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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by Zak Harper in CVs, Applications & Cover Letters
"Fashion is not simply a matter of clothes; fashion is in the air, born upon the wind; one intuits it." That's a quote from Coco Chanel – and it's how not to start a personal statement for a fashion degree.
When applying for a university fashion course, your personal statement won't even be read though if your portfolio is not good enough.
Willie Walters, programme director for fashion at Central St Martins, said the personal statement is "secondary" to portfolio work.
"I don't even read the statements unless the work looks interesting," she says.
Walters advises applicants to make their portfolio work as clear as possible, and to include research and sketchbook work, as well as photographs of design pieces. "We look for originality and something fresh."
When it comes to the written statement, saying you have a "passion for fashion" is an immediate no-no, says Josephine Collins, course leader for fashion journalism at the London College of Fashion.
"It's easy to do and sounds great but we've seen it so many times before," she warns. Similarly, admissions tutors cringe when confronted with yet another tired quote from a fashion icon.
Fashion related courses are notoriously competitive, so avoiding clichés is an important way to make your application stand out, says Andrew Groves, course director for fashion design at the University of Westminster.
"Put yourself in my shoes," says Groves, who reads over 1,000 personal statements each year. "How would you make yours different from all those other applications?"
Although mentioning your favourite designer is a good idea, you should think carefully about who you cite, says Mal Burkinshaw, programme director of fashion at Edinburgh University.
"We always have the same designers quoted. Every now and then someone says they are interested in a more conceptual designer and it makes them stand out. You can tell they are engaging more deeply."
Evidence of engagement with fashion is essential, agree tutors, but make sure you are thinking about it as a serious industry.
"Fashion is the third largest industry in the UK," says Jane Gottelier, programme leader of the fashion department at Falmouth University.
"I steer clear of students who talk mainly about celebrity fashion and TV programmes in their personal statements because it makes me think that they see fashion as something rather fluffy," she says.
As well as explaining why you want to study fashion and listing any relevant work experience, it's also important to show interests outside of fashion, say tutors.
"Some of our fashion courses are really business-orientated," says Liz Barnes, senior lecturer in fashion at Manchester University, "so demonstrating a commercial mind is key."
Outside interests show an engagement with general society that is important for a fashion student, and key to fashion admissions tutors.
It's important to be up to date on current news, to prove an academic interest and to show curiosity about the world and an inquisitive mind. If you have an unusual hobby don't be afraid to mention it as it might help yourself get noticed.
"I've had ice skaters, an Olympic-standard gymnast and stick insect collectors," says Anne Chaisty, principal lecturer in fashion studies at the Arts University Bournemouth.
Fashion may be portrayed as a cut-throat industry, but people who are interested in giving something back interest Chaisty.
"We look for students who want to make a positive difference through what they do as a designer," she says.
Accuracy and a good flow are things all tutors agree on when it comes to a good personal statement, but Barnes says you should also be in tune with the specifics of your course.
"There are lots of courses that are called fashion marketing, for example, but the content of those courses will vary enormously," Barnes explained.
"Understand the course you are applying for and tailor the personal statement to match."
For courses where a portfolio carries a heavier weighting than the personal statement, it is still important to express personality in your written statement.
Tutors say individuality and character are perhaps the most important things to convey.
"Don't contrive something for the sake of it," advises Chaisty, "just be honest, be natural and be yourself."
Just don't quote Coco Chanel.
This article was amended on 19 September to correct an error, changing Willie Walters' job title from course leader to programme director of fashion at Central St Martin's.