How to make your personal statement more competitive
You may never get feedback from an employer or a university about your personal statement so how can you make it better if you don’t get selected? Experts reveal the steps they take to help strengthen personal statements.
- Understand exactly what is being asked in the instructions.
The very first thing we do is study the application instructions and any guidance very carefully. Not what we think it says but what it actually says. The personal statement must deliver exactly what is asked for and do it well. It is remarkable how many statements creatively deviate from the specific instructions. It’s easy to fall into the trap of writing what we think they want to hear.
- It’s a competition so know which factors will determine the winners.
Before we even look at your draft personal statement, we start with a competitive analysis. Study all the information available to identify and prioritise the critical success factors for a personal statement in that specific context. Start with the macro, big picture or ‘why’ factors and then the more detailed micro specifications or ‘how’ factors. Good personal statements are strong in one or other. Great personal statements are balanced and connected in both. By doing this analysis we get a picture in our mind of the most competitive candidate and can critically review how your statement measures up to those factors.
- Address the specific next stage or career outcome
Very few personal statements reflect on the immediate next stage of the career process. Those that do are the most competitive. It shows you have done the deepest research, have thought about the medium-term commitments and goals, and specifically the transition you will go through with the reviewer’s organisation if you are selected. It’s a smart move as both you and the reviewer have shared goals which you can address in the statement. Good but less competitive applications address the immediate short term selection criteria and the long-term career related outcomes and miss out important shared milestones.
- Make sure everything is direct and relevant
Despite the best of efforts and intentions, too many personal statements are too general or not relevant enough. You may think your statement is specific and has lots of relevant points. More competitive candidates will have more relevant statements with more specific points directly addressing key factors. Make it specific about this application, for this specific opportunity. At the end of every sentence, we ask ‘could that point be better?’. Get rid of anything that is ‘good to know’ and focus only on what is ‘need to know’.
- Get someone else to read it who will give you criticism
Your parents, friends and even teachers will tell you how good your personal statement is or maybe how to rephrase a few sentences. They are probably not going to tell you how competitive your statement is. Unless they are an expert or really do their homework, they will only be able to give helpful but general advice. To be competitive, you need specific critical advice. Find someone who works closely with careers or recruitment to give you advice.