How To Write A Ridiculously Good Personal Statement
Last Updated on 15th July 2022 by Freddie Chirgwin-Bell
Your personal statement (often called a CV Profile or Personal Profile) is vital. It’s the most important thing on your CV. That’s because it provides that vital first impression.
The average recruiter or manager only spends 7-8 seconds reading a CV. A lot of that will be scanning your CV to try and pick out keywords.
However, the eyes will linger a little longer on a personal statement as it is right at the top of the page.
It is your opportunity to grab their attention and not let go.
It gives you a chance to sell yourself to the employer in a small and easy-to-digest paragraph.
In fact, a well written personal statement can mean the difference between standing out from the crowd and your application being rejected.
In the UK there were 2.8 vacancies per 100 employees.
That means for every three jobs you go for you’re competing against 99 other people.
That small section at the beginning therefore is vital to securing your position, by capturing attention and convincing the reader to interview you.
Not a University Statement
This article talks about personal statements for CVs only. However, we also use the term regularly for university applications.
These are longer, more detailed, and have a different purpose. As a result we are going to not provide help on this topic. If you’re after great advice on this click here for advice on university personal statements.
What is a personal statement?
It’s a paragraph. Only about four or five lines and that is all. But those lines have to provide a snapshot of who you are, what you have achieved, and most importantly what you can bring to the table.
This is your best opportunity to really secure that all important job interview.
How To Structure It
I have written hundreds of CVs. I have written them for MDs, CEOs, Operations managers as well as cleaners, retail staff, and school leavers.
The structure and format are always the same.
75-120 words I have found is the sweet spot.
Because when using size 10-11 font in Calibri it comes out at about 4-5 lines.
Now you might have to adjust the margin sizes in Word to fit in more, but it’s more about the line count than the word count.
It’s like goldilocks. Not too long, not too short. Easy to skim read, but long enough to have detail.
With such a small word count there’s a huge need to be specific and choosy with what to include.
Don’t worry, we will break everything down and help you make sure you get to write an amazing personal statement.
How to Write it
There are lots of ways to write a personal statement. For example, it could just come naturally to you, and a flow of sentences appear on the page. Or you could go through things methodically with an organised list.
In all honesty, I prefer that last one. It provides better quality and more reliable results.
Your personal statement should answer three questions clearly – Who are you? What skills do you have? How can you help our business?
Start small. Write a short bullet point list of what you want to include. It should just cover the most impressive essentials.
You are a what? A marketer? A business consultant? Health and safety advisor? Carpenter? Etc.
Then what skills or achievements do you really want to highlight? Is it your communication or project management? Is it the fact you increased sales by 12% or made a saving of 35%? Whatever it is you are doing to highlight your best skills against what the recruiter is truly looking for.
Finally, it’s matching what you can do against what they need. Do they need a great communicator? Or a great leader? Do they need someone who can think outside of the box? Or do they need someone logical and methodical?
Whatever the need, make sure to make it clear that you fit that role perfectly.
The list could literally be like this;
- Marketer – Experienced, methodical, strategic
- Skills – Communication, strategy, management
- Achievements – Secured 207 leads in a single week long campaign, achieved a 30% increase in sales
- How it fits – They need a leader who can create a strategy and then deliver it.
By writing it out like this you have created an outline for your statement.
Having an outline makes it a lot easier to not only answer the questions but also string them together in a comprehensive yet easy to read manner.
The Writing Lesson
Starting with a blank page is scary. The lack of words can easily mean your mind feels empty of thoughts.
Even if you’re not the most creative of writers I will help guide you through how to word, phrase, write, and put together your statement.
The first thing to keep in mind is you should use the first person (i.e. I, Me, Myself etc) sparingly.
If you’re constantly saying “I did this” and “I achieved that” it sounds self-absorbed. Try and vary it up.
Obviously you are going to need to introduce yourself. A classic opened would be “I am a methodical strategist and marketer” or something along those lines.
After that intro use third person WITHOUT PRONOUNS. Referring to yourself in the third person is weird anyway, so instead of, ‘She is a retail professional seeking a management role…’ would become ‘A retail professional seeking a management role…’
Now a lot of CV writers would shout at me for it, but using the first person to introduce and then third person provides a great balance between the personal and not sounding too pompous.
This is a balance. You want it to highlight what you as a person can provide the company whilst not sounding self absorbed. A good example is as follows.
- I am recent graduate in Economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. My studies have given me a comprehensive knowledge of economic theory and its practical application through data analysis. Accomplished user of Stata, Matlab, and SAS. Looking to use and improve existing skills and gain knowledge and experience in a fast-paced business environment in the role of Graduate Data Analyst with Equinox.
- I’m a BSc Economics graduate looking to make use of my educational attainment in a professional environment. I’m a team player with excellent communication skills and a confident user of data analysis software. Looking to gain experience as a data analyst.
Now the next part of the writing lesson is make sure to use the active tense.
What do I mean by the active tense?
Look at the two examples below.
- I wrote a CV.
- The CV was written by me.
Or how about
- I achieved a 30% increase in sales.
- Sales were increased by 30% because of me.
Which ones sound better?
If you said the first one for each example then you’re correct. These are in the active tense.
It’s all about where you put the verb (the action/doing word).
The sentence should be Pronoun, Verb, Rest of the Sentence.
Pronoun = I, Me, He, She, You, They, Them
Verb = Any Action e.g. achieve, increase, do, write etc.
Rest of the sentence = Does what it says.
