many times have you had to provide a written account of what you have done
with your life?
Do you remember
what you had to write when you returned to school in the fall? Every year
it was the same thing: a 500-word essay on what you had done over the
summer. And suddenly, what had been your deliverance became your
affliction. Five hundred words?
Later, when you applied to college, you
had to write a personal statement. But the challenge – not to mention the
stakes – was much greater. Now you had to account for what you had done
not over the past three months, but over the past three or four years, and
you had to present your story as a compellingly persuasive argument that
would enhance your chances of being admitted to the college of your
In your senior year of college, you had
to write another personal statement explaining why you were a desirable
candidate for graduate school, or you had to write a letter of application
explaining why you were the perfect applicant for the perfect job.
Today, with your application for that
next great job, with your request for a promotion, or with your summary of
achievements and goals that you submit as part of your annual performance
assessment, it's more of the same.
How do you make the story of your life
into a persuasive argument? How do you organize and present your material
when the subject is you?
Whether you are writing a personal
statement or a letter of application, your goals are the same:
make a favorable impression
distinguish yourself from other applicants
accurately reflect your background, experience, and interests
In accomplishing these goals, you face
convey a great deal of information in very limited space
present facts and details without sounding as though you are presenting a
go beyond facts to convey warmth and personality
write about yourself, your qualities, and your achievements without
Here's my advice on how to meet these
goals and overcome these challenges:
with a statement or brief paragraph that is engaging but not contrived. A
statement such as "I've been waiting for this opportunity for a long time"
may get your reader's attention, but "Ever since my dog died I've wanted
to become a veterinarian" doesn't cut it.
organizing your material around one or two principal themes. Tell a story
that illustrates, for example, your commitment to hard work, your interest
in travel, your openness to new experiences, or your appreciation for
other cultures and ways of thinking.
tell everything. A statement such as "At this point in my undergraduate
studies, I have no idea what I want to do" may be honest, but it doesn't
advance your case. Emphasize the positive.
overly general and clichéd language, such as "had the opportunity,"
"really excited," and "very interesting experience." Go beyond the general
to specific, concrete, detailed support for your statements.
every word count. Write in a style that is both concise and
all secondary or subordinate points to your main argument. Make all
information and examples relevant.
carefully to eliminate any errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
Your writing is your most tangible and immediate proof of your competence
your draft to family, friends, teachers, counselors, or professional
associates. Ask for their reactions and suggestions.
set your draft aside for a few days and edit it with a fresh eye. What
sounds terrific today may not sound so terrific tomorrow.
Writing about yourself may not be easy,
but remember this: There's no topic you know better.