I've been reading a few of these of late. Here are some thoughts on suggested structure and content, answers to 'FAQs' on personal statements and thoughts on pitfalls to avoid.
Before you start
It's very tempting to jump in straight away and start writing the statement, especially if the role is precisely in your research field, at your dream university and the deadline is midnight tonight. However, it's really important before you start writing the statement to do thorough research into the Department/Faculty/research group and university you are applying to. Academic job descriptions can vary widely in how much information they give about the precise content of the job. If anything seems unclear or you feel you would like more information, do make use of the commonly-given opportunity to contact the recruiting manager (usually the Head of Department). This will give you the opportunity to find out more about the teaching/research responsibilities of the role and give you the opportunity to make contact and demonstrate your enthusiasm before you even apply. Setting up email alerts from sites such as jobs.ac.uk will help avoid a situation where you see an advert for your dream lectureship six hours before the application deadline.
Read any instructions carefully; for some positions clear instructions will be given about what to include in the personal statement, so do make sure you follow these. Read the job description and person specification carefully and think about examples from your experience to show that you meet these criteria.
Putting the statement together
Your statement needs to be consistently tailored to the particular post you are applying for. Realistically you may be taking material you have used from previous applications, but it's vital to reorganise it and rewrite it for the current application. It will be obvious if you have simply cut and pasted generic material.
What to include:
- A brief opening statement including information about who you are and what your current role is. Including a key achievement in relation to the role you are applying for can work well here.
- your reasons why you are applying for this particular job. If you are applying as an internal candidate or to a department where people know you well already, don't assume these will be obvious. You need to give clear reasons to demonstrate your interest; the research you have done into the role, department and institution will be helpful with this
- evidence of how your research interests fit with those of the department. Do your research into the profiles of existing staff members and think about who you could collaborate with and the unique contribution you would make. This type of information could be included in your reasons for applying.
- clear evidence and examples to show how you meet the criteria on the person specification. It's not enough to simply say 'I have excellent presentation skills'; how can you demonstrate this? In terms of structure, you may want to avoid listing each of the criteria individually as this can be tedious; think about grouping similar criteria together, or structuring your statement according to research, teaching, and administration, depending on the focus of the job. Try and use the language and phrases given in the person specification where you can; this will make it easier for a busy academic recruiter to see quickly that you have the required skills and experience.
- Information about your future research plans, including clear goals and potential funding sources. This doesn't need to be hugely detailed and lengthy, particularly as many jobs will ask for a separate statement of research interests, but it does need to be there. Link your goals with the research strategy/goals of the department you are applying to wherever possible.
- proof-read your statement carefully and check for grammatical and spelling errors and typos. If you are like me you will need to proof-read a hard copy as well as an onscreen version
- save a copy of your statement to refer to if you are shortlisted
- be positive about your achievements and future potential
- get feedback on your statement from academic colleagues. You can also get feedback from the Researcher Career Development Adviser.
- upload a copy of your CV including lists of publications and conference presentations. Check out the advice and CV examples from Vitae.
- keep the statement to two sides of A 4.
- simply repeat all of the detail in your CV, for example lists of publications or modules you have taught; pick out a few key highlights where appropriate
- write in big blocks of text - break the statement down into short paragraphs. Subheadings can work well.
- get drawn into talking at length about your research interests. You will need to mention these, but make sure you focus on research achievements and future goals as well.
- be tempted to use short forms, e.g. 'etc', or say 'see attached CV' rather than provide evidence that you meet a particular criteria