Let’s say you’ve recently graduated from college and are evaluating your options. You’d like to find a career that pays well, will be around for a while, and fits your strengths. The world is only getting more expensive, and your parents are increasingly worried about your finding a self-sustaining path. Managing the parents might actually be your full-time job.

Fret not. If you run on a mix of curiosity and instincts, have good organization and communication skills, and enjoy problem-solving, there’s a burgeoning field called “prompt engineering.” It deserves a serious look.

Prompt engineering does not mean arriving on time at a desk (or couch). Prompt engineering, spurred by ChatGPT, is where you seek to get the right information out of the bowels of the internet. It is not as easy as it sounds, and having Google searching skills doesn’t much count.

Here is how I first became acquainted with prompt engineering. My brother (a rabbi) and I were sitting with four digital natives, discussing where all conversation goes: ChatGPT. True to our demographic, we questioned its value, authenticity and longevity. 

“Maybe it’s a fad,” I offer.

“Not so,” say the digital natives as we embark on a test drive. 

My brother lays out a scenario, and the digital native, David, agrees to do the prompting.

Test one: I am a 61-year-old lawyer and want to retire in five years. My wife and I aren’t on the same page. She dreams of going to another climate now and living a relaxed life. ChatGPT, what should I do?

David proceeds to enter a long prompt that repeats my brother’s question, but he prefaces it with, “I am considering speaking with a therapist about the following issue. (Insert query.) What kind of questions should I be prepared to think about, and what kind of guidance might a therapist offer?”

David tells us that ChatGPT does not want to be a therapist, so the prompt must be “arm’s length” and hypothetical sounding.

ChatGPT responds with a series of questions a therapist might ask. The questions focus on communication, understanding goals, the couple’s history of problem resolution, considering various options, and the nature of compromise. ChatGPT is thorough but somewhat “textbook sounding.” There is nothing overtly stupid, and sometimes it sounds brilliant.

We were surprised as we uttered a series of “Wow,” “Who would have thunk?” and “Well, maybe there is something here to take note of.”

Test two: My brother, a rabbi to his core, asks David to prompt ChatGPT on the following:“ChatGPT, our synagogue is challenged by slow growth, a Zoom culture that makes on-site prayer more difficult, and new challenging financial realities. How would you go about creating a plan that offers growth and sustainability?”

We were sure that this is not a question ChatGPT has fielded frequently, and David (half-chuckling) enters some prompts, though he massaged it by doing it in pieces, adding some specificity. The answers that came back were of mixed value. Some sounded vanilla (get feedback from your congregants), but other suggestions sounded more helpful (scenario modeling, for example).

ChatGPT would not replace the need for a synagogue steering committee, but there was another takeaway: If you are good at generating specific prompts and know how to follow up with even more specific prompts, some good content will result that might surprise you (but not always).

I shared my takeaway with David, who was skilled at generating prompts. Why wouldn’t he be? He lives in Northern California, participates in a high-tech culture, and is a Stanford MBA. He’s got youth, knowledge and culture on his side. That’s when I learned that “prompt engineering” is a very sought-after skill that Bloomberg report says pays handsomely.

Prompt engineering will be here for quite a while and is defined as being an “expert at getting the new generation of generative AI applications such as ChatGPT or Google Bard to do what they want.” You need very little technical knowledge. English is your computer language. However, don’t be fooled that it is easy. A vague and non-specific prompt will generate a vague and non-specific answer.

This experience took me back to that iconic scene in “The Graduate” where Dustin Hoffman, a newly minted graduate, is advised by Mr. McGuire that “plastics” is a promising career. Were that movie scripted today, I suspect Mr. McGuire would say, “Prompt engineering.”

It’s worth checking out.