When it comes time to apply for a new job, you have a lot on your mind. You need to polish your CV and make sure it is up to date, get in touch with your references, and prepare for a series of interviews. One of the most important tasks on your list? Writing a personal statement.
If you are uncertain about the best way to write a personal statement that really represents your qualities and why you are the best person for the job, read ahead. We go through every aspect of writing a personal statement that will get you noticed – and earn you an interview.
What is a personal statement?
A personal statement is a short paragraph that gives you a chance to ‘toot your own horn.’ Be bold and confidently show off your achievements. This is the time to detail your strengths, summarise your education and relevant work experience, and briefly mention your career goals and aspirations.
This is not the time to be a shrinking violet! Your personal statement should be a convincing argument that you are indeed the best person for the job. It should evoke a strong sense of confidence in your suitability as a candidate, and demonstrate your conviction and character.
Why do you need a personal statement?
There are many reasons why you need a personal statement that really stands out. The first is simple and practical – employers are expecting you to have one on your CV or application. If the choice comes down to you and another applicant and they have a stellar personal statement, you can bet that they will be chosen for an interview – not you. Your CV will head back into the pile.
In a more abstract sense, you should view your personal statement as a small blurb that really captures who you are, and why you are the best person for the role. This is really your chance to ‘show off,’ and you should use it to your benefit.
Finally, by thinking long and hard about your personal statement and spending time honing down into a select few words, you can build your own confidence. Nothing will impress a potential employer as much as a calm, cool, and collected demeanor when you come in for an interview. Taking an inventory of your strengths and presenting them on paper can help get you in the right mind set.
How long should a personal statement be?
Ideally, your personal statement should be ‘short and snappy!’[i] Remember, this is not your cover letter, a personalised email, or even the bulk of your CV. When a potential employer is leafing through hundreds of applicants, you only have a few moments to stand out.
Your personal statement should be between 50 to 150 words, with the ‘sweet spot’ usually falling in the middle around 100 words. This is roughly the length of 2 of the paragraphs in this article, for your reference!
How to write a personal statement
Before you get started with the actual writing of your personal statement, you should create a ‘scratch sheet’ for taking notes. Some people like to do this by hand, and others prefer to use a brainstorming programme.[ii]
Start by doing a personal inventory and thinking about the qualities, experience, and education that you possess that makes you perfect for this role. Jot down anything and everything – all of the factors that make you such a perfect choice. Once you have completed the brainstorming process, go through the notes and determine the most compelling points. These should form the backbone of your personal statement.
- DON’T mention irrelevant roles you’ve had in the past, unless you can connect them to this role.
- DO include specifics about relevant roles and education that make you a suitable choice for the job.
- DON’T include meaningless platitudes, such as ‘hard working,’ ‘works well in a team,’ ‘driven,’ or ‘customer service oriented.’
- DON’T use trendy buzzwords unless you have the proof to back them up. Being truly ‘disruptive’ is rare; using terms like this too freely can make you seem full of ‘fluff’ and lacking substance.[iii]
- DO use descriptive terms that you can back up with evidence, such as ‘met and exceeded sales targets five quarters in a row, demonstrating exemplary drive and sales prowess.’
- DON’T be blasé about your skills – if you seem underwhelmed, so will they.
- DO be passionate and bold, using active language that brings your experience to life.
Worried that you don’t have enough work experience, or that you fall short of what they are looking for? You can help overcome this by detailing some of your hobbies, volunteer work, or school extra-curricular activities.
For instance, if you have volunteered in an elder’s home, you could present this as: “dedicated time to helping the elderly, providing compassionate care and deepening my understanding of inter-personal relationships.”
How to structure a personal statement
Once you have done a personal inventory of your best qualities, most relevant experience, and salient education, you now need to apply this information to the specific job for which you are applying.
Think about the following questions, and structure your statement in the following order:
- What about the role interests you? Why exactly are you applying?
- What about your personality and aptitudes makes you suitable for the position?
- Which previous jobs have you had that directly relate to this position?
- What aspects of your education are relevant to the job listing? List your qualifications, diplomas, and degrees, including any online courses you have taken in the past.
- Which (if any) projects, conferences, and events have you taken part in or completed, and how do they relate to this position?
- What interesting and unique skills and specialties do you possess?
- Which of your hobbies or interests could enrich your candidacy?
After contemplating these questions, you can then begin to apply your personal notes from your brainstorming session, and synthesise the two into your own personal statement. If you are still struggling, you can use a personal statement worksheet to help you organise your thoughts.[iv]
How to start your personal statement
Your personal statement should start with an active sentence that grips your reader’s interest. This should be a brief summary that focuses on your professional or educational accomplishments. It is typically written in the third person, but you can alter this if you think it would be more effective. A young, hip company would likely respond better to a first person statement, while more traditional and conservative institutions/firms will likely prefer third person.
Some examples of a personal statement’s first sentence include:
- A corporate headhunter with a five-year track record of selecting successful candidates in the marketing field.
- A professional barista with seven years of experience in the food services industry.
- An engaging storyteller with a passion for selling travel and curating clients’ global adventures.
- A passionate customer service professional with two years of experience working in high-end cosmetics and skincare to elite clients.
How to end your personal statement
It is important to end your personal statement just as strongly as you started it, leaving your reader with a lingering good impression. This is your chance to wrap up your statement and drive the message home that you are the best person for the job. Finish by clearly stating your objection in applying for this role.
Some examples of strong ways to end your personal statement include:
- Seeking an opportunity to continue my career in craft beer and learn more about the business side of the brewing industry.
- Hoping to begin a career in architectural drafting and grow my skill set, knowledge, and portfolio with a dynamic firm.
- Looking to advance my career in marketing in a role in which I can expand upon the skills learned at University and in my role at Smith Intl.
Example of a personal statement
See below for a sampling of a personal statement for a position at a museum. For many other examples for a range of fields, search for more examples online. You can find an example for nearly every job you can imagine.[v]
“Recent graduate with an MA in Heritage Studies from University College London, with a specialisation in museum curation. Exemplary written communication skills, as evidenced by achieving a Distinction on my dissertation and three peer-reviewed articles published. A passion for museums and medical collections, which I applied during three years of part-time work at the Geffrye Museum. During this time, I helped to develop a new children’s education module that is still in use today. Seeking an entry-level curatorial position that will allow me to build on my existing skill set and develop new aptitudes for a lifelong career in museums.”
You don’t need to feel intimidated or overwhelmed when drafting your personal statement. Instead, think of it as a chance to collect your thoughts, do a personal inventory of your strengths and experience, and really ‘wow’ your potential employer.
Career Advice & Expert Guidance | Fish4jobs. (2018). How To Write A Personal Statement | Fish4jobs. [online] Available at: https://www.fish4.co.uk/career-advice/how-to-write-personal-statement/.
Cheary, M. (2018). Personal statement examples | reed.co.uk. [online] reed.co.uk. Available at: https://www.reed.co.uk/career-advice/personal-statement-examples/ [Accessed 24 Jan. 2020].
Lucidchart.com. (2018). How to Brainstorm: 4 Ways to Get the Creative Juices Flowing | Lucidchart Blog. [online] Available at: https://www.lucidchart.com/blog/how-to-brainstorm.
Thiefels, J. (2019). 4 Great CV Personal Statement Examples — Glassdoor Blog (UK). [online] Glassdoor UK. Available at: https://www.glassdoor.co.uk/blog/cv-personal-statement-examples/ [Accessed 24 Jan. 2020].