This is a fairly common question, and really it is unsurprising that people ask this question because the term ‘CV personal statement’ and ‘personal statement CV’ do crop up quite frequently, but a lot of people, including many career professionals don’t know what this means. Notably, those who purport to have a definitive answer usually have things muddled up, and are confused with the term themselves.
Similarly, many people, including some recruiters and employers confuse the terms ‘personal statement’ and ‘cover letter,’ and frequently over the years we have had requests from clients to write ‘cover letters,’ which on closer inspection of the job application requirements, or on contacting the employer/recruiter turn out to be not cover letters after all, but ‘personal statements.’
Well it is, and if you are confused then you’re not alone. There is therefore a need for some clarification, and we are happy to elaborate and explain things in more detail below.
Firstly, it helps to clarify some of the more commonly accepted terms.
A personal statement is sometimes required as part of a job application – but only sometimes. Also, certain jobs and sectors tend to require personal statements more than others. For example, personal statements are more common for job applications in the public sector rather than the private sector, although some commercial/private sector companies do ask for them as part of the job application process.
What is it?
Even this is a touch confusing because personal statements come in all sorts of different forms. Probably the most common form is a section on the application form just asking you to write a statement saying how you meet the job/person specification. It is usually very open-ended, and you have flexibility to say what you like, sometimes within a set word/character count limit.
That said, just because you have the flexibility to say what you like, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should just say what you like! On the contrary, the best personal statements are optimised to give the best response with the job, the requirements and any given criteria/instructions in mind.
That is probably the most commonly associated interpretation of the term ‘personal statement’ but there are others too. For example, some people confuse the ‘personal profile’ part of a CV with a personal statement, and others confuse application form responses as ‘personal statements.’ Again this is understandable, and especially since sometimes application forms do ask for/require both a CV and a ‘personal statement’ as part of the application whereas other times just responses to set questions are required.
The term CV is short for curriculum vitae, and this is frequently a requirement for job applications. CVs are generally structured and include various sections including personal profile (or summary), education, career history, skills, interests and references for example. Notably, there is no common section called ‘CV personal statement’ or even ‘personal statement’ on conventional CVs.
Cover letters tend to be shorter in length than personal statements and act as an introductory – introducing you and your application you to the employer. The ultimate purpose of the cover letter is really to entice the employer/decision maker to go on to read your CV (or application form/statement if applicable). Like CVs, cover letters tend to have a fairly conventional format/structure, whereas personal statements tend to be more free-flowing, giving the writer more freedom and flexibility to express him/herself.
When it comes to personal statements the candidate is frequently given some construction/criteria to adhere to. This usually isn’t the case for CV and cover letters.
As you can see there is some confusion.
Hopefully the above will help go some way to clarifying things.