How To Write A Ridiculously Good Personal Statement

There’s one part of writing a CV that puts terror into peoples’ hearts, the personal statement.

Most view writing them as a dark art.

They have to sell yourself in a single paragraph.

Don’t worry, we’re here to help.

This guide will give you the tools, tips and tricks to write an amazing personal statement every time.

They’re Important

This is an important part of a CV.

It’s where you can grab the recruiter, hiring manager or employer’s attention.

According to The Independent the average time hiring managers spend reading CVs is 8.8 seconds! 

This is a very short time. 

Lucky for you this is the perfect amount of time to skim read about one paragraph.

To misquote the advertising giant David Ogilvy,

“On average, five times as many people read the personal statement as read the body copy. When you have written your personal statement, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

He was, in reality, talking about advert headlines, but the principle is the same. 

The point of the personal statement – like a headline – is to grab hold of your reader and not let go.

It should get them to read the next line, and the line after that, and the line after that.

Sounds tricky, doesn’t it? 

It’s not. 

What Does It Look Like?

All personal statements have a similar structure. 

They’re short & snappy.

A summary that’s about 50 – 200 words. 

Which is about 4-5 lines. 

No rambling. 

This isn’t a cover letter. 

It isn’t a replacement for one either.

The only exception are personal statements for university applications. 

These are longer and have a different purpose. 

Click here for advice on university personal statements.

How To Write a Personal Statement

The best personal statements answer the following questions: 

  • Who are you? 
  • What skills and experiences do you offer? 
  • Where do you want your career to go?

Who are you? 

Do more than introduce yourself.

You want to introduce your skills and personality. 

What skills and experiences do you offer? 

This adds value to who you are. 

This is what will impress the hiring manager. 

Be focused on what you can provide for them. 

Don’t make it about you, make it about them.

Where do you want your career to go?

This is to show you think beyond paycheck to paycheck. 

It gives hiring managers a good sign about how serious you are about advancing your career.

And how hard you’re going to work.

Remember, you’re trying to sell yourself to the employer. 

Highlight the key skills they’re after.

This is a good chance to emphasise “soft” skills.

These are universal between job changes or promotions or entering work.

Great skills to emphasise in this area are job-related skills.

For example are they after an expert in a particular piece of software? Do they require you to be organised? How good is your communication and how have you improved it? Need a qualified team leader with a great track record?

Remember to emphasise these and make sure you prove what you are saying.

Don’t say that you have excellent teamwork unless you can show your teams success or your success within the team).

Now for the writing lesson.

I’ll make it as painless as possible.

First point, 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. 

A good rule of thumb is to write out your sentence as normal. 

When you have made your point, delete the word “I” and leave the power verb.

  1. I achieved a 30% increase in sales year on year.
  2. Achieved a 30% increase in sales year on year.

Second point, you need to use the active tense.

What do I mean by the active tense?

Look at the two examples below.

  1. I wrote a CV.
  2. The CV was written by me.
  1. I achieved a 30% increase in sales.
  2. Sales were increased by 30% because of me.

Which ones sound better?

If you said a. 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

Green highlights mark passive sentences.

Speaking of verbs…

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’. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavour, laziness will not do.”

Although you may not be trying to woo women (you might be), you’re trying to woo hiring managers.

Use strong, powerful verbs. 

Here’s a quick list of strong verbs for you to use in your personal statement.

  • Achieved
  • Created
  • Developed
  • Established
  • Improved
  • Increased/decreased
  • Influenced
  • Launched
  • Managed
  • Negotiated
  • Resolved
  • Trained/mentored
  • Volunteered

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

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.

Clichés

Avoid clichés like the plague!

Sorry I couldn’t help myself. 

On a more serious note, there are a lot of clichés that people have used on their CVs.

When you use them you sound unimaginative, unoriginal and bland.

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:

  • Flexible
  • Motivated
  • Strong work ethic
  • Multi-tasker
  • Independent
  • Detail-oriented
  • Self-motivated
  • Go-getter
  • Go-to-person
  • Strategic thinker
  • I can work on my own or as part of a team
  • Think outside the box
  • Results-driven
  • I have good communication skill
  • Hard worker
  • People-person
  • Team player

Jargon

Let’s keep this simple.

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.

Slang

Do not put slang in your statement.

You’re talking to a hiring manager, not to your friend.

Even if your hiring manager is your friend, don’t.

Remember to tailor!

Like a CV, tailor each personal statement to each application

Quality will always beat out quantity. 

Take the time to tailor each application.

Yes, although you will end up applying to fewer roles, you will have a much better chance of getting an interview.

Quick Checklist!

Do

  • 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? 
    • Where do you want your career to go?
  • Add your value to it – This is personal. Only you can add value
  • Tailor it to the job description.
  • Sell skills that you couldn’t in the rest of your CV.
  • Use the active voice, in the first person.
    • Don’t forget to remove the pronoun. “Achieved a 30% increase in sales year on year”

Don’t

  • 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.

What now?

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.

Freddie Chirgwin-Bell

Marketing & Communications Executive at Morgan Jones Recruitment Consultants
Freddie joined Morgan Jones in 2019 and has quickly established himself as the marketing authority in the group. Bringing years of experience to the role he is in charge of all aspects of the brand's marketing.

I'm passionate about making marketing more human and less robotic and automated. Marketing is about making true connections and having great communication.

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