Are personal statements a waste of space on graduate CVs?
It’s fashionable for students and graduates to include a personal statement (otherwise known as a career aim, profile or mission statement) at the top of their CV. However, in many cases, a personal statement on a graduate CV is likely to be just a waste of space. Some graduate recruiters may even find generic personal statements irritating and off-putting.
What are personal statements on CVs for?
Personal statements/career aims are intended to concisely:
- summarise a candidate’s career goals
- highlight the 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.
These statements are best suited to more senior people already on the career ladder. The personal statement gives them the chance to be very specific about their career goal, for example to specialise further in a certain area or move to a certain type of organisation within a sector. They can also draw upon achievements gained in the workplace to further suggest their suitability for the organisation/job they’re applying to.
Why most graduates shouldn’t bother with a personal statement
By and large, graduates in their early 20s who are trying to get their ‘first proper job’ don't have the necessary range of experience or knowledge to write an impressive personal statement – a careers adviser tells us that in four years of reviewing students’ CVs, he has seen fewer than ten good statements.
Graduates’ personal statements usually sound bland – and one is very much like another’s. They tend to be full of very broad statements that don’t say anything unique about the candidate, such as: ‘I am a friendly, organised, creative English literature graduate with strong communication and teamworking skills.’ It’s amazing how many friendly, organised, creative graduates with good communication and teamworking skills there are out there. If numerous applicants list identical attributes and career goals, none of them gain an advantage from doing so.
The other problem with having profiles on graduate CVs is that the career goals are too broad. For example, we receive a lot of applications for the TARGETjobs editorial internships from students who want to work in ‘the media/editing/PR/marketing’. To the candidate, this may seem fair enough: they want to try out different things to make up their mind about a career. But to us, this suggests that the candidate hasn’t done enough research (otherwise they’d at least suspect that working as an editor is just that little bit different from working in PR or marketing) and that they don’t really want an internship in editorial: they’d be equally happy in our marketing department. The rest of the application will have to work hard to convince us that they really do want an internship in editorial.
The truth of the matter is that graduates should remove their personal statements and instead focus on fleshing out the other sections of their CV. For example, you could explain your final year projects, interests, or gap year experience in more detail, and this additional information could give the recruiter a clearer sense of your strengths and what motivates you.
A good covering letter does the same job as a personal statement but much, much better.
There are a few specific exceptions, though. If you don’t have the chance to submit a covering letter with your CV – so you don’t get the chance to highlight your skills or motivations for applying – you should use a specific personal statement to introduce yourself. For example, when:
- posting your CV to a jobs board for employers to browse
- applying through a recruitment agency which won’t let you submit a cover letter (note: most agencies encourage you to write a cover letter).
It could also be appropriate for mature students and/or career changers to include a personal statement if they have a good range of transferable skills and experience.
What to put in a personal statement if you are going to have one: good and bad examples
If you do include a personal statement, you need to make sure it is very specific to the field or organisation you’re applying for: highlight one or two key relevant achievements and skills and articulate your career aims clearly.
To do this, you need to steer clear of anything like: ‘I want to take on new challenges and progress in my chosen career.’ Instead, consider the specifics of the career sector. For example, if a civil engineer was very clear that they wanted to work in the water sector at a consultancy, an example of a good opening sentence would be: ‘A civil engineering graduate with experience of working for a contractor and a consultancy seeks a graduate role with a consultancy in its water division.’ This career goal is very specific and clearly articulated – and by highlighting that they’ve done work experience with both types of construction organisation, they are telling recruiters that they’ve made a considered career choice.
If, however, the civil engineer was posting to a jobs board and wanted to attract a greater number of employers and wasn't fussy about the division they worked in, they shouldn't state their career aim so starkly, but should instead highlight their final-year project and industry-related work experience.