by Michael Cheary
Not sure what to include in your personal statement?
Although a personal statement can have many uses (whether it’s for university or for your CV), its purpose is always based around selling yourself to the reader. Not only do you have to summarise your skills and experience, you also have to make sure it’s relevant to what you’re applying for.
So how can you help yours stand out? To make sure you’re doing it right, here are our top tips to consider when writing your personal statement for your CV:
What is a personal statement?
A personal statement is generally the first thing included in your CV, and is a brief personal summary given to prospective employers to help you stand apart from the competition.
You will also need a personal statement for university applications. However, this will be much more detailed – and try and help you gain a place at uni.
Personal statements for university
Why do I need a personal statement?
Your personal statement is one of the most important parts of your CV.
It gives you a chance to sell yourself to the employer in a small and easy-to-digest paragraph. By summing up the specific skills and experience that make you perfect for the position, you’ll be able to prove your suitability and convince the recruiter to read on.
In fact, a well written personal statement can mean the difference between standing out from the crowd and your application being rejected.
How long should a personal statement be?
Ideally, your personal statement should be no more than around 150 words (or four or five lines of your CV). Any more than this and you run the risk of rambling and taking up valuable space.
Remember: it’s a summary, not a cover letter. So keep it concise, pertinent and to the point.
Try reading our personal statement examples to help you get started.
What do you put in a personal statement?
Successful personal statements answer the following questions:
- Who are you?
- What can you offer?
- What are your career goals?
To make sure you’ve ticked all the boxes, consider bullet-pointing answers to these when drafting your personal statement. And, if you’re struggling for inspiration, use the job description to help you identify the specific skills the employer is looking for.
For example, if it highlights that the perfect candidate will have excellent business analysis skills, make sure you cover this somewhere in your statement.
This could sound something like: ‘Working experience of strategic business analysis with an investigative and methodical approach to problem-solving.’
Personal statement: Dos and don’ts
How do you begin a personal statement?
Starting off with the ‘who are you?’ question, always aim to include a quick introduction as the first point.
An example opening for your personal statement could be: ‘A qualified and enthusiastic X, with over Y years’ worth of experience, currently searching for a Z position to utilise my skills and take the next step in my career’.
What tense should it be written in?
Your personal statement can be written in any person or tense – as long as you maintain consistency throughout.
This means avoiding statements like: ‘I am a recent business economics graduate. Excellent analytical and organisational skills. I am driven and self-motivated individual that always gives 100% in everything I do. Proven track record of successes’ –at all costs.
How long should I spend writing my personal statement?
A personal statement isn’t a one-size-fits all document.
In other words, a new one should be written for each application you send off. Although it might take some time to alter it according to each job role, your effort will make all the difference when it comes to impressing an employer.
After all, each job requires a slightly different set of skills and experience – meaning the level of focus you put on your abilities will change from application to application.
Remember: generic personal statements won’t get you anywhere – and sending off five well-written and tailored CVs has more value than sending out fifty generic ones.
Personal statement example
A recent business economics graduate with a 2:1 honours degree from the University of X, looking to secure a Graduate Commercial Analyst position or similar to utilise my current analytical skills and knowledge, and also help me to further develop these skills in a practical and fast-paced environment.
My eventual career goal is to assume responsibility for the analysis and implementation of all commercial data and actively contribute to the overall success of any business I work for.
Personal statement examples
Free CV template
Read more CV help & tips
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Advice: Do's and Don't for Writing Personal Statements
Nearly all scholarship applications involve writing a personal statement. Sometimes this is the only piece of original writing required of applicants, other times there are additional short statements or project proposals to write.
The staff of the National Scholarships Office will be happy to assist UMD students and alumni with the personal statement. We will discuss ideas for the statement, and read and give feedback on drafts. Contact us at email@example.com.
Though the wording of the personal statement requirement may vary from scholarship to scholarship, here are some important things to remember.
1. Think of the personal statement as an "intellectual autobiography." The statement should convey to your readers a clear, thoughtful picture or impression of you as a person who has distinct interests, motivations, accomplishments, aims and ideas.
2. Aim to define a central idea, impression or theme you hope to convey. The most memorable personal statements are ones that have a clear theme or purpose that unifies the ideas and information presented. Sometimes you'll know what this theme should be in advance; sometimes it will emerge as you begin drafting your statement.
3. Keep it simple. It's easy to over-write a one-page personal statement. Use the words and language you would naturally use in writing a thoughtful, intelligent letter to a friend or trusted mentor.
4. Use specifics. Help your readers remember you (and your application) by using specific names, references and illustrations. For example, always say “my internship with the Sierra Club’s bald eagle project” rather than “my internship with a renowned environmental organization’s project to save an endangered species.” Note which sounds more real and natural, and which sounds impersonal and artificial. (See “don’t” number 4 below.)
5. Find the "story" in your history. Your life has been a journey, with planned and unexpected turns, with successful and frustrated goals, with hard-earned and accidental insights, with hoped-for but as-yet-unrealized achievements. Your basic challenge in writing a compelling personal statement is to tell the story that makes sense of your life as it has been, is, and could be.
6. Welcome the reader into your life and aims. Scholarships are looking for promising people, not high-powered profiles. Write to engage your reader, write in a way that invites him or her to want to meet and get to know you – even if your scholarship process does not involve an interview stage.
1. Write to impress. Scholarship selection committees have seen and heard it all. Let your credentials and awards speak for themselves. Use your personal statement to talk to your readers about the things that motivate, inspire and shape you. Help them to understand what your specific accomplishments have meant to you, or how they have shaped you. Help them to understand why you care about the things you care about.
2. Write in cliches. Ask yourself if each and every sentence in your draft reflects some thought, fact, reflection or experience of your own. Avoid sentences that could have been written by absolutely anyone. Avoid stock phrases or expressions.
3. Re-write your resume in prose. Again, selection committees are looking for the person behind the credentials. Avoid laundry lists of activities, etc., and focus on the select few experiences that have meant the most to you, or have had the greatest influence on your development and aims.
4. Be too general or abstract. Don’t distance your reader by using vague references or abstractions in your essay. You (or your roommate) may think it sounds more impressive to say “my internship with a renowned environmental organization’s project to save an endangered species,” but that doesn’t really tell the reader what organization you worked for or what species was being helped. They would rather meet the person who worked with the Sierra Club to help save bald eagles.
5. Get too frustrated! Distilling your life into a compelling, informative one thousand word or one-page personal statement is a challenging task. Think of this as an opportunity, all-too-rare in life, to reflect calmly and creatively on who you are, who you want to be, and what you hope to do with your life.
Checklist for Evaluating your Personal Statement Drafts
A. Does your opening paragraph quickly engage the reader? Does it convey a distinct picture or impression of you as a person?
B. Is your guiding theme or idea clearly expressed? Is there a thread that runs through the essay, unifying it?
C. Are your principal intellectual interests and aims clearly elaborated? Is there evidence of your intellectual engagement and of the ideas that motivate you in your work or studies?
D. Are your more important commitments to community service, campus or off-campus organizations, or leadership roles effectively addressed?
E. Is the closing paragraph effective? Does it leave the reader with a sense of completeness? Does it suggest to the reader something of the spirit with which you are going forward in life?