What are the five pitfalls of personal statements?
This is the third and final lesson about Writing Personal Statements. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Review the purpose of academic and professional personal statements in academic contexts
– Introduce five common pitfalls that students should avoid
– Include examples wherever possible to help guide the reader
When applying for job or a degree, it is necessary that students create CVs and personal statements that ensure that their applications stand out from the competition and secure them a face-to-face interview. While following guidelines about what to include in a personal statement is crucial (see Lessons 1 and 2), it is also important that students have an understanding of what not to include. An applicant should, for example, wish to avoid appearing cliched or generic to their target audience. This final lesson therefore highlights five common errors that prospective students and employees tend to make while writing their applications.
Error 1: Using clichéd language
For jobs especially, it is important that applicants use language that is relevant to that industry and reflects the role being applied for. Cliched expressions such as ‘hard-working’ or ‘works well alone or as part of a team’ should be avoided. Rather, these characteristics should be inferred from the achievements and experiences listed in the statement. Likewise, a university student should avoid expressions such as ‘for as long as I can remember’ or ‘from a young age’. Instead, it is important to be specific and relevant, adding recent and pertinent details where necessary.
Error 2: Being generic
Because it is likely that an applicant will be applying for multiple placements or jobs, it is highly recommended that a custom personal statement is written for each – even though this may take considerable time and effort. Jobs or degrees that have the exact same title, for example, may have different expectations of their employees or students because of the aims, objectives and purpose of the company. Students should therefore take the time to customise each statement so that it is evident to the reader that the applicant knows who they are applying to and precisely what they are applying for.
Error 3: Losing focus
All information in a personal statement should be relevant to the specific role being applied for and applicants should never deviate from the topic of the application. However, because it is not beneficial to include numerous examples of achievements that have little depth, applicants should also avoid including too much variety in such a short statement. Rather, quality over quantity can be more engaging and leave a stronger first impression.
Error 4: Including personal information
This pitfall may seem counter-intuitive given the name ‘personal’ statement, but the purpose of such a document is to indicate why the applicant is the best person for a position – not to inform the reader of life stories that demonstrate positive characteristics. While volunteering in Africa for six months may show particular qualities, students should make sure they consider whether the information they have included directly makes them a better candidate for the role or degree. For jobs in particular, all claims and examples should be professional (that is unless the candidate has an inadequate amount of work experience to exemplify).
Error 5: Exaggerating claims
Finally, although demonstrating an adept use of language is beneficial, a personal statement should also be concise and clear and should not include an excessive amount of uncommon vocabulary. Similarly, because it would become evident through a CV and interview whether an applicant was exaggerating their achievements and experiences, students are advised to remain sincere and practical throughout a personal statement. While a statement should certainly sell the applicant, it should do so based on truth and merit and not on hyperbole.
Lesson 3 explores the topic: What are the five pitfalls of personal statements? Our Lesson 3 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button.
There are currently no PowerPoint activities, additional teacher resources or audio and video recordings created for this topic. Please come back again next semester.
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