Top ten tips for writing a personal statement

by Anna Christodoulou

A personal statement is a document that supports your application for a job, your UCAS application, or a grant or scholarship application. In each case, the aim is the same: to explain why you’re a good match and stand out from the crowd! So, here are ten top tips to help you get your personal statement spot-on.

ONE: Know your audience
Before starting, take some time to think who’s going to read your personal statement and if there are any specific rules that apply to the situation. If you’re writing a UCAS personal statement for example, then you need to follow the UCAS guidance regarding language and structure. If you’re applying for a job, you need to read the application process and person specification carefully, to understand what needs to be included.

TWO: Understand why you’re writing a personal statement
A personal statement is usually an add-on to your application, and it’s a good idea to treat it as such. Is there anything that you’d like to say that didn’t fit in your application due to space limitations? Is there anything you’d like to talk about more in depth or that you’d like people to remember about you? Do you have a success story to share, such as about how you gained a specific skill set? If so, your personal statement is the place to put it in writing.

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THREE: Share your ‘whys’
One way to structure your personal statement is to reflect on your ‘whys’. If you’re applying for higher education, i.e. a university or a degree apprenticeship, then think why are you choosing this subject? Why are you choosing this department or university? Why would you be a good fit? If you’re applying for a job, then think why this job? Why this employer? And why you? What are you bringing to the table for them? What do you want to achieve as a person and how is this position going to help you do it?

FOUR: First things first
Before you start to write your statement, take a step back and make some notes. What are you going to write in it? Think of your motivation, your skills, your stories, your experience and everything else you wish to say. Then think which of those are very important and really match the position you are applying for? And which of those are ‘nice to have’ to enrich your statement but are somewhat less important? Then prioritise them in your writing and put the most important bits in first. Use the course description when applying for university or the person specification when applying for a job, to see what’s important for the people who will read it.

FIVE: Be specific and back yourself up
Do you know the S.T.A.R. technique that’s used in interviews? It’s about giving examples of how you have gained specific skills and competences. Well, it can be used in writing as well. S.T.A.R. stands for Situation – Task – Action – Result. When you’re putting down why you have the skills for the position, think of a specific example and describe what the situation was, the task that you had to do, what action did you take and what (good) result you brought. Similarly, use a specific and structured example to talk about a situation that inspired you and why you now wish to follow on this path professionally.

SIX: Less is more
Put yourself in the shoes of the person whose job is to read 1,000 statements before a specific deadline. How will this person react if you’ve written more than the word limit? And wouldn’t it be a good way to stand out if your message was short and sweet? Wouldn’t it help if you had it structured in easy-to read smaller paragraphs, each addressing a specific point, rather than one huge, messy block of text? And how about making it concise and not repeat ideas in different places?

SEVEN: Have an interesting point of view
A good way to stand out is to have an interesting point of view. That means including in your text relevant things about the course, the job, the position, and the institution that you find interesting. Include things that appeal to your personal values, things that that you want to explore and build on if you are given this opportunity. This will reflect your way of thinking and your voice. While doing so, you can also highlight your unique selling points and show your understanding of, and enthusiasm for, the position.

EIGHT: Ask someone to proofread it
This is an extremely important step which is, surprisingly, quite often overlooked. Once you have finished writing, ask someone of even a few people to proofread it. Do you have any typos? How is the grammar looking? What do they think about your ideas? Are they relevant to the position you ‘re applying for? Ask them what they think are the stronger parts of your statement, if there are any weaknesses and how you can address them. These discussions will bring up new ideas on how to improve your statement and make it as good as possible.

NINE: Have a different personal statement for every application
Don’t send the same personal statement to different positions. Even if the subject/ position/ industry is the same, you need to tailor it to the situation, make it unique and provide evidence on why you are the best applicant for the specific place. Draw attention to the skills and experience most relevant to this position offered in this specific institution. That said, there’s a big exception to the rule: UCAS applications. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to include multiple personal statements there, and the same application is sent to up to five course choices. So, when writing your personal statement for UCAS, focus more on your unique selling points, but make sure that what you’re writing is relevant for all your course choices.

TEN: Start early
The earlier you start, the more time you’ll have to finalise your draft, to discuss it with other people, have it proofread and reviewed. If you leave it until the last minute, you’ll risk presenting a sloppier, less detailed piece of work that might not let your potential shine through.

 

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"The earlier you start, the more time you’ll have to finalise your draft."