Are personal statements the new cover letter?

By Robert Half 7th February 2018

Applying for a job is already daunting enough, but do you know whether you should be using a cover letter or personal statement to get traction?

While there has been a wide array of research completed on how many hiring managers read the coverage, while others scan it in 5-10 seconds. That being said, a well crafted cover letter or tailored personal statement can be the difference you need to stand out from the rest.

Find out the difference between a cover letter and a personal statement, and explore the advantages and disadvantages of both, so you can reach an informed decision for your next application.

Cover letters vs personal statements

Writing a personal statement is more reflective of your professional story, your work ethic and your beliefs. This can be written in a letter format and attached to your CV, but is most commonly included on the CV as a precursor to your job history and experience.

Writing a cover letter is the best course of action if you prefer a formal introduction to a hiring manager before they read your CV. It will typically address how appropriate you are for the role, pull out relevant experience and detail why you want the job.

What are the advantages of using a cover letter?

•    You can pitch yourself separately from your CV

Writing a cover letter gives you the freedom to pitch yourself separately from your CV. This is useful because it means having to make fewer amendments to your CV with each job application you make and also gives you the space to go into specific detail—something a CV would not have room to accommodate.

•    You can target it towards the job you’re applying for

Job applications are at their most effective when tailored to the role at hand. Writing a fresh, specific and targeted cover letter for each role you apply for will increase your chances of securing an interview. Try picking out key responsibilities in the job description and matching your skills to them.

•    You can address it to the hiring manager

The function of a cover letter is to be a written introduction to a potential employer. This gives you the valuable opportunity to personalise it with the hiring manager’s name. A survey by Saddleback College showed that 33% of employers expect a tailored CV for job applications.

What are the disadvantages of using a cover letter?

•    It takes longer to apply for a job

Setting aside time to write a personalised cover letter for each position will take significantly longer than if you were to resort to canvasing with a generic CV. Aside from the time taken to match skills to job roles and pitch effectively, time also needs to be set aside for proof reading and checks to avoid embarrassing mistakes.

•    There’s potential for rambling

Because a personal statement usually sits on a CV, it needs to be a short paragraph to avoid clutter. Cover letters are longer than personal statements, leaving plenty of additional room for unnecessary detail which could result in a loss of reader interest.

What are the disadvantages of using a personal statement?

•    Quicker applications

Applying for jobs can be a lot faster if you don’t need to type out a personalised cover letter for each role. You will need to amend your CV slightly to showcase relevant experience for the job at hand, but the work is significantly less, leaving you free to apply to multiple opportunities in half the time.

•    Shows your passion

A personal statement is designed to show passion for a career path and tell more of a personal story. It departs from the formality of a cover letter and so gives an employer a much better feel for your career goals and whether you are a fit for company culture.

•    Demonstrates skills in concision

A CV may demonstrate an ability to tailor content to a specific readership, but a personal statement is an excellent display of the ability to give relevant information in a concise way. Because you have limited space, you’ll need to be selective about the information you include.

What are the disadvantages of using a personal statement?

•    More CV tweaking

Although a CV will always require some degree of editing to make it appropriate for each role, relying solely on a personal statement means much more editing on your part. This leaves more room for errors and accidents in a place where information is at its most crucial.

•    Too generic

Passion and cultural fit may be high on many hiring managers’ agendas, but so is candidate relevance. Personal statements tend to remain far too generic, and so fail to give the full picture as to how well your experience and skill set fit role requirements.

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