How Should I Use Personal Statements?

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The gradsingapore Team
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As a fresh graduate, should you be using personal statements? What are personal statements anyway?

Should I put a personal statement on a CV?

Students and graduates are often told that they should include a personal statement (also known as a career aim, profile, or mission statement) at the top of their CVs. It may seem fashionable, but here is the truth:

A personal statement on most graduate CVs aren’t necessary.

Why shouldn't I bother writing a personal statement?

For a personal statement to work, you need to have a very clear idea of a goal or purpose that you plan to strive towards, as well as a convincing list of skills that helps you achieve that goal.

Without the two primary components, graduates' personal statements are often filled with broad declarations and clichés that don't really say anything unique about them. In fact, an unattractive personal statement can even harm your bid for a job.

For instance, media companies looking to recruit an intern in their editorial departments often receive applications from students stating that they want an internship in "media/PR/marketing."

To a student, this is just a matter of trying out different things in order to make up their mind about a future career. But to a recruiter, this suggests that the candidate hasn't done enough research (otherwise, they'd know that working in editorial is very different from doing PR or marketing). Recruiters may think that this candidate doesn't really want that editorial internship. Or that they'd be just as happy in the marketing department!

Graduates, too, sometimes apply to a broad range of employers right off the bat - even for job roles that have absolutely nothing to do with what they studied. While there's certainly nothing wrong with exploring your options, how would you put that down in your personal statement?

Better to stick to a cover letter!

So when DO I need a personal statement?

There are a few specific exceptions to this rule, though. If you ever miss the chance to submit a cover letter to highlight your skills and motivations, then a personal statement is a good introduction tool. For instance, if you:

  • ...post your CV on a jobs board where employers can browse it on request.
  • ...you apply for work through recruitment agencies or job portals, which normally only allow you to submit CVs.

Other exceptions would be if you are a mature student, a career-changer who took time off to study, or a postgraduate degree holder re-entering the marketplace – to indicate the range of your transferable skills and experiences.

What do I put on a personal statement if I need one?

If you do include a personal statement, make sure it is very specific to the field or organisation that you are applying for.

For example, if you are a civil engineering graduate, and you are very certain that you want to work for a consultancy while specialising in public utilities, you may include a personal statement similar to this, "A civil engineering graduate with experience working for a contractor and consultancy seeks a graduate role with a consultancy in its public utilities division."

Specific and clearly articulated, this graduate emphasises the work experience (s)he’s done with other construction-based organisations and shows that (s)he is making a well-considered career choice.  

Ultimately, good personal statements...

  • ... summarise a candidate's career goals.
  • ... highlight a candidate's skills that are relevant to that career sector.
  • ... pick out key achievements – things that immediately signal to the recruiter that the candidate would excel in the sector.
  • … are no more than 2-3 sentences long, and are written in the third person.