I first published this post in 2015, but I've given it a little refresh for 2020, based on my experience of having read many personal statements for academic jobs, and heard academic recruiters talking about what helps to make a personal statement impactful and interesting - and what doesn't. In a challenging jobs market it's more important than ever to put time, space and research into crafting a statement that showcases your achievements, potential, and passion for your field and for the role you're applying to
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. Look at the Department's research areas and research strategy and think about how your research interests align with these and can help them to achieve their aims. Consider who you could collaborate with (and name these people in the statement). Think about why they have the facilities, expertise and people you need to fulfil your research goals. Look at their REF results and student demographics and consider what interests and appeals to you.
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 would benefit from more information, do make use of the commonly-given opportunity to informally contact the recruiting manager (usually the Head of Department). This will give you the chance to find out more about the specific teaching/research responsibilities of the role and enable you to make contact and demonstrate your enthusiasm before you even apply. You could briefly talk them through the research projects you'd like to work on to see whether these fit with their aims.
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 tailored throughout 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 which demonstrates your suitability for the role and Department you are applying to can help to create early impact and draw the reader in. They will have lots of statements to read so emphasising your enthusiasm and how you can contribute from the start can get their attention in a good way.
- your reasons for applying to THAT JOB in THAT DEPARTMENT. If you are applying as an internal candidate or to a department where people know you well already, don't assume your reasons will be obvious. It's crucial to give clear and specific reasons to convince them of your interest; the research you have done into the role, department and institution help here. Think about why this particular post is the perfect one for you at this stage in your career.
- 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'; what evidence can you provide for this? In terms of structure, you may want to avoid listing each of the criteria individually as this can be a bit 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 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.
- Some indication of 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 own goals with the research strategy/goals of the department you are applying to wherever possible, and also consider how your research goals fit with the priorities of research funders.
- proof-read your statement carefully and check for grammar 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 and confident about your achievements and future potential. Use lots of active verbs e.g. 'presented, liaised, designed and delivered' and where possible quantifiable impact measures, such as student feedback scores or the number of attendees at that conference you organised.
- 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 full 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; emphasise a few key highlights, especially ones that relate to that particular job
- 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. It's important not just to say what your research is about but why it matters; what difference has it made to the field and to wider society? What difference could it make to that Department?