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Chris Webb, University of Huddersfield
Early talent & AI

How ChatGPT can help scaffold careers exploration and prompt action

Chris Webb explores approaches to provide career exploration scaffolding in guidance, whilst prompting action and developing AI literacy.

As we have started to see the HE careers sector move from discussion to action in regard to using generative AI tools like ChatGPT, a common focus has often been how students and graduates can utilise these tools to enhance their CV writing and approach to applications and interviews, something that is quite understandable given the wealth of resources available on this topic and the immediate impact this can have for individuals, particularly those who struggle with this aspect of their career development.

However, the potential of generative AI tools like ChatGPT for careers professionals is much broader and can help us take a more dynamic approach to supporting students and graduates with their career exploration, especially when it comes to creating a scaffold for individuals to take action more easily following a one-off careers conversation. How can we do this? It all starts with a single thread…

Building Blocks for Career Development

One of the major benefits of ChatGPT that I’ve seen so far in careers interventions with students and graduates is the ability to streamline the generation of career ideas for further discussion, which can help provide us with more time in a 1:1 or group guidance session to explore individuals’ needs and prompt further thinking and reflection, with the added benefit of us ending up with a collaborative resource (in the form of a ChatGPT thread) that the individual can continue to use following a careers conversation. So how does this work in practice?

Chat GPT for exploration

ChatGPT for Exploration

The image above provides a good example of how ChatGPT can be utilised as a launchpad for career exploration in 1:1 appointments with students and graduates, and the potential it has to really speed up some of the thinking work both careers professionals and clients engage in and move more quickly to discussion, exploration, reflection and action, particularly for careers professionals who may be working with much shorter appointment times. As you can see from the prompt above, it's very difficult to use ChatGPTfor this purpose without first taking the time to explore the interests and values of the client (one reason, amongst many, why I feel ChatGPT is a tool to augment the provision of careers information, advice and guidance, rather than replace it) but once you have even some basic information regarding a client's interests, you can quickly generate a range of useful career ideas to explore further in a session, which you can then adapt based on the prompts you play around with (for example, you might not want to reference job roles and industries/organisations at all, but instead use language like 'challenges' or a specific framework like the UN Sustainable Development Goals to frame the exploration).

I can't tell you how useful these sort of prompts have been in 1:1 sessions, particularly with students and graduates who have struggled to see how their skills and interests align to the world, and the system has often generated ideas that I would have struggled to produce in such a short period of time off the top of my head, or identify in tandem with the client via collaborative research during a careers conversation, giving the individual more time to interrogate these career ideas in a supportive setting.

ChatGPT for Research
Chat GPT for research

In addition to the example above, I've also found a huge amount of value in leveraging ChatGPT as an early-stage research tool, with the caveat that I wouldn't necessarily rely on it as a 'single point of truth' for this purpose, even with systems like Bing that are connected to the internet and return more up-to-date information (that said, I would always advise clients to take the same approach when undertaking research with Google search, so the principles of how we'd encourage good information literacy with our clients will likely remain the same!) As you'll see from the example above, using a fairly simple prompt you can set ChatGPT up as a helpful research assistant, with additional prompts allowing you to dive deeper into particular responses it generates, starting from a more macro level (e.g. exploring areas of industry) and moving to a more granular level as needed (e.g. 'Can you give me the names of 10-20 consultancy firms operating in the UK, with a short description of what they do and links to their website'). The benefit of this approach is two-fold:

  1. It can be used in appointments with clients to speed up the process of exploration while you have time together and also as a tool for demonstrating the importance of good information literacy (Where did this information come from? Why might we need to check its accuracy? What other sources of careers information could and should we look at?)
  2. Sharing the link to these chat threads with a client can help prompt further action after a session, as some of the scaffolding has already taken place and the client is not necessarily starting from scratch - done well, this will also hopefully empower the client to start experimenting with prompts and reflect on how they undertake careers research independently.

One area where I've found ChatGPT particularly helpful as a research tool is in sessions with international students, who understandably may not always have the same level of awareness as home students when it comes to identifying organisations connected to specific industries in the UK (although this is a generalisation and certainly not always the case!) - a number of international students I've worked with have reflected that they've found ChatGPT a helpful starting point for pinpointing companies they could approach (either speculatively, or to check out their advertised opportunities) based on their industries of interest, often using the system as an initial stage of research (e.g. generating a list of company names, website details, background information etc.) and then highlighting particular organisations to research further, using a variety of sources, such as industry publications, company websites and social media.

By sharing prompts like the ones above with QR codes or URLs with the students and graduates we work with, careers professionals can help to provide handy building blocks for future career exploration, which are not just quality-assured (e.g. we have talked through them directly with clients and highlighted the potential biases and limitations) but are much more dynamic than a simple list of website addresses, as the individual is able to continue prompting and interacting with the ChatGPT thread in their own time.

You only get one shot…

The sort of approach mentioned above can be particularly handy for careers professionals who might only see a student or graduate once during their time at an institution (very much the norm, in my experience) – these ‘One-Shot’ interactions can sometimes feel quite pressurised for both the careers professional and the client (even though students and graduates usually have the option to undertake multiple appointments via their careers service, they do not always take up this offer!) in terms of making sure they get something from the interaction, and the use of carefully constructed ChatGPT threads can help us equip students and graduates with the scaffolding needed to continue their career exploration in a structured and meaningful way, even if they choose never to access our service again.

Bots on, Brains off?

As you can probably tell by now, I’m something of a ChatGPT fan (*shocked face*), particularly when it comes to its potential as a launchpad for careers exploration and research, but I feel it’s important to note that not all careers professionals share my enthusiasm for the work of our algorithmic friend. One critique of using ChatGPT for the purposes I’ve referenced above, which I’ve read a number of times, is the risk of these exploration/research threads closing down the thinking of the user – for example, if an individual using the thread isn’t naturally curious or critical in the way they engage with career information, it could be easy to for someone to become reliant on the responses generated by ChatGPT when conducting careers research (with all the potential biases that might be present in the data) rather than using the tool as a starting point from which to dig deeper via a variety of other sources.

With this in mind, when it comes to helping students and graduates develop both information and AI literacy, it's arguable that the role of careers professionals is more important than ever – whether collaboratively exploring career options via a 1:1 appointment, sharing ideas in a group guidance session or workshop, or creating online learning content for a module or website, there are myriad ways that we can positively influence the way that students and graduates understand and leverage generative AI tools to enhance their career development, and it is a responsibility I don’t think we should ever take lightly.

How do you feel about the idea of using generative AI tools like ChatGPT for careers exploration and research? A no-brainer for helping us quickly surface ideas to discuss with students and graduates, or a slippery slope that might lead to weaker information literacy in the long term? Would love to hear your thoughts, ChatGPT-assisted or otherwise!

Chris Webb is a Registered Career Development Professional, currently working in the UK Higher Education sector, with experience delivering high-quality CEIAG to young and adult clients. A freelance careers writer, blogger and podcaster, Chris has produced career development content for a number of publications, including Trotman Indigo,, Not Going to Uni and the CDI's Career Matters, as well as co-hosting the CDI's #WeAreCareers show and publishing his popular #TheWeekInCareers newsletter on LinkedIn. Chris is a member of the CDI, AGCAS and the Careers' Writers Association and can be connected with via his profiles on LinkedIn and X (formerly Twitter).

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