The Do’s and Don’ts of ‘Personal Statements’
Personal statements are about you. CV’s are about you but only in a professional/career context. Metaphorically speaking, your ‘personal statement’ is an opportunity for you to give your application or your cv/whatever some breadth, depth, colour and ‘personality’ – and is the institution/employers’ first chance to get to know a bit more about you. That said, there are still some general ‘do’s and don’t’ tips you may wish to consider:
So, noting that the following advice relates to ‘personal statements’ and not to cv’s we ‘suggest’:
- Plagiarise, exaggerate or lie.
- Overuse buzzwords like ‘passion, dedicated, motivated, effective’ etc. or make sweeping statements like ‘I am a highly motivated …’; let the examples do the talking; remember your statement comes in partnership with your CV and ‘motivation’ is easy to demonstrate without explicitly stating it 100 times.
- Use clichés, such as ‘I am a people person’.
- Include irrelevant personal facts like your date of birth (you can put these in your CV if you wish to include them). Of course, if you are specifically asked to provide these details, then do so.
- Include quotes from other people in place of your own thoughts (especially famous quotes!), unless there is a very good reason. On the other hand, quotes from referees may be fine – just don’t bombard the reader with such.
- Include random lists of books you have read, music you have listened to or countries you have visited on holiday – unless you perceive there is some very specific need and benefit in doing so.
- ‘List’ your interests. Instead, demonstrate them, such as ‘I volunteer for a domestic violence helpline’ rather than ‘I am interested in domestic violence issues’.
- Bore the reader. If you get bored when you re-read your statement yourself, then you need to revise it and make it more interesting.
- Use slang or too many acronyms.
- Exceed a specific word limit/length, if you have been given such.
- Use language that you use day-day. It’s better to be you (within reason – no swear words or street slang, please), than to be fake or present yourself as referring to the thesaurus/dictionary every 5 minutes. Your personal statement needs to be as ‘authentic’ as possible – it should reflect the ‘real you’ such that when the reader of your statement finally gets to meet you, there is no surprise, shock or disappointment.
- Apply the ‘so what’ rule, as you write. If you can’t answer it, leave it out.
- CHECK your spelling and grammar, especially if you’re using Microsoft Word, which defaults to US English; take a break and look back over it the next day.
- Print out and read your statement (out loud, if you can!). You will inevitably spot errors that you didn’t spot on the screen. And if you can, get someone else to check it over it too; but don’t get too many people to review it, as you’ll then have too many conflicting comments and opinions, and just end up confused and frustrated.
- Be as clear and as obvious as you can be. Make it easy for the reader to get a glimpse into what you have done and what you have learnt.
- Embed hyperlinks (if you mention or refer to any writing, projects or portfolios that you have authored/created) in the text; the reader is most likely to review your personal statement digitally – if they can get immersed in your work, then that will do you favours.
- Be honest and reflective where appropriate. What is it about this role/opening/study place that you are applying for that will help you grow, and develop? This is the only chance, before an interview for an institution or potential employer to get some context about you – it’s important to not just show off (positively) but to show how they can help you.
- Be specific and use statistics that demonstrate your work/achievements to date. Generic statements, vague claims and bland examples will not make you stand out.
- Take a break from writing it. After your drafting stage, put it away, and re-visit it a day or two later.
- Reflect on your whole life and career, not just the most recent aspects. If a lesson/skill from school, college, university, club, volunteer activity or workplace is still applicable and important to you, then mention it. Your life is a story of facts – you just need to put them into context.
- Mention all of your voluntary work. It shows your commitment, passion and the skills you have developed.
… and finally …
…., for all the advice we have given above, or that anyone else might offer or seek to give you, always remember that it is ‘your’ personal statement.
At the end of the day, you need to own it and believe in it. So, having taken account of all the advice, write it the way that you want to – and in such a way that it sounds like and reads like the ‘real’ you.