Ask the Expert: Using ChatGPT to Write Your Cover Letter

by | Mar 1, 2023 | Career

The cat’s out of the bag, folks. Generative AI is here, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

Regardless of what you may think about ChatGPT and the slew of other generative AI chatbot announcements it’s spurred, one thing is certain: generative AI is already hugely disruptive. Now it’s up to us to figure out how to best use it.

Early adopters of the technology have enlisted it to write essays, emails, advertisements, lines of code, and more. Computerworld recently reported that job applicants are using ChatGPT to write resumes and cover letters—and getting good results.

These use cases seem like no-brainers, but what’s the best way to go about using generative AI for these purposes? To learn more about how to properly use ChatGPT for writing resumes and cover letters, NerdRabbit spoke with Nicole Leffer, a senior marketing executive and expert on how professionals can incorporate AI into their work.

Should you use generative AI to write your resume or cover letter?

“My thinking on this is, it depends on the industry you’re in, and it also depends on whether or not you’re trying to be deceptive about it,” says Nicole.

First, industry. Nicole recommends making the judgment call on whether or not to use generative AI for job applications on a case-by-case basis. If the company you’re applying to values candidates with generative AI skills, go for it.

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Using a tool like ChatGPT to help write your resume and cover letter signals that you have those skills, which can work in your favor when trying to land an interview. If you want to work somewhere that leverages AI and is interested in pioneering good uses of it, how a company responds to use of generative AI in the hiring process might also signal to you whether or not it’s a place you’d want to work.

In terms of deception, transparency is key.

“As a best practice, I recommend saying as a PS, ‘This cover letter was generated in collaboration with AI,’ or something along those lines,” Nicole says. “That way it’s not like you’re hiding it in any way, shape, or form.”

Every time you use an AI tool to help write a resume or cover letter, include a prominent disclaimer letting the recruiter or hiring manager know AI was involved in its creation. You don’t have to put a warning in red, 36-point font across the top of the page, but don’t hide it, either. The chances of the person on the other end of the application assuming bad intent increases if they sense dishonesty.

Think of ChatGPT as a co-writer, not a ghost writer

“It is important that if you’re going to use [ChatGPT], you have to demonstrate that you can edit it and make sure it’s accurate and on point,” Nicole says. “It’s very easy to write a bad prompt, or even with a good prompt generate an inaccurate cover letter, or to not notice that ChatGPT is copying and pasting wording verbatim from the job description you’ve shared.”

Editing and revision are crucial steps of the writing process, and that’s especially true for anything written by a generative AI tool. In truth, ChatGPT is a better writer than most people (it doesn’t hurt that it was trained on well-written material), but even the best generative AI tools out there are prone to hallucinations.

“[ChatGPT] shouldn’t be straight-up writing your entire cover letter without you touching it,” Nicole says. “It should be an aid to help you write your cover letter. And there’s a huge difference in those two things.”

Because ChatGPT does write good prose, hallucinations can be easy to miss. Don’t mistake good prose for quality writing. The output might sound great, but it’s not helpful if it contains falsehoods or inaccurate information.

Learning how to write good prompts is a must

Generative AI tools work by taking a prompt to produce an output. It’s important to edit and revise outputs, but it’s just as important to write a good prompt.

This starts with training ChatGPT on writing in your voice. To do this, Nicole says you should prompt ChatGPT to write a paragraph describing your writing voice. Include several old cover letters written by you (not an AI) in the prompt, and save the output in a place where you can easily refer back to it.

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When you’re ready to write a new cover letter, copy and paste the description of your voice ChatGPT previously generated into the new prompt. Feel free to make adjustments to this description so that it fits into the new prompt naturally. For a detailed description of this process with examples, refer to Nicole’s post on LinkedIn below. (If the post doesn’t appear, try disabling your ad blocker.)

When it comes to writing the prompt for the new cover letter, be as specific as possible. Don’t just say, “Write a short cover letter for an AWS solutions architect role that will make me stand out from the crowd.” Write it as though you’re a teacher giving an essay prompt to a class, making sure to include details about:

  • Desired length
  • The goal or objective of the cover letter
  • Writing tone or voice
  • What information to include
  • What information not to include

Once you get the output, Nicole says you can copy and paste it into a new prompt and tell the chatbot to make revisions according to your editing notes before you do the final revision yourself.

She also notes that sometimes you’ll need to restart ChatGPT if you’re not satisfied with the results. Your prompt may be good, but sometimes the tool can get stuck in a “bad loop” that produces poor outputs. Remember that you’re collaborating with the tool, not having it do your work for you.

Are there any downsides to using ChatGPT to write your resume and cover letter?

“I think there is a risk that you could frame a much better argument for yourself, yourself, because you know you,” Nicole says. “You can tell a story that is written into a cover letter that really tells the story in a way that ChatGPT never will.”

As with any new technology, overreliance on the tool is always a risk. Before you automatically start to write your cover letter with generative AI, ask yourself if you could write a better cover letter yourself in the same amount of time it takes to fire up ChatGPT, train it on your voice, write a good prompt, and revise the output.

Even if it takes a little bit longer, there’s a lot to be said for submitting a cover letter that only you can write. You can still use a generative AI tool to polish up what you’ve written, but cover letters with a personal touch—especially ones incorporating a story or personal anecdote—are powerful.

As the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Generative AI is a sophisticated and valuable addition to your toolbelt, but it’s not meant to replace all the other trusty tools you’ve acquired over the years.

Use the right tool for the right job. Tools like ChatGPT will be a good idea in many cases, but don’t discount your own abilities when the situation calls for them.

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About Forrest Brown
Forrest Brown is the Content Manager at NerdRabbit. An AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, he lives in Atlanta with his wife and two cats.

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