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Get Their Attention — 6 Tips for a Better Personal Statement

Get Their Attention — 6 Tips for a Better Personal Statement

When was the last time you revised your personal statement? Scratch that. Do you even have a personal statement?

If it’s been a while, or it’s never happened, don’t feel bad. Creating or improving a personal statement that you can feel great about is not as hard as it sounds.

Here’s where to start.

1. Show Your Range

Your personal statement should showcase your range, both professionally and personally. It shouldn’t focus only on your most recent professional accomplishments or the direct value you’ve created for your employer or your own business — if that’s even quantifiable.

This personal statement from Steve Streit, a fintech entrepreneur, and philanthropist, is a great example of how to thread this needle. Streit’s bio isn’t shy about touting his business wins, but it takes care to mention his charitable endeavors and personal interests as well. The result: a full picture of a real person, not a cipher.

2. Mention Relevant Experience First (And Don’t Worry About Hitting Everything)

Well-written news articles squeeze the most important information into the lede — the first couple of sentences of the piece. Basically, everyone reads the lede; from there, many skim the rest or simply move on to the next headline.

The same is true for people reading your personal statement. So make sure to squeeze the essential tl;dr into the first paragraph, at best. The higher, the better.

Usually, this essential information encompasses your most recent relevant professional experience — or personal experience, if you’re not writing for a professional audience. Don’t worry about squeezing everything you could mention into your lede; there will be time for that later if the secondary information is actually worth mentioning.

3. Edit for Length

Edit your personal statement for length. Yes, some readers will skim all the way to the end no matter how long it is, and you can encourage this by saving some nonessential but interesting tidbits for the last paragraph. 

But you shouldn’t bank on anyone paying attention after the first 100 words or so. That doesn’t mean you have to keep your personal statement under 100 words — that would be a tall order and probably shortchange you — but it does mean that every sentence needs to matter. 

4. Mind Your Audience

This is downstream of “mention relevant experience first.” 

Writing for an audience sounds easy enough — so easy that many falsely believe it happens automatically. You need to know who you’re writing for, what they want to see from you, and how to communicate effectively so that they walk away satisfied with your personal statement.

What’s relevant for one audience isn’t always relevant for another. A potential employer wants to see something very different from you than a grad school admissions officer, for example — and both have virtually nothing in common with a government grant office.

5. Ask for Feedback (Preferably From Multiple Readers)

Shop your draft personal statement around to people you trust to give honest, insightful feedback. 

Preferably several, in different occupations and stages of life. Your parents, your kids, your boss, your professional mentor, the neighbor you’re friendly with — it doesn’t matter, as long as they’ll be straight with you.

6. Review and Update Regularly

Even if it feels like nothing much has changed. Because life changes faster than we think, and we don’t always see those changes when we’re right in the middle of them.

Once per year is fine. Once every six months is even better.

You Only Get One Chance to Make a Great First Impression

You know what they say: You only get one chance to make a great first impression.

More and more, these impressions happen in writing, without the benefit of face-to-face contact. If your personal statement isn’t as strong as it can be, you could miss out on opportunities that would otherwise be slam dunks.

About the author

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Miller Willson

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