Do’s and Don’t of ChatGPT with Resumes and Cover Letters

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ChatGPT is an emerging technology with impressive results.  For those of you who are still learning about what it is I’ve asked it to describe itself:

ChatGPT is a language model developed by OpenAI. It uses deep learning techniques to generate human-like text, and is trained on a large dataset of text from the internet. It can be used for a wide range of natural language processing tasks, such as language translation, text summarization, and conversation. It can be used to generate text based on a prompt or to answer questions in a conversational manner. It is currently one of the most advanced language models available and is being used in a variety of applications.

While I do have reservations about its methods, concerns about ethical use, the long-term impacts on individuals and the wider implications on a tool so smart that it teaches you; it is a powerful resource that can be used to reduce the labor of career development tasks in many ways.

Some recruiters and HR professionals will already see a problem. The effort of writing a resume and (possibly) cover letter that is free of grammar and spelling errors is a baseline expectation to prove interest in a position. For some there is a strong feeling that time, effort, and careful consideration made better employees.

With ChatGPT all we need to do is ask and these tasks become automated. Not only that, as someone who has critiqued 12 years’ worth of student resumes, I find it is reasonably good at it. It’s not perfect, B- range if I am being honest. However, B- for what essentially should be treated as a first draft is not bad at all.  It takes much less time and can help you see things to emphasize you might not have noticed yourself.

Here are some do’s and don’ts of using ChatGPT for your resumes and cover letters:

Do – Ask for assistance in specific ways

You absolutely can copy and paste the position description of the job you are applying for and ask it to create a resume/cover letter for you. This will result in ChatGPT going over the position and making recommendations that cover what has been asked for, effectively tailoring the content. You could also just ask more directly what this employer wants in their applicants. Or ask it to give suggestions for explaining your work history. 

In this example I asked ChatGPT to describe two years’ experience working for Arby’s:

Work Experience

Arby’s – Team Member (Dates of Employment: MM/YYYY – MM/YYYY)

  • Consistently provided friendly and efficient customer service to guests
  • Demonstrated strong teamwork skills by consistently working well with fellow team members
  • Demonstrated a strong understanding of food safety protocols and consistently adhered to them
  • Successfully operated and maintained restaurant equipment, including the point of sale system
  • Demonstrated strong time management skills by consistently completing tasks within designated time frames
  • Consistently adhered to all company policies and procedures

Asking for specifics and adding conditions to your request can alter the results you receive significantly and opens up creative angles for you to improve documents rather than just allowing it to write for you.

Alternatively I asked ChatGPT what the best employable qualities of working for Arby’s are:

  1. Customer Service Skills: Arby’s places a strong emphasis on providing friendly and efficient service to guests, which can help an individual develop strong customer service skills.
  2. Teamwork: Working in a fast-paced restaurant environment requires strong teamwork skills, and the ability to work well with others is highly valued in most workplaces.
  3. Time Management: Working in a restaurant requires the ability to manage time effectively, and prioritize tasks to meet the demands of the business, this skill is valuable in many jobs.
  4. Food Safety: Understanding and adhering to food safety protocols is an important aspect of working at Arby’s, and this knowledge can be transferable to other food service industries.
  5. Leadership: As Shift manager, you have to manage a team, handle customer complaints, and make decisions on the fly, this experience will give you the ability to lead a team and make decisions under pressure.
  6. Communication Skills: Communicating effectively with customers, team members, and managers is crucial to success in the fast-paced environment of a restaurant, this is a valuable skill for any job.

I could now ask ChatGPT to consider my Arby’s experience when applying for a new job, it will use the previous content in its response.

Don’t – Trust the AI to know best

It’s been observed that ChatGPT will confidently give you incorrect or partially correct information without explaining why it might not be appropriate for the context. As always feedback from people in the know is going to be valuable. Networking hasn’t been replaced by computers just yet. Always feel free to ask questions and access ASCC services to consider what the best courses of action might be.

Do – Regenerate responses

Unhappy with the result of your last prompt?  You can ask again, rewording your request or providing additional details, or you can just hit the regenerate response button.  I’d say it’s worth it to observe how the response changes. A history of your previous responses is available so you don’t risk losing the previous results and can refer to them whenever you like.

Don’t – Mispresent yourself

The AI doesn’t know you, doesn’t know your strengths or weaknesses and will make general statements that would reasonably be true on the subject.  You could decide to provide it with your work history, but it still will make generalizations. If it recommends you describe yourself in a way that is not true, or suggests that the position requires a skillset you haven’t developed yet don’t lie to get the position.

Any employer is 100% in their right to immediately terminate your employment if they discover you were not truthful in your application and interview. Not only that, you likely will have permanently damaged your ability to work for that organization in the future and possibly their peer companies. Your professional reputation means more than an easier foot in the door no matter how tempting it may be.

Do – Know your resume in an interview

The best we can expect from a resume is that you can get an opportunity to interview. The interview itself is how you convince the employer that you are the best candidate. If you allow the AI to make all your arguments and don’t prepare for how you can talk to people about them then you will underperform in the interview and lose opportunities. 

It can be difficult, and time consuming to sit and think about the best qualities you have and write them out in your resume, but that effort makes it easier to describe in person. Just like self-driving cars, and autopiloted planes can’t take total control, neither can ChatGPT.

Final thoughts

I suspect that we are going to see many employers outside of computer sciences asking for Chat AI skills soon – maybe not ChatGPT specifically but similar products. It might just become as essential as having Microsoft Office, or Excel in future resumes. As long as you are in control and use it to solve problems and reduce labor it can be a helpful tool. Ask it to give you directions, not to take the wheel.

By Harrison Hughes
Harrison Hughes Career Coach & Academic Advisor