Computerised CV-cruncher fills the job

There was a time when employers relied on an eye for a good CV, a probing interview technique and a healthy sense of scepticism to seek out top graduates during their annual recruitment round. Today, they have a new weapon in the battle to pick the best staff for the job - artificial intelligence.

Increasingly, big firms offering hundreds of graduate jobs each year are turning to information technology to help sift through the thousands of applications pouring in.

CVs and forms which would once have been sorted by hand are now more likely in some companies to be fed into computers programmed to trawl though the data in search of pre-set criteria. Thanks to new software already widely used in America, candidates may be accepted or rejected on the basis of their degree subject, grade or institution, their skills, or even their role as third violin in the school orchestra.

Once sorted into categories, they can instantly be sent a computer-generated rejection letter or invitation for interview.

The development, still in its early stages, is viewed enthusiastically by employers struggling to cope with rising numbers of graduate applications. After the recession at the start of the decade, relatively few have returned to the "milk round" - the annual tour of universities in search of likely candidates - and computers offer one alternative means of filtering applicants.

University careers advisers, however, have more reservations, warning that computer programs which sort one CV every two minutes may not be sufficiently sophisticated to trawl fairly. Final-year students applying to ICL, Mercury and Motorola this year will be among those whose first challenge will be impressing a computer. Yvette Coulthard, head of group resourcing at ICL, declined to give away the company's selection criteria, but said examples could be a Cambridge computer science degree, systems- integration experience or "being captain of a team or senior prefect".

ICL was won over to a program called Resumix when it used it two years ago to help recruit 500 people in three months to staff the National Lottery operator, Camelot.

Another package, known as Oscar, is used by companies such as Sainsbury's and Tesco to "read" candidates' applications, including answers to the psychometric tests increasingly favoured by graduate recruiters.