ChatGPT, the new chatbot from OpenAI, can do anything it seems (as long as you don’t mind inaccuracies). Although leveraging AI to write your college essays, quietly publish news, and impress potential soulmates may be dubious, what about asking ChatGPT or other generative AI to write a cover letter, résumé, or other job application materials? Some jobseekers, including some TikTok users, are already doing it. But how good is AI at writing cover letters? And will it help or hurt your chances of getting the job? Fast Company talked with recruiters, HR experts, and hiring managers about whether it makes sense to use ChatGPT in your job hunt.
‘I WAS BLOWN AWAY BY HOW GOOD THE COVER LETTER WAS’
Alexandria Brown, a human resources consultant and founder of The HR Hacker, is not a fan of the robotic tasks involved in applying for jobs, likening them to the busywork teachers give students in school.
When she first heard that jobseekers were using AI, she knew she had to try it. She cut and pasted the entire job description for a position into ChatGPT and watched it generate a cover letter including keywords and phrases as well as details related to the company’s mission, vision, and values.
“I was blown away by how good the cover letter was,” says Brown. “You would still need to edit it before you created your final draft,” she adds. “But it’s a good start.”
Brown says it helps to think about ChatGPT as creating a template, which she recommends for anyone looking for a new job. “I think it takes some of the pressure off job seekers’ panic and anxiety about creating cover letters for every single job they apply to,” says Brown.
She adds that she would not at all be offended if she learned that someone used ChatGPT to help present themselves to her as a hiring manager. “If you’re using technology to work smarter, not harder. I mean, I applaud you.”
‘JUST ANOTHER TOOL’
Many large companies run some form of AI in their applicant tracking systems (ATS) to scan resumes for keywords long before those words are seen by human eyes.
That’s why CEO James Hu created Jobscan, a company dedicated to optimizing résumés. Jobscan uses what it calls an “intelligent predictive system,” which is a proprietary AI built-in house. Hu told Fast Company that jobseekers make a mistake when they view ChatGPT as a machine rather than a tool. “Ultimately, humans—recruiters and hiring managers—are the ones reviewing the resumes they shortlist from the ATS,” he says. According to Hu, ChatGPT provides generic responses. “A convincing cover letter is more than a rephrasing of your work experience,” says Hu.
Cliff Jurkiewicz, vice president at Phenom, a company that provides AI-powered services for recruiting, believes that if hiring managers use AI, jobseekers should be able to do the same. “Would you care if they use Grammarly to check or improve their writing?” asks Jurkiewicz. “ChatGPT is just another tool that requires input to create anything.”
Kristen Wrigley, head of people at professional training and coaching company TaskHuman, says she doesn’t mind people using ChatGPT to automate the process, “especially entry-level candidates where there may not be as much differentiation in levels of experience.” But, she says AI-generated content can be “sterile or generic.” Good recruiters are looking for unique personality traits that jump out at them from the sea of résumés and cover letters, Wrigley told Fast Company over email. “Automated cover letters may save time, but may not help you stand out.” Especially if other candidates are using ChatGPT to write their cover letters, too.
Dave Fano, former chief growth officer of WeWork and the current founder and CEO at Teal, a career development platform, also sees no issue with the use of ChatGPT. (Fano is currently integrating ChatGPT into Teal’s offerings.) He says that although it’s still early days with this technology, it’s already “remarkably robust.” He stresses the need to edit the results before you send them to anyone. If you don’t, Fano says, “I just think you’re just gonna kind of look like an idiot.”
IT DEPENDS ON THE JOB
Some HR experts noted that AI-generated cover letters work better for more junior level positions. “The lower the complexity of the job, the easier it is for the AI to generate materials for it,” says Hu of Jobscan.
Relying on AI may also be a bad idea for jobs that involve skills like writing. As the founder and managing director of Tanj, a brand consultancy that specializes in naming and writing, Scott Milano has a particular distaste for AI-written cover letters.
“When we receive inquiries about jobs that are clearly either an AI-generated form letter or whatever it may be, especially on the job listing front, we have a visceral reaction to it,” says Milano. “It’s not going to be for us because our words literally are our currency.”
THE END OF COVER LETTERS?
Some hiring experts hoped AI would have the power to just kill the cover letter forever. Brown of HR Hacker has nothing nice to say about the cover letter, automated or not. “I hate cover letters,” Brown told Fast Company. “Nobody actually reads them.”
Brown calls cover letters “a kind of false hoop jumping.” Instead she suggests a more human approach to the whole process. “Why don’t you look at my résumé and then, if I have seven to ten of the requirements for the job, get on a phone call with me.”
Fano thinks cover letters are “kind of a joke.” He says ChatGPT and tools like it have the ability to make the hiring process better and avoid the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality.
“Cover letters were literally that, right?” says Fano. “You would write a résumé, and you had a piece of paper that was a cover to the résumé because you mailed it in.” He hopes that the increase in automation might make companies just stop asking for cover letters altogether: “Is that really then the test of someone’s competency? Like, if a tool can do it for them?”