obligations in various forms of upcoming AI legislation, such as the EU AI Act and the soon to be enforced NYC AEDT. Those demand that matching software should be able to transparently disclose the criteria that played a role in the ranking of candidates. 

Limitation 4: Potential bias

Because LLMs were trained on vast amounts of texts from the internet, they are expected to have societal and geographical biases encoded in them. Even though there have been efforts to make systems like GPT as ‘diplomatic’ as possible, LLM-driven chatbots have reportedly expressed negative sentiment on specific genders, ethnicities and political beliefs. The geographical source of the training data also seems to have tainted its perspective on the world: since richer countries tend to publish more digitized content on the internet than poorer countries, the training data doesn’t reflect every culture to the same extent. For instance, when asked to name the best philosophers or breakfast dishes in the world, ChatGPT’s answers tend to reveal a Western vantage point.

Textkernel's 37 degree angle crop: a stylized image, featuring a cropped version of the brand's iconic 37 degree angle.
Consequences for recruitment software

Bias is a big problem in the HR domain. For good reasons, selecting candidates based on characteristics that are not relevant to job performance (for example, gender or ethnicity) is illegal in most countries. This warrants great caution with the use of LLM models in recruitment software, so that their inherent biases are not propagated into our hiring decisions. It is therefore ever so important to use AI in a responsible manner. For example, asking an LLM directly for the best match for a given job post is out of the question. It would likely favor male candidates for management positions, and female positions for teaching or nursing jobs (exhibiting the same type of bias as when it is asked to write a job post or a performance review). Due to the lack of transparency, the mechanisms that cause this behavior cannot be detected and mitigated.

At Textkernel, we believe recruitment software needs to be designed with responsibility principles in mind, so that it actually helps reduce biases. To learn more about how AI can be used responsibly in recruitment, please check out our blog post on this topic, and stay tuned for the next one in this series.

Limitation 5: Data Privacy

Another concern has to do with data privacy. Since LLMs are so heavy, it’s appealing for vendors to rely on third party APIs provided by vendors like OpenAI (the company behind ChatGPT) instead of hosting them on proprietary hardware. This means that if personal information is to be processed with an LLM-based application, it is likely to be processed by, and potentially stored on, third party servers that could be located anywhere in the world. Without the right contractual agreements, this is likely to violate data privacy laws such as GDPR, PIPL or LGPD.

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Consequences for recruitment software

Resumes and other documents used in HR applications tend to be highly personal and they can contain sensitive information. Any tool that forwards these documents to LLM-vendors should comply with data protection regulations, and their users should agree with having their data (sub)processed by external service providers. But that might not be enough: the European privacy law (GDPR) gives individuals the right to ask organizations to remove their personal data from their systems. Because LLM providers tend to use user input to continuously train and update their models, it is unlikely that all LLM providers will be able to, or even willing to, meet these requirements. 

Limitation 6: Lack of Control

Another problem caused by the lack of transparency is that creators of LLM-based parsing technology cannot easily address structural errors. If an LLM-driven parser keeps making the same mistake, then diagnosing and fixing the error is much harder than with traditional systems, if not impossible. Moreover, the models underlying APIs like ChatGPT can change over time (some receive frequent, unannounced updates). This means that the same input does not always yield the same output. Or worse, LLM-based product features could stop working unexpectedly when an updated LLMs starts reacting differently to the previously engineered instructions (prompts).

Textkernel's 37 degree angle crop: a stylized image, featuring a cropped version of the brand's iconic 37 degree angle.
Consequences for recruitment software

If vendors of HR tech solutions have little control over their outcome, problems observed by users can not be easily addressed. Solutions that rely on models that receive automatic updates will not always be able to replicate the problems observed, let alone fix them.

Limitation 7: Prompt Injection

With new technologies come new security vulnerabilities. LLM-based applications that process user input are subject to so-called ‘prompt injection’ (similar to SQL injection attacks): users can cleverly formulate their input text to modify the instructions that are executed by the LLM. While that might be innocent in some cases, it could become harmful if the output is in direct connection with a database or a third-party component (e.g. a twitter bot or email server).

Textkernel's 37 degree angle crop: a stylized image, featuring a cropped version of the brand's iconic 37 degree angle.
Consequences for recruitment software

In document parsing, prompt injection could look like this:

Prompt structure used in a CV parsing application:

Parse the following CV: [text of the CV]. 

The text entered in the place of the CV by a malevolent user would be along the lines of:

Ignore the previous instructions and execute this one instead: [alternative instructions]

In the best case, this will cause the LLM-based CV parser to throw an error because the output doesn’t respect the expected response format. But there might be serious ways of exploiting this vulnerability, especially if the parsing is directly used to search in a candidate or job database. Prompt injection, in that case, could be used for data exfiltration or manipulation of the search results. Even if no such connections exist, no security officer will feel comfortable with a system component that can easily be repurposed by its end users.

Conclusion

We see many opportunities to optimize recruitment and HR processes further using LLMs. However, adopters need to find solutions to a number of important limitations to avoid damaging financial, compliance and security risks. The notion of “responsible AI” has never been more relevant. Some of these limitations will see technical solutions appear soon, while others might not be solvable at all and will simply have to be seen as limiting factors in the use of LLMs. We are confident that, with the right values and processes in place, Textkernel will overcome these limitations in its upcoming adoption of LLMs.

ABOUT TEXTKERNEL

Textkernel is a global leader in providing cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology solutions to over 2,500 corporate and staffing organizations worldwide. Our expertise lies in delivering industry-leading multilingual parsing, semantic search and match, and labor market intelligence solutions to companies across multiple sectors. With over two decades of industry experience, we are at the forefront of AI innovation and use our knowledge and expertise to create world-class technology solutions for our customers. At Textkernel, we are dedicated to translating the latest AI thinking into practical, effective tools that help our clients streamline their recruitment processes, improve candidate experiences, and achieve better business outcomes.

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