How To Write About Yourself: Personal Statement Tips

Knowing how to write about yourself is hard.

It can be difficult to know what the reader is looking for; you don’t want to seem boastful or exaggerate your qualities, but you don’t want to leave out important information or miss an opportunity by being modest.

Getting the tone and content right can take a long time, especially in a formal application or personal statement.

But whether you’re applying for a job, a scholarship or a university or college place, knowing how to write about yourself well is an essential skill that you must master.

So, what do you need to know when it comes to how to write about yourself?

To write about yourself effectively, especially in a personal statement, you need to consider three elements. First, use a range of prompts and questions to unlock your opinions and ambitions. Then, outline your relevant achievements and their value, and turn your weaknesses into strengths.

I’ve written about each of these valuable approaches in more detail below, and at the end of this post, you’ll find a free downloadable resource you can use to start writing about yourself with clarity and purpose.

If you want to find out more about the best way to start a personal statement, you can check out my post here.

1 Use Prompts To Write About Yourself Brilliantly

If someone asked you to write about yourself right now, the chances are that you’d start by thinking about what you do rather than who you are; where you live, how you pass your time, and the people you share your days with.

However, these are very passive examples of what makes you who you are. Read the passage below – it’s factual but not very engaging…

This kind of information doesn’t tell us very much about the person that wrote it, and most of all isn’t compelling us to care about making them an offer.

A much better place to start is to use prompts to generate content that you might not have immediately thought about but that is engaging, vivid and reflects your personality.

1 Ask Unexpected Questions About Yourself

At the start of the personal statement writing process (or any time you need to write about yourself), begin by asking yourself some questions.

Try to answer them truthfully, fully and without censoring yourself. The answers might surprise you, but they’ll help you to write more formally about yourself later in the process.

Examples might be…

  • How happy am I?
  • What is most important to me?
  • What do I like best in my life?
  • What do I want to change in the world?
  • How do I learn?
  • How do I express myself?
  • What am I afraid of?
  • What motivates me?
  • How do I choose friends?
  • When do I make mistakes?
  • Why do I feel lonely?

These might not seem relevant to a job application, but writing the answers to these and other questions that you can find in the free worksheet at the end of this post, can help you to put your choices into context.

You can find some specific details about writing for job applications here.

Here’s an example of a good response developed from an answer to the first question above…

2 Use Prompts To Inspire Your Answers

A different way to approach the challenge of writing about yourself is to start by using prompts to generate responses.

This is especially effective as it pushes you to make decisions about predefined topics, helping you to come up with ideas you hadn’t thought of before.

Again, don’t worry about relevancy in the early stages; just try to be as open and honest as you can.

Prompts are very active – they ask you to write about actions.

They also get you writing in the first person, which is exactly what you need to do when you are developing a personal statement, job application or other form of self-reference.

Some useful prompts are things like…

  • I believe in…
  • I like…
  • I argue against…
  • I support…
  • I encourage…
  • I fear…
  • I deny…
  • I dream about…
  • I aspire to…
  • I am challenged by…
  • I hope for…

Once you’ve completed these and the other prompts in the free worksheet below, you can use the responses to inspire or develop the more formal content…

I aspire to make a difference to the ways in which companies integrate and develop green energies in the manufacturing process. Completing this degree will give me the tools I need to forge a meaningful a career as a renewable energy consultant in the automotive sector.

Successful Applicant

2 Celebrate Your Achievements And Their Value

Admissions teams and employers actively want to read about your successes and the ways in which you’ve added value to your offer.

If they see that you’ve successfully used strategies to overcome challenges and apply learning, they’ll be confident that you’ll bring these skills to their organisation or community.

1 Illustrate Your Points With Important Achievements

When you’re learning how to write about yourself, a great tip is to reinforce each key point you make with an example of your own achievements.

If you do this instead of just listing those achievements, you give added depth to all of your accomplishments by connecting them with deeper evidence of knowledge.

