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How to use ChatGPT to write your graduate job cover letter

Ian Cooper

Career Counsellor
We’d wager that writing a cover letter is one task that nobody — in the entire history of humankind — has ever felt eager to do. Enter ChatGPT...

Raise your hand if you love writing cover letters.

Anyone? Anyone at all?

Yeah, we didn't think so. In fact, we’d wager that writing a cover letter is one task that nobody — in the entire history of humankind — has ever felt eager to do.

And, if you’re like most people, writing a letter trumpeting yourself may even feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, that means you may struggle to accurately express the value you can bring to a potential employer — and sell yourself short in the process.

Enter ChatGPT…

What is ChatGPT?

An AI chatbot built by the OpenAI foundation, ChatGPT writes text or computer code in response to prompts from users. You can ask ChatGPT to write about anything, whether mundane or absurd. 

Want a rundown on the fundamentals of quantum mechanics in simple English? Input the prompt “explain quantum mechanics as if you were talking to a 5-year-old,” and then press the send button. 

But what if you’re looking for the same information presented as a rap battle between Anthony Albanese and Xi Jinping? Again… just input the prompt and press the button.

People have experimented with using ChatGPT to write fiction, act as a journalist, and even perform therapy. About the only challenge the AI won’t attempt is giving guidance on how to do something criminal.

How does all this work? ChatGPT is what’s called a large language model (or LLM) — an algorithm that has learned how to write by reading millions of pieces of text taken from every imaginable source: books, songs, poems, screenplays, articles, conversations, and more.

Essentially, the more data it consumes (and the more coaching it receives from its human developers), the more effectively ChatGPT mimics actual human writing while drawing on a vast reservoir of knowledge. 

The algorithm is far from perfect, of course. It has no way to determine true from false outside of any consensus within the data it has been fed. Per OpenAI, ChatGPT is also not connected to the internet and has a “limited knowledge” of anything that has happened after 2021.

We don’t yet know how ChatGPT will evolve as AI technology matures. But for now, we think that it can be a great way to help reluctant writers kickstart something they may struggle to do entirely on their own — like a cover letter. 

Here’s how to use ChatGPT to write your perfect cover letter

In our experience, you can use ChatGPT to create a functional outline or a rough draft of a cover letter. Once ChatGPT has laid the groundwork, you’re free to polish, personalize, and make that letter your own.

We’ll take you through our recommended process and help you steer clear of any pitfalls that could sink your application. Let’s begin!

First, make sure you have the following on hand:

  • Your resume. This will help ChatGPT customize the cover letter. If you don’t have one yet, make sure to check out our best tips on crafting a thoughtful resume.
  • The job description for a specific job you’re applying to. This will help ChatGPT tailor the cover letter to that job.

Screenshot of an actual resume from a recent grad who earned a job at KPMG. Significant details have been changed or removed to preserve anonymity.

An active job description on Prosple Australia for KPMG’s next graduate program.

Then, head over to chat.openai.com. Sign up (you can use an existing Google or Microsoft account or create a new login). 

1. Prompt ChatGPT to write a cover letter using the job description

You can say something like: “Write a cover letter that explains why I’d be a great fit for the graduate program at KPMG Australia. This is the job description: [copy and paste the job description]. 

Here’s what that prompt looks like when put into ChatGPT…

…And here’s what ChatGPT wrote.

2. Ask ChatGPT to update the cover letter with information from your resume.

You can say something like this: “Update the letter using my resume. Here is my resume: [copy and paste the text of your resume].”

Again, here’s what the prompt looks like…

…And here’s some of ChatGPT’s updated cover letter.

As you can see, these letters are far from perfect. The first says nothing about you, personally, and the second essentially just restates your resume. This brings us to our next step.

3. Have ChatGPT explain how you can bring value to the company as a graduate hire.

You can say something like: “Rewrite this letter to explain how I can bring value to KPMG as a graduate hire.”

Here is the prompt and the start of ChatGPT’s response.

4. Take what ChatGPT wrote and make it more your own. 

After three drafts, you’ve got plenty of material to work with. You can continue to play around with ChatGPT, but at a certain point, you need to add your own revisions in order to make your cover letter as strong as possible. 

Remember: your goal here is to use ChatGPT to create an outline or a rough draft, not a finished product. 

As you revise, make sure to tackle two things that ChatGPT can’t: emotion and experience. Are there aspects of your potential employer that genuinely excite you or bits of your life experience that you think make you an ideal fit for the role? Good — tell them! 

(For more ideas, check out our guide to writing a winning cover letter. And shout out to career coach and Cultivated Culture founder Austin Belcak for creating the original process that we’ve adapted for our audience here.)

Is any of this plagiarism?

Trust your common sense. If you’re taking work created by ChatGPT and passing it off as your own, then yes, you’re committing plagiarism. 

However, if you’re using ChatGPT the way we recommend — as a tool to create an outline or a rough first draft — then you’re doing something that we think will become increasingly acceptable in our society.

Again, we want to be very clear: Do not ask ChatGPT to write your entire cover letter for you (or any other professional work, for that matter). Not only would you be misrepresenting the AI’s output as something you wrote yourself, but you would also be weakening your application — and potentially exposing yourself to being discovered and rejected out of hand.

As you can see above, each of the different letters we created using ChatGPT contains useful language or structure. However, none of them are acceptable on their own because a generic or repetitive letter that simply restates your resume impresses no one. 

Consider too that software engineers are rapidly developing tools that can tell if a piece of writing was created by a human or ChatGPT. OpenAI itself is even getting in on this effort, as the company plans to “add a watermark” to text generated by future versions of the bot.

Is it any stretch to imagine that future employers might use these tools to assess your application? Not in the least.

So yes, explore ChatGPT. Use it to improve your productivity or help you craft the perfect cover letter.

But be smart about it, too. Never forget that you are your own best resource — and that employers will leap at the chance to work with grads who have the self-awareness to understand that.

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