It’s not uncommon during the application process to come across a section asking you to write a personal statement. This can happen whenever you fill out an application, whether it’s for college admissions, a new job, or anything else. If you’ve ever stared at the question, wondering what exactly they mean by “personal statement,” that’s understandable. They’re essentially asking you to distill who you are, where you excel, and what you stand for in the space of only a few paragraphs. That’s a lot of pressure, especially if you haven’t exactly thought about those key questions before. It will likely be the first time you’ve ever needed to know how to write a personal statement.
You shouldn’t let the intimidation of the moment overwhelm you. Don’t look at writing a personal statement as a chore but rather as an opportunity. This is your chance to truly express yourself and explain what makes you tick. It’s also an opportunity to show how you stand out over everyone else.
In this article, learn what a personal statement is, the purpose behind it, how to write one, and some additional tips for crafting the strongest personal statement you can.
What Is a Personal Statement?
“A personal statement should summarize what the candidate has done in the past, what they want to do next, and the skills/knowledge/experience that bridges the two.”Zena Everett, director and career coach at Second Careers
A personal statement is a detailed look at who you are, including your skills, values, achievements, goals, hobbies, passions, and any other information relevant to the position you are applying for. The main focus of a personal statement will largely depend on if the application is for a job or if it’s intended for a college admissions committee.
For example, a personal statement to get into college will likely talk about high school achievements and awards as well as what the individual hopes to study.
A personal statement written for a job, on the other hand, will usually refer to accomplishments in past jobs as well as what you want to achieve as you advance in your career.
In general, a personal statement for a job will be shorter, but both types should focus on what unique aspects you bring to the table along with the purpose that drives you to succeed. While not exactly a mission statement, it should reference what you hope to accomplish in life.
The Purpose of Having a Personal Statement
You shouldn’t wait to write a personal statement until the moment you see the question on an application. Preparing one beforehand will get you ready to answer what is a pretty important question. If you haven’t made one yet, write it ahead of time so you can refer to it when applying for a job, college, or graduate school.
Essentially, a personal statement represents your personality, goals, and achievements in a succinct way for those in decision-making roles. They should get a good sense of who you are and what kind of person you want to become. You may also choose to include what career coach Donna Shannon calls a “passion statement,” which is a quick summary of why you love your job.
The following are some of the insights a personal statement can reveal to someone about you:
- Crucial events in your life that shaped you into the person you are today
- The core values that inform the most important decisions you make
- The ethical values that you strive to live by when no one is watching
- Times when you’ve needed to learn and grow
- A vision for your life that you hope to fulfill
Structure of a Personal Statement
Personal statements should include an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. That much is pretty straightforward. However, the way in which you tackle the content of your personal statement usually follows one of two main structures: narrative or montage.
A narrative structure follows a story, only this time, you’re the main character who follows a hero’s journey. As part of the story, you can talk about the challenges you encountered in your life and how you overcame them. Then you can recount how you changed during that time, becoming the person that you are now. This structure is appropriate when you have faced big challenges and come out stronger on the other side.
Not everyone faces a monumental challenge in their life. In such cases, a montage structure might be the best choice. This structure strings together a series of events and experiences you’ve had that all are tied into a similar theme. The experiences should represent different facets of your life that give helpful insight into your character and skills.
How to Write a Personal Statement
1. Create an Outline
While an outline won’t be seen by your intended audience, it is an indispensable step in creating the best personal statement you can. With an outline, you can organize your thoughts and properly plan out what your personal statement will include. This is the stage where you decide on your structure and what you’ll cover in the limited space you have. Creating an outline first will make writing your personal statement that much easier.
2. Begin With a Personality-Driven Introduction
Your introduction should serve more than just to ease the reader into your personal statement. Take the opportunity to show your personality from the very start. Indicate the type of person you are, and hook the reader with your unique qualities. Part of the introduction should discuss why the position or school interests you and why you would be the perfect fit there. The introduction should compel the reader to continue with the rest of the personal statement.
3. Detail Your Experiences, Skills, and Passions
Most of your personal statement should focus on the experiences, skills, and interests that make you different from everyone else. Use the body paragraphs to talk about what unique achievements you’ve accomplished. Go into detail about the skills you have that would be a huge benefit to the university or organization you want to join. Write about your goals and how much they mean to you.
You may find that all of these subjects lead to a personal statement that is far too long. While you want to be detailed, brevity is beneficial. One survey from the UK found that admissions officers spent on average only two minutes reading a personal statement. So pick and choose what you feel is the most relevant and unique information. Remember that you’re trying to sell them on the idea of having you join them. If it doesn’t contribute toward that end, there’s no need to include it. Harvard Business Review calls this “an elevator pitch to impress the recruiters.”
