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Another Task for HR in the GenAI Era: Find a Prompt Engineer

Generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) may eventually replace some jobs and consolidate others, but right now, it is driving the demand for a new type of skilled worker: the prompt engineer.

A prompt engineer crafts queries—“prompts”—that give GenAI tools instructions on how to do tasks such as writing replies to job applicants, designing prototypes for consumer products, or creating artwork for a company’s logo.

“Prompt engineering is about the discipline of how you converse with new generative AI tools and use it to solve problems, which anybody can do and anybody can learn to do,” said Jules White, an associate professor of computer science and senior advisor to the chancellor for generative AI at Vanderbilt University.   

Escalating Demand

White teaches a course titled Prompt Engineering for ChatGPT, which Coursera began offering in May 2023 in partnership with Vanderbilt University. More than 240,000 students have enrolled in the online classes, inspired by the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022.

The number of job posts for prompt engineers has skyrocketed since the launch of ChatGPT, and experts say these numbers are expected to rise even more as GenAI tools are brought into workplaces to replace workers or augment their workflow. 

“During the past year, employer demand for the job title ‘prompt engineer’ has increased fivefold,” said Elizabeth Crofoot, senior economist at Lightcast, a global labor market analytics company headquartered in Moscow, Idaho.

There is a high demand for prompt engineering skills in technical jobs such as data scientists, software developers, and systems engineers, but Crofoot noted that people in occupations such as technical writers, product managers, business analysts, and instructional designers are also using prompt engineering skills.

“This is a sign that GenAI has really evolved from this idea in a testing ground to a practical tool that nontechnical workers are starting to use in their day-to-day workflow,” she said.

With growing demand, the expectation is that recruiters will face obstacles as they scout for people to fill the role.

“The skill of a prompt engineer is a year old. If you are in high school or in college or if you are an employee and you want to know how you should invest your time, educate yourself on this skill, because one year or less is the maximum amount of experience of any person who is a prompt engineer, and it’s going to be such a vitally important skill,” White said.

Crofoot added that recruiters will have to fuse strategies such as skills-based hiring to identify candidates with AI-related skills, including natural language processing and knowledge of large language models, as well as tangential experience.

She also believes HR leaders should consider building prompt engineering talent internally by identifying people with GenAI-adjacent skills and providing them with upskilling and reskilling training opportunities. 

HR, too, needs to learn about the prompt engineer roles it is trying to fill.

What HR Needs to Know

AI’s lightning-fast growth means HR and managers should know of some pitfalls that have developed in the technology. GenAI tools are excellent for some tasks but not for others, and they are only as smart as the information they are trained on. If that information is discriminatory or wrong, the AI tools will be, as well.

“HR managers need to understand the use cases and they need to understand the biases that can result from using tools like GenAI,” Crofoot said.

Bias embedded in large language models that GenAI tools are trained on is troubling, said Kim Herrington, senior analyst at Cambridge, Mass.,-based Forrester Research. She added that hiring managers have to think about inclusion, equity, and diversity when considering candidates for prompt engineer positions.

Herrington said she has experimented with an AI image generation tool that was built off of data that didn’t have images depicting all races. As a result, for instance, “I don't think I have been successful in using a particular tool to generate an image of an African American doctor treating a Caucasian child.”

Compensation Levels, Skills to Look For

ZipRecruiter’s data shows that as of May 9, the average annual salary for a prompt engineer in the U.S. is $62,977, with some pay reaching as high as $95,500 or as low as $32,500. The majority of prompt engineer salaries currently range between $47,000 (25th percentile) and $72,000 (75th percentile), with top earners (90th percentile) making $88,000 annually across the U.S.  

“The market for good prompt engineers is highly competitive. The major tech companies that are leaders in GenAI can offer highly attractive salaries, benefits, and working conditions. Many GenAI startups are also flush with cash and able to offer key employees large equity stakes,” said Julia Pollak, ZipRecruiter’s chief economist.

According to Pollak, filling prompt engineer roles can pose unique challenges for HR teams and hiring managers.

For a start, employers need to find people with technical expertise that is scarce and in high demand, Pollak said. Prompt engineers need a strong understanding of GenAI and relevant programming languages such as Python and TensorFlow. They also need advanced problem-solving skills, strong attention to detail, and the ability to work on multiple projects simultaneously. 

Pollak said prompt engineers also need to be innovative and creative thinkers—characteristics that can be difficult to assess during the hiring process. Generating compelling and relevant prompts that produce desired outputs requires candidates to think outside the box and come up with unique solutions.

Hiring managers must also seek candidates that are highly adaptable, lifelong learners.

“The field of generative AI is rapidly evolving, with new techniques and methodologies emerging regularly. HR managers need to look for candidates who are willing to keep learning and stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in the field,” Pollak said.

Nicole Lewis is a freelance writer based in Miami.


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