How to write a great personal statement

When it comes to CV writing, nothing is perhaps quite so challenging as mastering the dreaded personal statement. For obvious reasons, the concept of “selling yourself” can be the curse of the shy. Less considered, however, is that a personal statement can also be the folly of the confident!

There are lots of things to consider when you write your CV. You have to choose the right layout, which may be radically different depending on whether you’re currently employedunemployed or a recent graduate. You need to avoid making those all too common mistakes. You also need to think about what employers may actually be looking for too.

As James Innes, Chairman of The CV Centre and author of The CV Book, is quick to point out, a personal statement can be a double-edged sword for budding job applicants.

“There is an ongoing debate as to whether or not a personal statement should be included on a CV anymore, with some people arguing that they can perhaps come across as too arrogant or pompous,” argues James. “However, a well written personal statement can be the deciding factor in getting your CV onto the ‘yes’ pile. In just a few lines, you have the opportunity to really pitch yourself to recruiters but you have to think it through and decide what skills and attributes you want to promote.”

So how do you make your personal statement count? James is on hand to give us his top 5 tips!

1. Size matters (and so does your story!)

“Start with a blank sheet of paper and write down a list of everything that makes you who you are, both as a person and as an employee. List your main skills; what you think makes you stand out from other people and any notable achievements that you are proud of. You will not necessarily be able to put all of this information into the personal statement but it will really help you to get started. Once you have this list, you can start to effectively chip away at it, bit by bit, until you have the information that you want to include in your personal statement.

Bear in mind that this should ideally only be four to six sentences; any longer than that and you can lose the attention of the recruiter. How you present this information in the personal statement is also really important for the same reason. Create sentences that flow logically and that effectively tells a story of your experience through the skills you have acquired. This way, the recruiter will be able to identify with you as a real person rather than just reading a series of statements.”

How to write a great personal statement

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2. Cut the clichés

“When you’re writing the personal statement itself, avoid clichés and hyperbole. Let me give you an example of the sort of personal statement that recruiters see, time and time again:

‘A dedicated and enthusiastic professional with extensive experience in project management. Possesses excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate effectively at all levels. Good at problem solving with strong organisational capabilities. Enjoys being part of a successful and productive team and thrives in highly pressurised and challenging working environments.’

“While this may be well written, it says absolutely nothing about the person other than that they have experience in project management, which lots of people have! ‘Dedicated and enthusiastic’ are words that recruiters see all the time and many people can claim to work well in a team. So you need to think about giving them something different.”

How to write a great personal statement

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3. Context is everything

“Make it about you! You may well be good at solving problems and be an excellent communicator but putting these skills into context will make the personal statement much stronger. Let’s have a look at another example:

‘A PRINCE2 qualified Project Manager specialising in leading cross-functional business and technical teams to deliver projects within the retail and finance sectors. Utilises excellent communication skills to elicit customer requirements and to develop strong relationships with key stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle. Demonstrates strong problem-solving capabilities used to mitigate risks and issues, enabling projects to meet deadlines, budgets and objectives.’

“With just a little more specific detail, the personal statement has been transformed into something much more effective and more individual. A recruiter can see that you are qualified and experienced in delivering projects in certain sectors; they know how your communication skills have been used effectively and how your ability to solve problems has resulted in successful project delivery.”

4. Keep it real!

“Selling yourself in the personal statement is really important, but you have to keep it real! Remember that everything you put in the personal statement will need to be supported by the information in the rest of your CV. There is no point claiming that you work well in a team if you have spent all your time working on your own. If you get to the interview stage, you may then be called upon to defend or elaborate on the claims you made in your personal statement. So don’t say that you are a confident communicator if you get nervous when someone talks to you! Find another way of describing your communication skills that is more realistic, or find another selling point to include in your personal statement.

“Also, avoid overstating your level of expertise. Don’t say that you are highly experienced in accounting if the only experience you have has been gained through your studies. Completing a degree does not necessarily make you ‘highly experienced’ and recruiters will pick up on this. Conversely, don’t understate your experience either. Avoid phrases such as ‘enjoys being part of a team…’ as this does not necessarily mean that you are any good at teamwork, just that you enjoy it. So you need to find the right balance between sounding too pompous and not selling yourself effectively.”

How to write a great personal statement

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5. One statement does not fit all!

“You have to take your time with your personal statement in order to create an effective summary of your skills, expertise and achievements. This is the hardest part of the CV, often because writing about yourself in this way can be uncomfortable, and it requires the most time and thought. Leaving it until last is a very good idea as you will then have a clearer appreciation of your skills and capabilities. It is also essential that you tailor the personal statement for each and every different job role that you apply for; one CV does not fit all situations. When you have finished, get someone objective, for example a colleague or friend, to read through your personal statement to make sure it portrays you effectively. If you are struggling with it, you can always seek professional help from The CV Centre.”

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