What is a personal statement?

By Sally Freeman

10 years ago, I very rarely saw anything on a CV that resembled a personal statement. This kind of thing would be reserved for the cover letter, with the CV keeping strictly to the core sections (work history, education/qualifications and references – and sometimes skills and hobbies).

Nowadays it’s the other way around – I rarely see a CV that doesn’t have a personal statement. And for those who’ve not written a CV for a while, I’m referring to a three or four line statement that goes underneath the name and contact info.

However, having said that, I rarely see a GOOD personal statement. In fact, it really amazes me just how much people waste the opportunity that the personal statement provides.

The role of a personal statement

“A personal statement gives you the chance to sell yourself to potential employers — and you don’t have much time to do that. People spend, on average, a measly nine seconds glancing at CVs, so a compelling introduction is critical.”

Romanie Thomas, Juggle Jobs

You have the attention of the employer for a few seconds – and naturally their eye will start at the top of your CV. They’ll skip over your contact info and without a personal statement, they’ll skim through your work history and qualifications. What’s wrong with that? There’s no guarantee they’ll spot the requirements that they have listed in the job ad. In fact, they may miss some vital details so that your CV is demoted to the rejection pile without cause.

A well-written personal statement can avoid that. It tells the employer in a few words that you’re the person they’re looking for.

A Badly written personal statement

The majority of statements I read simply regurgitate the job advert, listing off soft skills as if they were credentials. ANYONE can say they’re a great communicator and ANYONE can say they work well in a team. Without evidence, this is just fluff and the employer will ignore it. Here’s a badly written example:

I am a qualified lawyer with extensive experience in a city centre practice. I am a great communicator who can work well with others and lead a team. I work quickly and efficiently, ensuring all cases are handled expediently whilst delivering exceptional client care.

You might look at the above and think it reads pretty good. True, there’s nothing wrong with the words – but that’s ALL they are. What an employer looks for is facts and stats, not fluffy statement.

Writing a good personal statement

A good personal statement has these objectives:

  • Tell the employer who you are
  • SHOW the employer that you meet the job specification
  • Tell the employer what you are looking for

Obviously the second objective is the most important.

To SHOW them, you need to be specific. If a particular skill has been requested, you need to show how you acquired it and used it.

All of this must relate to the JOB ADVERT. So, I can give you an example, but it would only be a good example if the job advert had requested the skills and experience that I mention:

I am a family Chartered Legal Executive with 7 years of experience (3 years PQE) in a busy city centre practice. I have a large case load of varied family matters, the majority being divorce (including several high net worth individuals), separation and financial settlements and arrangements for children. I also have drafted over 100 cohabitation, pre and post-nuptial agreements. I lead a team of 3 paralegals, supervising their work and mentoring/training them towards their career goals. I also regularly blog for the firm’s website on family law developments.

Note the level of detail in this second statement. It includes:

  • The type of lawyer
  • Level of experience (7 years, 3 years following qualification)
  • The fact that they work in a busy law office and have a lot of cases
  • Type of cases handled
  • Some indication as to value of cases handled
  • They are a team leader (demonstrating leadership, teamwork, supervision, mentoring, training and impliedly, communication)
  • They blog for the website (demonstrating analysis, written communication and up-to-date knowledge of the law)

So rather than simply stating they can lead a team or work well with others, they show that they HAVE done this, successfully. This is what is meant by show not tell. Hopefully this will give you a better idea of what is required of a personal statement.

“It has to be directly relevant to the job or type of jobs you are applying for, so that you are describing yourself as their ideal candidate.  This includes giving yourself a professional title that shows you have an appropriate professional background, being explicit about the relevant knowledge, skills and experience you possess and demonstrating that you have the type of approach and personality they say that are after.”

Corrine Mills, Career Coach @ The Guardian

Wait – isn’t a personal statement what you write when you go to uni?

Well yes it is – but that’s a different kind! Personal statements for uni (see for example those on https://www.personal-statement-examples.com/) talk about why you’re passionate about a particular subject, and do everything possible to convince the educational institution that you’ll work hard and achieve good grades.

Personal statements for a CV also need to show passion though – but there’s a lot less room in which to do that. So you have to be crafty and extend your CV, for example with an awesome LinkedIn profile and cover letter.

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