Going back to our examples:
- I (Pronoun) wrote (Verb) a CV. (Rest of the sentence)
- I (Pronoun) achieved (Verb) a 30% increase in sales. (Rest of the sentence)
If you’re still unsure you can always run your personal statement through the Hemingway App.
Hemingway will highlight different issues with a colour code so that you can rewrite and fix them to be punchy and clear. Doing this alongside double checking spelling and grammar with Grammarly will really double down the efforts and sharpen up your profile quickly and easily.
Don’t be boring!
Boring will put off a hiring manager.
The easiest way to be boring is to use boring verbs or putting “very” in the sentence.
As Robin Williams said in Dead Poets Society:
“So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it is lazy. A man is not ‘very tired’, he is ‘exhausted’. Don’t use ‘very sad’, use ‘morose’.”
This complements the point below about using strong verbs. Choosing the right words will make your skills, experience, and accomplishments sound better.
This is all about grabbing the attention of the recruiter or hiring manager, so excitement beats boring every time.
Use strong, powerful verbs
In the words of Massive Attack “Love is a verb, love is a doing word”. Verbs are your new best friend when it comes to your CV.
Using a thesaurus and careful choice, you can make your achievements and skills sing.
Here’s a quick list of strong verbs for you to use in your personal statement.
For a full list of verbs that you could use in your CV and personal statement check out Indeed’s list of 139 action verbs.
At the end of the day, the stronger and more assertive and action based you can make your personal statement sound, the better.
Us Brits tend to have a habit of trying to downplay our achievements and skills, but your CV profile is not the time to do that.
Use Facts & Figures
Using numbers is amazing. By highlighting significant achievements and including exact figures in your profile you can capture the readers attention.
It could be something as simple as “Increased sales by 30% in 6 months” but the use of numbers helps interrupt the flow of the profile in a good way.
It draws the eye of the reader and they are likely to re read the sentence to make sure they understand what you achieved.
Be very selective though and only highlight those pieces that would make you stand out to the company.
What Not To Write
We’ve shown you how to write your statement and what to include.
We haven’t shown you what not to write.
Buzzwords / Overused Terms
A quick Google search will show you there are lots of lists of buzzwords to either include or exclude.
A lot of the time you will find the same words on both lists.
So which list do you trust?
Pick the ones that are most accurate and truthful.
Only put “high achiever” if you are a high achiever.
Don’t lie or stretch the truth.
Be honest and use the most accurate, honest words or phrases.
There are always ways of making you sound good without stretching the truth or lying.
You might find it more effective to communicate your qualities by detailing beneficial actions that relate to real-world scenarios instead of listing buzzwords like “ambitious,” “motivated,” and “driven.”
Try your best to avoid all cliches. There are lots of CV cliches but the most common one is “Works well on my own as well as part of a team”. This sounds like a good option to include, but it is so overused that it is now off putting to people.
Also if you think about it, it becomes a completely irrelevant sentence as being part of a company means you will either work on your own or as part of a team, you need to be able to do that as standard.
In fact some other common ones are “Hard working team player”, “results driven thought leader”, and “strong communicator”.
When you use cliches you sound unimaginative, unoriginal, and bland. As I have already said, boring or bland will instantly put off the recruiter or hiring manager.
I could write an entire blog on phrases to not include on a CV or in a personal statement.
But, the main ones to avoid are:
- Strong work ethic
- Strategic thinker
- I can work on my own or as part of a team
- Think outside the box
- I have good communication skill
- Hard worker
- Team player
Avoid technical jargon as much as you can.
Unless the job description asks for specific skills or qualifications that you can prove using jargon, avoid using it.
If you cram your personal statement with technical terms it looks obvious and also disrupts the flow.
The most common form of jargon is putting a load of abbreviations into your statement. Only use these if they are specific titles or qualifications. Otherwise spell it out.
Do not put slang in your statement.
You’re talking to a hiring manager, not to your friend.
Even if the hiring manager is your friend, don’t use slang.
Keep it professional, clean, and clear.
Remember to tailor!
There is no on size fits all job. So don’t use a one size fits all profile (or CV for that matter)!
Quality will always beat out quantity. Take the time to tailor each application to suit the needs and wants of the business.
Although you will end up applying to fewer roles, you will have a much better chance of getting an interview doing it this way.
Keywords are your friends
Use keywords. The majority of CVs now run through a piece of software called an ATS long before they ever reach the eyes of a recruiter.
With that the ATS will be looking for key words or phrases that match the job description to narrow down search results for recruiters.
Make sure that when you are tailoring your CV and your profile to a job, that you include the keywords that would make you stand out.
- Get to the point – Remember short and sharp
- Make sure you answer the key questions:
- Who are you?
- What skills and experiences do you offer?
- Add your value to it – This is personal. Only you can add value
- Tailor it to the job description.
- Highlight skills that you need.
- Use the active voice, in the first person.
- Use facts and figures – “Achieved a 30% increase in sales year on year”
- Be generic – This is a sniper scope, not a shotgun blast.
- Focus on yourself – Put focus on them and you by answering “What skills and experience can you offer?”
- Ramble – A cover letter is the time to elaborate.
- Only list achievements – Answer the questions in full sentences.
- Forget to proofread.
- We can never say it enough. Proofread every detail. Read it out loud. Send it to a friend or send it to a recruiter. Run it through Grammarly or Hemingway App.
- Use jargon, slang or clichés.
Ta-Da! You have a personal statement.
This should perfectly complement with your well written CV!
Remember this is to make sure you get the interview. The interview will get you the job.