Talent   //   November 10, 2023

What’s at risk when using ChatGPT to write cover letters?

Roughly half of job candidates are using generative AI to help with their job applications, leaning on the tools to tailor their resumes to best align with a job description, or to come up with answers to potential interview questions. They’re most often using it for one of the more dreaded tasks — writing their cover letters — that survey, which included responses from over 3,500 job hunters conducted this August found.

As more organizations employ other AI tools to filter and sort through hundreds of applications, cover letters remain one of the only opportunities job seekers have to express their voice and individuality, and to tell a more colorful story of their career arc.  

“If your resume does not fully tell the story of why you’re a good fit for this job, your cover letter is the only other opportunity that you have,” said Jamie Kohn, a senior research director in Gartner’s human resource practice. “But whether that cover letter actually gets read becomes another question.”

"[Cover letters] can be an opportunity to set yourself apart, especially if you are in the process of changing careers. Generative AI is never going to capture that narrative of your career,”
Jamie Kohn, senior research director, Gartner’s human resource practice.

Some industries lean far less on writing samples and cover letters than others, and are continuing to rely less on them — like the tech space — where technical skills matter most. HR software firm Paycor no longer requires cover letters. “They’re definitely not as common as they used to be,” said Shayna Royal, Paycor’s director of talent acquisition.

There’s about a 50% chance your cover letter will actually get thoroughly read by a recruiter, Kimberly Gottschalk, head of innovation at global talent solutions provider LHH, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing a good job on. 

“Theoretically a cover letter is important because it’s your first opportunity to present yourself, and first impressions are very meaningful,” Gottschalk said.

More writing-heavy professions, like marketing and public relations and research roles still depend on those, and candidates using AI to write them could be doing themselves a disservice. “They can be an opportunity to set yourself apart, especially if you are in the process of changing careers,” Kohn said. “Generative AI is never going to capture that narrative of your career,” she said.

The survey found that among job seekers using generative AI in job applications, about half use it to write their cover letters, and slightly less (49%) are using it for their resumes. Some 44% said they’ve used AI on writing assessments during the interview process, while 39% said they’ve used it to write answers to questions in assessments. And 31% said they’ve let AI write their personal biography for their personal pages on hiring platforms.

The rapid adoption of generative AI among job seekers, particularly ChatGPT after it launched a year ago, means recruiters will have to adapt and should already be revisiting their hiring strategies, according to the report.

“Theoretically a cover letter is important because it's your first opportunity to present yourself, and first impressions are very meaningful."
-Kimberly Gottschalk, head of innovation at LHH recruitment solutions.

How companies should respond

Company leaders are approaching this issue from two points of view. Those in the first camp believe candidates are being resourceful using the tools for their applications, and that using AI will likely increasingly become a part of their own jobs. Those in the other camp are now worried about their ability to determine who is actually a high quality candidate. Much depends on how exactly candidates are using AI in the process, though. 

“I think people are less concerned about resumes and cover letters, and more thinking about those interview and assessment implications,” Kohn said.

Some tips for recruiters to better evaluate whether a candidate is actually a good fit or using AI to make them look like it is to look harder at specific examples of situations discussed in interviews, Kohn said. Those on the hiring side should also ask many follow up questions in interviews to better determine the logic behind a candidate’s answer. 

They should also remain cognizant of the way their filters may sort out potentially qualified candidates, and still lean on things like cover letters when possible and other ways for candidates to better express their personality and working experience. 

More recently some job seekers have shifted their efforts from telling their story in strong cover letters, instead writing directly to hiring managers via email or Linkedin. “So they’re still trying to make that personal connection and tell their story, but they’re just doing it in a more direct way. In that situation you can help to ensure that your name at least crosses somebody’s desk,” she said. 

Royal is seeing the same. “People are using the tools available to them to just find the right person,” she said.