Writing a personal statement
Updated on 23 April 2022
A personal statement is a short piece of writing that you are usually asked to submit when applying for postgraduate study or research, but you may also be asked for one when applying for jobs or work experience.
Before you start writing your personal statement
A personal statement is an important part of the application process and is often one of the main ways in which the selectors will make their decision about you.
It is important that you demonstrate your suitability and motivation. You'll need to provide evidence of your suitability by giving real examples from your studies, work experience, extra-curricular activities, and so on.
Avoid using negative language or volunteering weaknesses about yourself. Present any gaps in skills or experience in a positive light and try to show how setbacks were overcome.
Make sure you answer any questions asked directly. Some applications will simply ask you to "provide evidence in support of your application", while others will have one or more specific questions to answer.
Read and follow any instructions given. For example it may specify that the documents should be hand written, provide detail on word limit etc.
Be succinct and avoid using complicated language and overly long sentences. Ensure your spelling and grammar is flawless - don't give recruiters an easy excuse not to select you. If possible, always get someone else to read your personal statement to ensure small mistakes are not missed.
A good personal statement is clearly structured with a clear introduction and conclusion, and clearly sums up what you have to offer.
It is often a good idea to use headings, which can be based on the essential and desirable criteria set out in the person specification, specific questions you are asked or on the contents listed below.
Each application will have different requirements and you should always tailor your personal statement to meet the essential and desirable criteria of the course, job or experience that you are applying for.
Why do you want to do the course/the research/apply for the job?
- What has attracted you to this particular institution/organisation?
- Do they specialise in a particular field?
- Is there a particular member of staff you want to work with?
- Why are you interested in the course/ research or job?
Give examples of your knowledge and experience in this area including essays, dissertations, seminars and conferences, work experience etc.
What can you offer?
Make sure you state your interest and enthusiasm in the area of study/research or employment and give clear reasons for that interest.
Detail your skills, knowledge, and experience highlighting its relevance to the course/research or job applied for. Give examples of how you developed these skills or when you have used them. You can draw on academic work, part-time employment, voluntary work, membership of clubs and societies as well as leisure activities and personal commitments.
Mention any relevant prizes or scholarships you have won, study, travel abroad, and any other relevant achievements.
What relevant experience do you have?
- Do you have paid or unpaid work experience that is relevant? Are you a member of a relevant society or club? This is especially important for vocational courses such as teaching, medicine and social work.
- Think about what skills you gained or what you learnt through observation. Reflect on how this experience will help you in the course/research or job.
What are your career aims?
How does this course/research or job fit in with you future plans? Having some idea about what you hope to achieve will strengthen your commitment to do well in the course/research and therefore impress selectors.
Can you offer anything else?
Do you have any additional skills & experience that would be relevant to the course/research or job? e.g. trainee teachers should mention expertise in extra-curricular areas such as arts, sports, etc.
Example of personal statement
You can view an example of a personal statement for a postgraduate teacher education application (PGDE/CE). This will give you an idea of content and layout.
The conventions, requirements, and content of personal statements can vary greatly depending on where in the world you apply. In some countries these may even have different names such as letter of motivation or statement of purpose.
GoinGlobal has information about working practices and recruitment procedures in a wide variety of countries.
Another way to help you write the most effective and appropriate personal statement is to use existing or new networks (like family, professors, or friends who have studied in the country to which you are applying) to help you understand what works best there.