Posted on: June 7, 2017
As the first opportunity to market yourself, a good personal statement will win the attention of a recruiter. This article will provide some valuable tips and examples.
Although only a small paragraph at the beginning of your CV, it’s essentially your ‘elevator pitch’ – and an opportunity to sell yourself to the reader, like you might do if you came across somebody who could give you a job in person. You want it to hook a recruiter’s attention, persuade them that your CV is valuable and relevant to the role, and keep them reading.
In many ways, your personal statement is a piece of self-marketing. It’s a few sentences that highlight who you are, your skills, strengths, and career goals. The CV is there to tell your employment history and achievements, but the personal statement is a good chance to reveal a little bit of your personality.
You might decide not to have it if you’ve included this type of information in a cover letter, but if you consider a CV to be the story of your working life so far, the personal statement is a very useful entry-point.
Image: Adobe Stock
How to structure your personal statement
A personal statement shouldn’t be any longer than four to six sentences. Any longer than that and you’ll risk losing the attention of a recruiter, who might only take a few seconds to glance over your CV before deciding to read further.
For some, writing a personal statement might come naturally, especially if you already have your elevator pitch prepared for the ‘tell us about yourself’ question in a job interview. For others, this might not come so naturally, so here is what to include in a personal statement:
- Sketch out the main skills and experiences that are relevant to the job or jobs you’re applying for
- Narrow these into skill highlights you think are particularly important and worthy of mention
- Craft sentences that flow logically and tell a story. Try and make it descriptive enough to let a reader know you as a person, rather than as a series of work statements
- Take your time. Even for a natural writer, it can be difficult to create a concise and effective summary of your skills, expertise and experience
- Consider writing the personal statement last, as if you’ve been working on your CV you’ll have a much better idea about your overall skills and experience
The general advice for writing a CV also applies to the personal statement – make it specific to the different job roles you apply for. Like CVs, the personal statement might need changing or tweaking based on the requirements of the role.
What to avoid in a personal statement
“A dedicated and enthusiastic professional with extensive experience in …. Excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate at all levels. Enjoys part of being in a successful team and thrives in challenging working conditions.”
Recruiters are used to reading these types of lines in personal statements, so much so that they’ve become cliché. They’re also problematic as they don’t tell you anything about who you are, or even what you do. They could be made about any type of job.
An example of a good personal statement
A personal statement needs to show a company what a candidate can offer, whether it’s skills or relevant experience. It needs to be tailored to the job role, rather than a generic throwaway statement that could apply to anybody.
James Innes, Chairman of the CV Group and author of the CV Book, says that candidates should think about giving recruiters something different, personal, and more specific.
He gave this personal statement example:
A PRINCE2 qualified Project Manager specialising in leading cross-functional business and technical teams to deliver projects within the retail and finance sectors.
Uses excellent communication skills to elicit customer requirements and develop strong relationships with key stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle.
Demonstrates strong problem-solving capabilities used to mitigate risks and issues, allowing projects to meet deadlines, budgets and objectives.
Innes explained why he felt this worked as a personal statement:
“With just a little more specific detail, the personal statement has been transformed into something much more effective and individual. A recruiter can see that you are qualified and experienced in delivering projects in certain sectors. They know your communication skills have been used effectively and how your ability to solve problems has resulted in successful project delivery.”
In a competitive job market, it’s important to make sure that every area is covered. With a well-written and professional personal statement, you have an opportunity to make your CV stand out from the rest of the pack.
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(Image: Polka Dot/Thinkstock)
Whether you’re applying for an undergraduate school or trying to get into graduate programs, many applications require a letter of intent or personal statement. Personal statements are one of the most important parts of the application and sometimes the deciding factor for admission.
Personal statements give a better understanding of who you are, beyond the rigid constraints of the “fill-in-the-blank” application.
Like many around this time of the year, I am finishing my graduate school applications. Looking for advice and guidance, I decided to compare different schools’ personal statement requirements and ask admissions offices for advice. Here’s what I found:
1. Be yourself
The Columbia Graduate School for Journalism encourages students to write about family, education, talents or passions. They want to hear about significant places or events in your life; about books you have read, people you have met or work you’ve done that has shaped the person you have become.
Schools want to know about you so don’t portray someone else in the essay. It’s almost like going on a first date. You want to display your best qualities but be yourself at the same time. You want the other person to like you, not someone you’re pretending to be.
2. Show diversity
Rayna Reid, a personal statement guru, received her undergraduate degree at Cornell, Masters at the University of Pennsylvania and is currently pursuing a Law degree at Columbia. Reid says a personal statement is really just a way to make the college fall in love with you.
“The essay is where you really get a chance to differentiate yourself from the other applicants,” she said. “Explain why they should accept you. What will you contribute?”
Sean Carpenter, University of Southern California Student Services Associate and undergraduate student, reiterates the importance of differentiating yourself from other applicants.
He works in the Annenberg School for Communication admissions office and deals with prospective students daily. Carpenter says USC or any major school want to see diversity.
“They want to see how you’re different from all other applicants, especially through diversity. What makes you unique out of all the other applicants?” Carpenter said, “Tell things that has helped you grow as a person and built your character.”
3. Do research and tailor each essay accordingly
Every college is different, so each personal statement should be different. Many students try to get away with having a universal essay but admissions departments will notice.
“Do research to give concrete reasons why you’re interested in particular program,” Carpenter said. “Speak with a faculty member that you’re interested in working with or doing research for and mention that in your statement. It would also be beneficial to say what classes you’ve taken that were relevant to the field of study.”
4. Be concise and follow directions
Make sure you read the directions carefully. One of the biggest red flags for an admissions office are students who don’t adhere to word limitations. Don’t give them a reason to throw out your application.
Believe it or not, there is a way to say everything you want in a page or less. If you need some help, ask several faculty members to read over your essay and give you feedback.
5. Go beyond your resume, GPA and test scores
Many students worry about how their GPA and test scores will affect the admissions process. The personal statement is an opportunity to explain any strengths or weaknesses in your application — such as changes in major, low GPA or lack of experience.
For instance, Reid was worried about not having a 4.0 GPA. Since Reid didn’t have the perfect GPA, she explained what she did with her time to make up for that fact. Being on the Varsity rowing team and a Teach for America Corp member are great examples of how devoting her time to other things made an impact on her GPA.
6. Tell a story
“Nothing makes someone fall in love like a good story. It does not have to be the next Pulitzer winner,” Reid said. “For college, one essay I wrote was about how I have often felt like my life was a movie and how Dirty Dancing (yes, the movie) changed my life. My sister who currently goes to Princeton even wrote about killing a fly!”
One of the worst things you can do is bore the admission officer. Make yourself memorable by telling a story about something distinctive from a creative or different angle.
With this advice, your personal statement will be the highlight of your application. Good luck!
Alexis Morgan is currently a senior at Penn State University. She has extensive experience in public relations, broadcast journalism, print journalism and production. Alexis truly believes if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life. Follow Alexis’s career on her website.
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