How to Write a Great Personal Statement for Your Museum Job Application
Have you ever found yourself devoid of all inspiration when faced with the blank pages of a museum job application form? The empty box you have to fill with your personal statement can be especially daunting — you want the job, or at least to make a positive impression, but you simply don’t know where to start. It’s an all too familiar scenario, especially since many museums now prefer to use online application forms rather than accept CVs. It makes it easier for them to compare candidates, but harder for you to write a good application. If you struggle with this creative block, here are some pointers to help make your personal statement one of the good ones.
Think like the museum HR department, that doesn’t just mean thinking about what the museum wants out of a successful applicant. It also means thinking of the recruiting manager who has to wade through dozens or perhaps even hundreds of forms. He or she will breathe a sigh of relief when they come across a concise, well-researched application in the pile.
Read the job description. When you read the job description, pay attention to the skills the museum is looking for. Museum job descriptions often specify which are “essential” and which are “desirable”, and thinking like the museum will stand you in good stead. Museums will carefully check applications against the job description, the required skill and their description of the ideal applicant to create their short list of candidates. Therefore, you need to include all the essential skills and as many of the desirable skills as you can.
Cover everything, but be concise. Writing a personal statement is challenging is because there are no prompting questions, making it hard to know what information to include or which direction to take. However, if you read the job description and candidate specifications carefully you’ll have all the prompts you need. These tell you what the museum is looking for, so match those with your skills and experience in as few words as possible.
Many museums use a competency-based approach to assess applicants, so use examples to illustrate your competence. Generic statements such as “I am a good communicator” don’t tell the museum much. Provide actual examples instead, such as “I’ve used my communication skills to…”, which tells the museum what you’ve accomplished. Use active phrasing instead of passive whenever you can.
There is no right or wrong way to structure the personal statement. One effective method is to write a paragraph covering each of the skills mentioned in the candidate description and describe how you meet the requirements. This approach helps you tell the reader why you’re a good match for the job. There is no right or wrong length either, but if your statement starts to fill the page, make sure you’re not repeating yourself or including redundant information.
Don’t worry if your experience doesn’t obviously match the museum job description. If your CV isn’t filled with sector-specific skills, focus on the skills that are transferable. For example, multi-tasking, prioritizing, communicating, delegating, team building and organizing are skills that can be applied to different sectors and roles. Use your personal statement to explain how and why these skills will apply to the position.
Do some background reading. Don’t wait until just before your interview to research the museum – knowing something about the museum’s mission or philosophy can provide a focus for your personal statement. For example, if the museum prides itself on investing in staff training and development, provide that as one of the reasons you want to work for them. It will have more impact than a vague statement about liking art or history, and shows you’ve considered some specifics about them.
Be accurate and honest. Your personal statement should sell your skills effectively but should also be factually accurate. It’s more impressive to say you had an important role in influencing the outcome of a project than to suggest you led the whole thing when you didn’t. It also gives you the opportunity to showcase your skills, aptitude for teamwork and initiative during the interview.
Finally, check your spelling and grammar. Most museums will immediately reject a poorly written application full of errors, even if it’s full of otherwise good information. This is another instance when you need to think like the museum — if you can’t properly present an important document like your application form, they’ll think you can’t present yourself properly to their visitors. Use spell check, double-check it and than have someone else check it for you.
When you are having trouble coming up with a personal statement for a job application, one of the most effective approaches is to think like the museum. Ask yourself what they are looking for and then explain in your application how you meet those requirements. This gives you a starting point that’s more than half the battle – once you’ve done that, you can polish it further by making it concise and readable, highlighting your transferable skills, incorporating some knowledge about the company, and editing it so that it creates the best possible impression on the museum.
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