Here’s an example of what that might look like in practice…

You read a book on your subjectYou wrote a prize-winning essay based on the conclusions you drew from that bookYou carried out wider research on practitioners in your industryYou attended a masterclass with a practitioner or company and used it to network contacts
You undertook an internship or work placementYou improved profitability, systems or branding or gained a specific skillYour studies informed you about a social or political issueYou became active in your community as a volunteer, achieving change
Illustrating Points with Achievements

2 Outline the Value of Each Accomplishment

Every time you write about an accomplishment or achievement, identify the value of that experience, both for yourself and for the institution you are applying to.

By doing this, you’ll reveal the worth of that experience and show the reader that you’re a reflective, positive learner with a great deal to offer them.

Perhaps you came first in a test? The value could be that you know how to prepare effectively for challenges and are positive about success.

Maybe you completed a gruelling sponsored event? The value might be that you developed physical and emotional stamina and are confident about taking the lead when approaching a challenge.

Perhaps you led a debating team to victory in a contest? The value might be gaining confidence in public speaking, mediation and the ability to support your peers.

So, when you’re thinking about how to write about yourself, don’t do this…

But try this instead…

3 Transform Your Weaknesses Into Strengths

When it comes to how to write about yourself, you might find that others know you better than you do!

It can be incredibly valuable to ask your friends, peers, family and professional networks for their opinions and use their feedback to generate some original content.

1 Listen To What Others Say About You

You might need to be brave when asking others for their opinion.

Sometimes, fear of what they will say (or anxiety about being criticised) can stop us from seeing the benefit of their views, but it can be an exceptionally valuable process.

The worksheet available in this post goes into this in greater detail, but using a feedback framework is always a wise idea.

Rather than giving people free rein to comment as they like, you might want to ask targeted questions.

Examples might be…

  • What are my strengths?
  • What are my best qualities?
  • How ambitious am I?
  • What do I prioritise?
  • What are my goals?
  • Who would play me in a movie of my life?
  • How would you describe me?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • How would I describe myself?
  • Am I a positive or negative person?

You can use their feedback to help steer your writing, focusing on common positive responses.

You might not have thought of yourself as a positive person, for example, but if most people say that you are, then that would be a strong element to bring out in your writing.

Sometimes, their comments might surprise you, and that’s why this process is so useful.

It might make you think differently about your application or push you to make positive changes that will add value to your personal statement.

2 Develop a Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck famously popularised the concept of a growth mindset.

At its heart, this is an approach to challenges that looks for opportunities for growth rather than reasons for failure. In other words, it isn’t the case that you can’t do something; it’s just that you can’t do it yet.

Framing your weaknesses as strengths is a key technique when it comes to how to write about yourself.

There’s no point in including ‘failure’ in your personal statement, as the following example illustrates…

But this same situation could be reframed to show strength and suitability…

Start by making a list of all the things you’ve accomplished that you consider to be failures or unsuitable for inclusion in a personal statement.

Then, transform each point with a positive strength, just like in the example above.

You’ll be surprised how much value you can find in each of those experiences and how you can transform them into positives that show your commitment and potential.

  • Low exam grades? Can you write about the self-knowledge you’ve since learned for academic success? Maybe you can balance this with very successful practical experiences?
  • Struggling to find a job? Can you write about how you’ve used your available free time positively?
  • Not given a scholarship? Can you write about the strengths you used to overcome this challenge and how this flexibility and courage will be of value in the future?

As promised, you can download a free worksheet that takes you through this process in detail by clicking here or hitting the banner below.

No sign-ups, just free, helpful resources.

Don’t forget, if you’d like to work with me 1:1 to write a perfect personal statement, click here or hit the banner below.

I’d love to hear from you!

Good luck with your personal statement, and don’t forget to contact me if you’d like some 1-1 support. You’ve got this! D

Research and content verified by Personal Statement Planet.

David Hallen

I've worked in the Further Education and University Admissions sector for nearly 20 years as a teacher, department head, Head of Sixth Form, UCAS Admissions Advisor, UK Centre Lead and freelance personal statement advisor, editor and writer. And now I'm here for you...

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