If you outsource one thing to ChatGPT, job-seekers say this should be it

Illustration  shows a black pen nib with a robot head in the center, on a yellow background
Job applicants are utilizing ChatGPT — a chatbot powered by artificial intelligence and designed by the startup OpenAI — to do the heavy lifting of a cover letter.
(Jim Cooke / Los Angeles Times)

The cover letter is its own unique, dreaded genre of writing. In a few — often formulaic — paragraphs, job applicants must accomplish several things: prostrate themselves at the feet of hiring managers, extolling the virtues of whatever company to which they’re applying, but also brag about themselves without seeming too, well, braggy.

And after doing all of that work, there’s no telling whether a hiring manager will merely skim your letter or closely examine it to gauge your communication chops.

Now, job applicants are utilizing ChatGPT — a chatbot powered by artificial intelligence — to do the heavy lifting. Designed by the startup OpenAI, which released the current version of the technology for public testing in November 2022, ChatGPT has impressed the world with its ability to execute all manner of tasks, including writing a Taylor Swift song from the perspective of a tree and passing exams in law and business schools (albeit with poor grades).

But how good is ChatGPT at pretending to be a human? The Times interviewed five job seekers, who shared examples of old and new ChatGPT-written cover letters for comparison. (Several did not want to be identified by their full names out of fear of facing discrimination from potential employers.) One used the AI assistant to blast out job applications in volume, another used it to improve her non-native English, and others used it to personalize their portfolios. Most started with a simple prompt — “Write me a cover letter” — and were blown away by the results.


‘It wrote better than I ever could.’

Jesse landed his current job as an automotive service advisor in Vancouver, Canada, using a cover letter written by ChatGPT.


Letter No. 1: Is this written by a human or AI?

“In my current role as a creative planner, I have gained valuable experience in developing marketing campaigns, including the creation and development of a brand. In a past role, I worked with clients in the automotive, lifestyle, travel, fashion, music, indie film, and with small to medium scale businesses. My marketing and design skills have allowed me to successfully reach and engage target audiences across a diverse range of industries.”

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“It wrote better than I ever could,” he said. “A simple cover letter would take me a week to write.”

Like many, Jesse, 34, found it difficult to write about himself and explain his skill set to employers. He used ChatGPT to spruce up his resume first, and then told it to use the resume to create a cover letter based on job descriptions for marketing, product consulting and other roles in the auto industry.

But, he warned, it’s still important to double-check everything the bot writes. ChatGPT has developed a reputation for occasionally spewing falsehoods with full confidence, and it could do the same to you.

For Jesse’s cover letters, ChatGPT would sometimes add random facts about him that were incorrect, such as stating he was a supervisor in a previous position when he merely took on a “supervisory role.”

It often took a back-and-forth exchange with ChatGPT to rewrite certain paragraphs or sentences and land on a cover letter he liked, Jesse said. He also made small manual edits, such as switching out certain words. And although it saved him work, there was one additional step involved: running the letter through online AI scanners that have popped up to detect AI-generated writing to make sure it passed the test in case companies checked.

We interviewed ChatGPT, a chatbot that has garnered widespread attention for its ability to mimic human conversation. Then we brought in experts in artificial intelligence and the arts to analyze ChatGPT’s responses.

Dec. 9, 2022

“The aspects of using AI to assist — it’s a tool,” he said. “Imagine you had an expert next to you telling you how to get better. I’ve been able to work a lot faster than when I was working with people on designing things.”


‘Why not? A bot reads them; I’ll get a bot to write them.’

For Austin, Texas-based J, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, tapping ChatGPT to write their cover letters was a no-brainer.


Letter No. 2: Is this written by a human or AI?

“I am impressed with [Company X’s] mission to help the 46 million Americans burdened by student debt save money through smart, algorithm-based recommendations. I am drawn to the company’s commitment to helping all borrowers improve their financial health through better repayment strategies, and I am excited about the opportunity to work with a team of world-class investors and help generate new business and engage individual users after they join [Company X].”

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“Why not? A bot reads them,” they said, referring to cover letter and resume-scanning software that many employers use to filter out candidates. “I’ll get a bot to write them.”

J, 28, was laid off from their design job at a financial services tech company in June and moved to freelance contracts for a few months. Now, they’re looking to get back into a full-time, senior-level product design position. Normally, a job application that requires a cover letter would be an automatic skip. But now J generates one in a matter of minutes, instructing ChatGPT to pull personal examples from a resume. After a few minutes of tweaking, it’s ready to be submitted. Although J hasn’t necessarily noticed an increase in the amount of callbacks received, the tool has let them throw their hat in the ring for more positions than before.

“Cover letters in general have always sounded to me like a bot [wrote them], like they’re very impersonal, the professional way of speaking,” J said. “Why do I have to write fan fiction about why I want to work for you? I just need money to pay my bills.”

Google and Microsoft think chatbots that can converse like humans are the future of web search. But the human workers who make sure they don’t screw up are treated as disposable.

Feb. 16, 2023

‘It is like a virtual friend that will give you an accurate answer.’

When Laura Martinez moved to London from Venezuela eight years ago, she could barely speak or write in English. Although she has improved by leaps and bounds since then, she still relies on the help of platforms such as Grammarly for writing — and now ChatGPT.


Letter No. 3: Is this written by a human or AI?

“I’m a creator with experience working on daily-driven post-strategies for social media and as a videographer making documentaries and corporate videos for startups and big organisations. My last work was as social content creator and marketing executive. I helped rebuild their social media platforms by creating engaging visual content that resonated with audiences. Also, I was responsible for producing online content, managing all events, and video.”

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“If you don’t know English [well], a lot of doors can be closed for you,” Martinez, 37, said. In the multistep job application process, during which candidates’ fates are at the often-subjective whims of a hiring manager, she believes it’s important to use technology to her advantage.

Martinez uses a prompt she found on a LinkedIn post advising people to try out ChatGPT for their cover letters: “Write me a personalized cover letter explaining why I’m a great candidate for this job. The job title is [Job Title], the company is [Company Name], and here is the job description: [Paste Job Description].”

While editing the cover letter, she made sure to personalize it and delete sentences she wouldn’t say or that weren’t applicable to her. Martinez said the process also improves her writing ability in the long run. If she’s struggling with writing a specific sentence, she also gives ChatGPT prompts to make her writing more “polished” or asks it to rewrite what she has.

“It is like a virtual friend that will give you an accurate answer and push you to get the best version,” said Martinez, who has already used the ChatGPT-written letter to apply for 15 jobs in content creation and social media management since she started her job search in January.

‘I was pretty amazed.’

One of the first things Zachary asked ChatGPT to do was to practice Spanish with him. Another was to write an episode of “The Office” set in 2050. ChatGPT did both — and surprisingly well.


Letter No. 4: Is this written by a human or AI?

“Throughout my career, I have demonstrated a strong ability to identify and create new qualified opportunities. My experience with cold calling, email campaigns, and LinkedIn outreach has allowed me to build a pipeline of targeted prospects and generate interest in the services I have represented. I have also honed my executive presence and communication skills, allowing me to conduct high-level consultative conversations with C-level executives and book qualified meetings for the sales team.”

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Now, he’s integrated it into his daily job in Southern California working in tech sales and using it in his job search as he tries to transition into recruiting.

For cover letters, he gave ChatGPT a job description and a couple of sentences with the titles of previous roles he’s been in.

“It basically filled in the knowledge of what it knows those positions do,” Zachary said. “I was pretty amazed.”

Afterward, he’ll edit to remove any filler material or sentences that are too “on the nose,” such as regurgitating a company’s values or mentioning a company’s reputation as a “top leader for business women.”

He’s also using it to rework his resume, giving it paragraphs he’s written and telling ChatGPT: “Make this more concise.”

At work, he uses it to shorten long-winded emails and generate cold call scripts for contacting potential clients. He’s also seen cases in which, to prep for an interview, job seekers ask ChatGPT to pretend to be a hiring manager at a company they’re reaching out to and identify the top three problems that person faces.


“I think it’s a tool that we can use to make ourselves more efficient,” he said.

‘Is it plagiarism? I don’t even know.’

Cynthia Clifford has also fully embraced the use of ChatGPT in her teaching job at an international school in Vietnam and as she seeks to transition industries and find an opportunity in data analytics.


Letter No. 5: Is this written by a human or AI?

“I know [Company X] is committed to igniting learning breakthroughs with rigorous teacher-friendly, inclusive, student-centered, problem-based courses in technology-rich, discourse-based classrooms. I have extensive classroom teaching experience, am highly motivated, and can develop courses for [Company X] because I have already developed engaging courses involving a multitude of learning targets as a classroom teacher and have developed material for online learning during three years of virtual teaching. I can drive results in the areas of collaborative curriculum development.”

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She first heard about it from a classmate in a data analytics accelerator program who mentioned using ChatGPT for his cover letters in early December, right after it was released.

“As soon as the class was over, I made a beeline and got an account,” Clifford said. “That’s how my report card comments got written this semester.”

For her cover letter, Clifford said she’s making substantial edits to the ChatGPT-written drafts that she’s generated using job descriptions, but it does “a really good job of pulling out some of the highlights of the job description, the keywords and the things you might want to highlight.”

She has also fed ChatGPT cover letters that she has already written on her own and asked it to tailor it more closely to a job description.

“Is it plagiarism? I don’t even know,” she said. “Plagiarism generally is copying somebody else’s work. If you’re copying the work of a computer, I don’t know if it’s plagiarism.”



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The technology has been a big help as she prepares to throw herself into the job search for data analytics positions, including revising her resume and drafting messages for cold-contacting people on LinkedIn. She has even used it to generate ideas for portfolio projects demonstrating her ability to use SQL, an important programming language in data analytics.