ChatGPT and Me (a Recruiter)
I'm a recruiter who's noticed AI creeping into candidates' application materials. In this article, I share some initial thoughts on using ChatGPT in the job search (particularly in cover letters).
Like many folks in the industry, I’m both excited and wary about the potential impacts of ChatGPT and other publicly available AI tools. In the last few weeks, folks in my circle have been increasingly curious about how ChatGPT impacts recruiters, and how our team feels when applicants use it for things like cover letters. I wish I could give a simple thumbs up or thumbs down, but my opinion on using it in the application process is semi-nuanced and, I’m sure, will evolve over time. Here’s where we are now:
The recruiting team had been increasingly chalking up generic cover letters (i.e., where we don’t actually learn anything about the applicant) to ChatGPT. To test those assumptions, I wanted to better understand what exactly a “ChatGPT cover letter” looks like. So, I messed around with it by:
Inputting a Viget job description and asking it to write a generic cover letter.
Providing the specific prompt that we ask folks to respond to, and having ChatGPT tailor the cover letter to the prompt.
Encouraging ChatGPT to make it a bit more conversational, and infuse some humor.
Asking it to be a bit more subtle with the jokes, please.
Pasting in my resume, and having it further customize the cover letter.
Telling it to focus on two particular skills within the job description.
I didn’t spend too much time on this whole experiment, and I certainly did not cover a huge range of prompts. But, I still learned a lot!
One key theme was that even an unsophisticated use of ChatGPT is ‘better’ than a lot of the generic cover letters we’ve seen in the past. In other words, it produces something that is clear and appropriately conversational, has solid spelling, and contains a greeting and sign-off. Unless you intentionally alter it, the ‘default’ ChatGPT greeting is “Dear Hiring Manager,”. The closing paragraphs all sound a lot like “Thank you for considering my application. I would welcome the opportunity to contribute my skills and experience to Viget's team of talented professionals. Sincerely, [Name].” And honestly? ChatGPT’s judgment on paragraph breaks are👩🍳💋.
It was fun to play with it and notice some trends, but I don’t think, “Gotcha!” when I see cover letters follow this formula. We’re going to read and process the whole thing no matter what – a few somewhat telltale signs of AI involvement does not alone impact how we evaluate an applicant.
However, we’ve seen applicants submit exactly the result I got from my first attempt outlined above. We’ve also witnessed an influx of well-written cover letters (that follow this structure) where the contents do not match up with the resume or LinkedIn at all. If we don’t actually learn anything about the candidate, or it feels like an exact reframing of our job description – or worse, we’re being lied to! – what’s the point?
We are not trying to weed out folks who have had support in drafting their cover letters. Any resume or cover letter that gets submitted could be generated by AI; or drafted from one of the endless online templates; or a product of a highly-paid resume consultant; or a result of endless edits by the candidate’s spouse, sibling, parent, or teachers.
We are trying to see who is the best fit for our team. A cover letter should (clearly and concisely) relate your previous experience to the role you’re applying to, and explain what specifically interests you about the opportunity. Help us help you!
Personally, I’m a fan so far of ChatGPT. I’ve asked it to:
Help me brainstorm game ideas for a weekend getaway with my friends.
Create an 8-song playlist that is both upbeat and slightly wistful, that captures the vibe of a long-distance relationship. (The first song it spit out was already on my playlist, which is cool. Two others were new to me and fit the bill, but the rest weren’t quite right vibe-wise.)
Write a funny, moving Slack post that apologizes for breaking a plate (at Free Lunch Friday), and thanks Dave for helping me to clean it up.
ChatGPT provided a surprisingly solid – albeit slightly sterile – starting point for each of those tasks. I was then able to easily build on its momentum. Since the hardest part of a project for me is often just getting started, I immediately see the appeal of getting AI’s help (including new features like Whimsical AI for Mind Maps and Notion AI) in your daily workflow.
In this exact vein, I’m energized by ChatGPT’s potential application to, well, job applications. If you’ve ever had to kick off a job search from scratch, you know there are few things more nerve-wracking than a blinking cursor on a blank page.
So, use ChatGPT! Do it well! I love it when people are jazzed about new technology. But, make sure that what you’re presenting to recruiters and hiring managers is honest, informative, and contains a bit of you.