Cover Letter vs Personal Statement [With Examples]
When it comes to applying for a job or a graduate program, you may come across two common requirements: a cover letter and a personal statement. While they may seem similar, there are key differences between the two that every applicant should be aware of. In this article, we'll explore what a personal statement and a cover letter are, when they are used, their similarities and differences, and provide examples of each.
What is a Personal Statement?
A personal statement is a brief essay that highlights your skills, experiences, and goals. It is usually required for graduate school applications, but it can also be requested by employers. The purpose of a personal statement is to demonstrate your fit for a program or a position by showcasing your unique qualifications and motivations.
A personal statement should be well-crafted and tailored to the specific program or position you are applying for. It should showcase your strengths and demonstrate your passion for your field. Your personal statement should also highlight any relevant experiences, such as research projects or internships, that have prepared you for the program or position you are applying for.
What is a Cover Letter?
A cover letter is a one-page document that accompanies your resume when applying for a job. It is a formal letter that introduces you to a potential employer and explains why you are interested in the job and how your skills and experiences make you a good fit for the position.
A cover letter should be personalized for each job application and should not simply restate your resume. It should highlight your skills and experiences that are most relevant to the job, and explain how you will add value to the organization. A well-crafted cover letter can help you stand out from other applicants and can increase your chances of getting an interview.
When is Each Used?
A personal statement is typically used for graduate school applications, while a cover letter is used for job applications. However, there may be some overlap in certain situations, such as when applying for a job in academia or research, where a personal statement may be requested instead of a cover letter.
Both a personal statement and a cover letter are used to showcase your qualifications and explain why you are a good fit for a program or a position. They are both formal documents that require careful attention to detail and should be tailored to the specific program or position you are applying for.
The main difference between a personal statement and a cover letter is their purpose. A personal statement is meant to demonstrate your fit for a program and showcase your unique qualifications and motivations, while a cover letter is meant to introduce you to a potential employer and explain why you are interested in the job and how your skills and experiences make you a good fit for the position.
Another key difference is their length. A personal statement is typically longer than a cover letter and may be several pages, while a cover letter is usually one page or less.
Cover Letter Examples
Example 1: marketing coordinator cover letter.
Why this works: This cover letter is tailored to the specific job and company, highlighting the candidate's relevant experience and achievements. The tone is professional and enthusiastic, showing the candidate's passion for the industry and desire to contribute to the company's success.
Example 2: Sales Representative Cover Letter
Why this works: This cover letter focuses on the candidate's sales experience and achievements, emphasizing their ability to meet and exceed targets and build strong relationships with clients. The language is confident and persuasive, showing the candidate's ability to sell themselves and their skills.
Example 3: Human Resources Manager Cover Letter
Why this works: This cover letter highlights the candidate's extensive HR experience and achievements, showing their ability to lead and innovate in the field. The tone is professional and confident, demonstrating the candidate's ability to establish credibility and build relationships with stakeholders.
Example 4: Graphic Designer Cover Letter
Why this works: This cover letter showcases the candidate's design skills and experience, emphasizing their ability to create compelling visuals and drive user engagement. The tone is enthusiastic and passionate, conveying the candidate's love for design and eagerness to contribute to the company's creative vision.
Personal Statement Examples
Example 1: medical school personal statement.
Why this works: This personal statement is focused on the candidate's motivation and passion for medicine, demonstrating their commitment to the field and their desire to make a difference. The language is clear and concise, showing the candidate's ability to communicate their ideas effectively.
Example 2: Law School Personal Statement
Why this works: This personal statement is focused on the candidate's motivation and passion for law, demonstrating their commitment to social justice and their desire to use the law as a tool for positive change. The language is clear and persuasive, showing the candidate's ability to make a compelling argument.
Example 3: MBA Personal Statement
Why this works: This personal statement is focused on the candidate's professional experience and goals, demonstrating their commitment to business leadership and their desire to use the MBA program as a platform for growth and development. The language is clear and results-oriented, showing the candidate's ability to apply their skills and knowledge to real-world problems.
Example 4: Education Personal Statement
Why this works: This personal statement is focused on the candidate's experience and goals as an educator, showing their commitment to teaching, learning, and innovation. The language is clear and enthusiastic, demonstrating the candidate's ability to inspire and motivate both students and colleagues.
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Writing the Personal Statement
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This handout provides information about writing personal statements for academic and other positions.
The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories:
1. The general, comprehensive personal statement:
This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.
2. The response to very specific questions:
Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.
Questions to ask yourself before you write:
- What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
- What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
- When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
- How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
- If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
- What are your career goals?
- Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
- Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
- What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
- What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
- Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
- What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?
Answer the questions that are asked
- If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar.
- Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.
Tell a story
- Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.
- Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.
Find an angle
- If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.
Concentrate on your opening paragraph
- The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.
Tell what you know
- The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.
Don't include some subjects
- There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues).
Do some research, if needed
- If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.
Write well and correctly
- Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.
- A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements.
For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast .