09/25/2013 by Carney Sandoe Staff | Landing the Job
Cover Letter vs. Personal Statement: Do I Really Need Both?
If you’re zipping through the documents in your CS&A candidate file, checking “to-be-completed” items off a list (resume: check. transcripts: check. references: check.), you might pause when you come to the personal statement. Burdened by personal and professional commitments (those papers aren’t going to grade themselves), you might decide that you can skip it. You’ll be sending cover letters to each school that interests you anyway. And how different can the two documents be?
If this is the way you’re thinking, you’re missing an opportunity to demonstrate who you are without the constraints of addressing a particular school. Here are some key differences between a cover letter and a personal statement—both important parts of your candidate file.
1. Cover Letter = Them. Personal Statement = You
While to a certain extent every document you submit during your application process is for and about the school to which you’re applying, the cover letter presents a more direct opportunity to specify the attributes of a particular school that align with your past successes and future plans. The inherent vagueness of the personal statement allows you to discuss yourself more generally, without having to fit into the mold of a specific school.
2. Presenting All Tiers of Your Experience
We all have them: the “top tier” experience in our resumes. These are the positions with the best titles, the coolest opportunities, the real “turning points” in our careers. When you’re writing a cover letter, you need to address your top tier experiences, as well as any experience you’ve had that’s directly related to the opportunity at hand. That’s a lot of showcasing to do in one page.
Your personal statement provides an opportunity to highlight some of your “second tier” experiences—the ones that may have lasted for a shorter time or occurred years ago, but that may have made a real difference in the formation of your career. Your personal statement should complement—not completely echo—your cover letter. The two documents together allow you to flesh out some parts of your history that you may have had to rush by submitting solely a cover letter.
3. Hook ’em With a Story
Blank space on a cover letter is precious: you need to seamlessly condense your life story and catch your reader’s attention in a page or less. There’s not much room for the “softer” elements of presentation, like an anecdote that explains why you began teaching or a story that embodies why you love what you do.
There is room for that, however, in your personal statement. You have more room for creativity when you’re complementing—not highlighting—your accomplishments, and this creativity can create a rounder portrait of who you are.
The personal statement is just that: personal. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate your personality, tone of voice, and outlook in a very real way. Spend some time writing it and making it excellent: in the initial stages of your job application, the personal statement will do a lot of the heavy lifting in answering questions about what kind of educator and person you are. Whether you make it funny, touching, or smart, be sure to make it yours.