How to write a powerful personal statement

Author: Sue Timlin, Global Director of People & Culture, Hays Talent Solution

We all like talking about ourselves, at least according to studies like this one conducted by Harvard University. According to the study; we feel more motivated to talk about ourselves than any other subject, in fact, 60-80 percent of what the average person says during a two-way conversation is focused on themselves. So, why is it that when channelling this self-focus into crafting a powerful personal statement on our CV, we can sometimes struggle?

Why is your personal statement so important?

Your personal statement is basically your sales or elevator pitch on paper. It is the first thing a hiring manager will read on your CV, and will, therefore, have a huge bearing on whether they choose to read on and ultimately invite you for an interview. Most job seekers are well aware of the power of a strong personal statement, and as such, many get writer’s block.

In this blog, I want to help you overcome these barriers, by providing you with a guide on how to structure your personal statement, what to include in this structure, plus a list of important dos and don’ts. I have also used the personal statements of some of the Manchester City Women players to bring my recommendations to life.

Follow this structure

The structure of your personal statement can be broken down into three parts, as outlined below.

By being aware of this structure and what should be included in each section of your personal statement, you can be sure to include all the key information the hiring manager or recruiter is looking for, whilst telling your career story in a concise way.

I have used Manchester City Women’s Steph Houghton as an example of how you would do this.

Part 1: Introduce yourself

The first thing a recruiter or hiring manager wants to know when reading your personal statement is who you are and what level of experience you have. As you can see from the below example, Steph gets straight to these facts in her introduction, while at the same time, avoiding clichés and vague information. This makes for a clear and strong opening statement:

“Steph Houghton is the Captain of both Manchester City Women’s team and the Women’s National Team. With over 15 years’ experience in the game, Steph has enjoyed a hugely successful footballing career to date.”

Part 2: List your skills and achievements

Next, you must outline your key skills and evidence your key achievements which set you apart from the competition.

It is important that you keep this section relevant by identifying the desired skills and attributes outlined in the job description, and by ensuring that the skills highlighted in your personal statement mirror them.

“Steph is an extremely driven, talented and versatile professional footballer, who has successfully honed her leadership skills on and off the pitch.”

Now, go on to provide evidence of your skills through specific results or accolades. This list of career highlights will have the most impact if they are related to the key requirements of the vacancy and backed up by fact.

“Her hard work and determination saw her awarded an MBE in 2016, becoming one of the most-recognised faces in women’s football and she is now widely regarded as one of the most influential female role models for the sport.”

Part 3: Explain your ambitions for the future

Finish by outlining what you are looking to achieve next in your career, and make sure this links to the role in question. The hiring manager needs to know that your ambitions are relevant to the opportunity and that you would, therefore, be driven and likely to succeed.

“Looking to this season, Steph is relishing in the opportunity to drive forward the success of Manchester City Women as they look forward to the FA WSL Spring Series.”

Personal statement dos and don’ts to remember

You should now know how to structure your personal statement, and what to include in each section. Now, when drafting your personal statement, I urge you to bear in mind the below list of ‘dos and don’ts’ as these will help strengthen the quality of your writing.

Do: Include plenty of relevant action verbs

The simple trick of including the below doing-words will help bring your achievements to life on your personal statement:

  • To demonstrate your creativity, use: built, crafted, devised, implemented, pioneered, initiated, established
  • To demonstrate your efficiency, use: enhanced, advanced, capitalised, maximised, leveraged, improved
  • To demonstrate your leadership skills, use: headed, coordinated, executed, managed, operated, organised, lead
  • To demonstrate improvements made, use: refined, remodelled, strengthened, upgraded, transformed
  • To demonstrate your management skills, use: guided, fostered, motivated, recruited, enabled, united
  • To demonstrate bottom line contributions, use: reduced, decreased, consolidated, saved, yielded, increased
  • To demonstrate overall achievements, use: awarded, exceeded, outperformed, surpassed, earned, granted

The below example shows in bold where Carli Lloyd, player for Manchester City Women’s uses action verbs on her CV.

“Carli has enjoyed an impressive footballing career to date, being awarded such accolades as the FIFA Women’s World Cup champion and FIFA Player of the Year in 2015 and 2016.

Carli trains tirelessly from season to season and has built a reputation for her control, technique, and passing accuracy. With a total of 96 international goals to date, she is relentlessly focused on improving every aspect of her game, and her unwavering enthusiasm, commitment and self-belief is infectious. A household name in America, Carli prides herself by leading by example on and off the pitch”.

Do: Know the difference between proper nouns, common nouns, and which should have a capital letter

Proper nouns will refer to something specific such as a certain organisation or job title, and will, therefore, need a capital letter. Common nouns will refer to a group of, rather than specific, organisation or job title, and so will not need capitalising. See below for an example:

“Lucy Bronze is a highly skilled international footballer (common noun, no capital letter) who plays for Manchester City Women in the FA WSL (proper noun, capital letters)”

Don’t: Be inconsistent with your narrative

In your personal statement, you can use third person or first person narrative. I have highlighted in bold the different between the two. Just be sure to choose one over the other, and to keep this consistent from the beginning of your personal statement right up until the end.

“The first female footballer ever to be shortlisted in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, Lucy plays/I play primarily as a right back, however, as a hugely versatile player, she can play/I can play anywhere in the defense or midfield.

Do: Remember to proof read what you have written.

Attention to detail is important in most jobs, and typos on your CV will always work against you. Show that you are thorough and conscientious in your approach, by doing all you can to write an error-free personal statement. Make use of free proofreading tools such as Grammarly, and get somebody else to read over what you have written with a fresh pair of eyes. 

Do: Keep your personal statement to 150-200 words

This should be easier to do now you know what to include and what to omit, plus how to structure your personal statement. However, if you find yourself writing over 200 words, take a second look and check all points can be linked back to the job vacancy and showcases why you are the right person for the job.

The power of your personal statement is not to be underestimated. This is your chance to sell the core aspects of yourself as a candidate, particularly your expertise, level of experience, achievements and future ambitions.

If you follow the above advice and keep this information structured, tailored, substantiated, concise and well written, you will grab the hiring manager’s attention from the beginning and increase your chances of being considered for an interview. What’s more, once you are invited for an interview, you will be feeling more than equipped to answer their first question “so tell me a little bit about yourself?”

Thank you for reading! For more useful advice and insights about the world of work, visit our dedicated blog page here or click on one of the links below.