4. End With a Strong Conclusion
Your personal statement should conclude by summarizing many of the earlier points you made about why you want to be there and how you can help them. Make sure your conclusion is clear and strong. This is the final impression you’ll be able to give the reader, so you want it to be a positive one that makes them want to see more of you. Doing all this in a couple of sentences is an effective way to wrap up your personal statement.
5. Review and Refine
No personal statement will be perfect the first time you write it. Go back over what you wrote to proofread it. Check to make sure your spelling and grammar are correct. Review it to see that you’re getting your main points across. If possible, after writing your statement, let it sit for a day and come back later with some fresh eyes. In that way, you’ll be able to identify anything you might have missed.
Tips for Having an Effective Personal Statement
Now that you know the basics of how to format a personal statement, review the following additional tips so that you produce the strongest, most dynamic statement possible.
- Get feedback from friends, family, and colleagues.
- Use active voice as much as possible.
- Be clear and concise.
- Avoid over-explaining.
- Use a positive tone throughout.
- Stay away from cliches.
- Name your most recent achievements, not things from many years ago.
- Choose specific examples instead of generalities.
An additional thing to note is to actually answer the questions given in the prompt. A general personal statement can still be effective, but the prompt usually tells you what exactly people will be looking for in your answer. Copying and pasting your personal statement for every application will lead to a statement that misses the mark, no matter how well-written it is. As recruiter and business manager Laura Ross writes, “If you don’t take the time to ensure your personal statement is relevant to each job application, it will appear that you’ve been a bit sloppy, or even lazy.”
Ultimately, you should never overlook the personal statement section of an application. “Take it seriously!” is the advice given by Darren Weeks, a senior recruitment partner at the Office for National Statistics. “A few lines isn’t good for a personal statement, and won’t provide the evidence needed to allow your application to be assessed fully.” Think about what you write, and give an honest, insightful response.
Personal Statement Example
Note that the following is merely a personal statement example and not one you should follow word for word. This example also uses the montage structure mentioned above.
“From the moment I stepped through the doors of the first marketing agency I worked for, I’ve always believed in creating a deep connection with customers and clients. This has led to numerous successful projects over the course of my 10-year career in marketing, a pattern of success I know I can carry over to your organization.
One particular project that proved highly influential was a client-outreach program I spearheaded. Thanks to my bilingual background, I designed two different programs, thereby increasing the potential customer base and reaching more people than ever before. I was also part of a marketing team that doubled our company’s revenue while under a strict deadline with a limited budget. My planning skills were instrumental in getting that project off the ground. I also helped launch a new e-commerce branch, creating multiple opportunities to reach customers and solve their needs.
My track record as a successful marketer is one of solving problems for the companies I’ve worked for as well as the customers we have. As I continue to grow in my career, I will bring the same levels of success to your company while further refining my skills.”
Personal Clarity Cultivates Long-Term Vision
Writing a personal statement helps you to gain perspective by facilitating greater long-term vision and self-understanding. In much the same way a vision statement can help an organization, having your own personal statement leads to better decision-making, clearer goals, and an overall stronger sense of self. All of these elements are necessary for success.
Establishing that vision can be a challenge, though. The following are some tips that will help you create a vision for your life.
- Ask yourself deep questions, such as what your ideal future looks like or what problems in the world truly bother you.
- Think about what purpose you hope to carry out in your life.
- Focus on the details of your vision.
- Communicate your vision to others.
- Keep distractions away from you.
- Gain an understanding that your vision can change and mature over time.
Creating a vision board can also help define your vision in life. For more on how to do that, read the following article:
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- Adams, R. (2023, June 15). UK university staff only read students’ personal statements for two minutes. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2023/jun/15/uk-university-staff-only-read-students-personal-statements-for-two-minutes
- Laker, B. (2022, July 26). Switching Careers? Here’s How to Write a Strong Resume. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2022/07/switching-careers-heres-how-to-write-a-strong-resume
- Ross, Laura. “A Recruiter’s Guide To Writing A Powerful Personal Statement.” TMM Recruitment. https://www.tmmrecruitment.com/downloads/tmm_personal_statement_advice.pdf
- Shannon, D. (n.d.). The Passion Statement: Keystone of your job search. www.linkedin.com. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/passion-statement-keystone-your-job-search-donna-shannon/
- Weeks, D. (n.d.). Personal Statements in recruitment – Why and How? www.linkedin.com. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/personal-statements-recruitment-why-how-darren-weeks/
- Whitmell, C. (2014, April 8). What makes a recruiter hate your CV? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/careers/careers-blog/recruiter-hate-cv-new-job-application