How to write a memorable personal statement

The scenario: You’re sitting in front of a blank page struggling to answer some form of the question, “Tell me about yourself and why you’re interested in this position.” You thought you knew the answer. After all, you are you and have been your whole life, and, most importantly, you chose to apply for this opportunity. But now, your mind has gone blank and all you can muster are a few generic lines about self-improvement, progress and long-term goals.

The problem is: generic is not only forgetable, but it’s also a poor representation of your unique value or fit.

So how do you convey your individuality in a small space?

1)    Freestyle. So often, the professional format and word limit of a cover letter or college essay stumps us. You can go back and fix the language or delete inappropriate information later, but first, go with your gut and let the words fly.

2)    Get personal. The biggest mistake I’ve seen in any communication is broad information being repeated without any follow through. A lot of times this is because we feel uncomfortable peeling back the layers of our HOW and WHY. But your reader will find your story a lot more compelling if it comes from a personal, specific place.

3)    Focus on 1-2 core points. When you try to share a laundry list with your reader, nothing stands out. Emphasize the most relevant attribute(s).

4)    Use anecdotes. Even in professional writing, it’s important to go beyond an academic answer and provide examples that back up your statements. For instance, if you say you are passionate about the environment, share a story about what first linked you to this cause.

5)    Edit like mad. Does it need to be as long as it is? Even if you have unlimited space, try to make your statement as short as needed to make your point. When you do so, you tend to also choose better words and make stronger statements.

Six Steps to Building an Effective Resume

Many of us feel we generally know how to write a resume. We’ve seen resume templates online, reviewed examples shared by friends, attended classes where taking a stab at an initial draft was a homework assignment. However, few of us understand how to tell a story with our resume that will make a lasting impression on its readers.

As a content strategist, I work a lot with individuals who want to revamp their resumes. Whether you are looking for a new job or applying to a competitive graduate program, resumes remain a quick, easy and introductory way for employers and admissions officers to get to know what you’ve done and—mostly importantly—what you are capable of doing.

So, how do you build an effective case for yourself in a small space?

1)   Consider the length.

A general rule is, if you’re just starting out (3-5 years of experience in your industry), stick to a page. If you’ve got a lot of experience—and the position calls for seasoned individuals—don’t be afraid to go over a page. However, remember, the person or people receiving this document will be overwhelmed with dozens of other submissions. So the longer you make it, the more deeply you should scrutinize every bullet to ensure it warrants the extra space.

2)   Choose an appropriate format.

With the advent of services like Canva, people are going crazy making out-of-the-box resumes, hoping that aesthetics will up their chances of getting through to HR. But keep in mind that a lot of resumes go through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), which auto sorts your resume based on how well it matches pre-set criteria. Pretty resumes make an impact in person, but can be difficult for an ATS to pick up, meaning, even if you are a 99% match with the criteria, you might be overlooked. Additionally, aesthetics can cut into the space you have to demonstrate why you are right candidate for the job. My two cents: bring the pretty document with you in person, if you score an interview, and submit the easy-to-read doc online. 

3)   Customize your content.

Your resume should not be the exact same for every job you apply to. In fact, it should almost always be a little different, depending on what aspects of your experience you need to highlight to show you are a strong match for the job you are seeking. Look at the job description and especially the qualifications list. Be sure to speak to these requirements, and to include relevant keywords from the post in your resume.

4)   Start with a summary.

Objectives are a thing of the past. It is pretty clear that your objective is to get a job in education if you are applying for a job in education. Instead, a brief summary that highlights your career-wide achievements gives your reader a quick snapshot of what you have accomplished and what you are passionate about.

5)   Put your best foot forward.

Recruiters who are pressed for time tend to skim your resume. I know it sucks, especially after all the time you put into choosing every single detail, but it’s the truth. Most, however, will always read the first bullet under every job, meaning you better make it a good one.

6)   Watch your language. :)

Ostensibly, a resume is about sharing what you’ve done with someone who has no idea. But the thing about telling someone what you’ve done is that the laundry list, while perhaps effective in showing your range or workload, fails to demonstrate your impact. Focus on sharing results and omit the details that simply enumerate your duties (e.g. filing, organizing, corresponding). Once you figure out the right story to tell, make sure you use words that demonstrate action, leadership and engagement. And if you have numbers to back up your claims, even better!

Resume writing is a daunting task. If you still have questions on how to gear your resume up for your next job search, networking event or portfolio submission, definitely reach out!