Acting as a snapshot of your goals and accomplishments, a statement of intent -- sometimes called a statement of purpose or personal statement -- helps graduate schools, employers and other competitive programs size you up as a prospective candidate. Often accompanied by a resume, the statement of intent serves as a self-introduction aimed at snagging you a job or other career milestone.

1. Determine Your Audience

Tailor your statement of intent to the audience that will be reading it.

For graduate school applications, place yourself in the shoes of the admissions committee that must read dozens of such statements during the course of a day. As the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education notes, choose your angle with a view to presenting a fresh take on why you have chosen that particular institution, avoiding trite, canned or predictable narratives.

For job applications, focus on the culture of the company where you want to work so that the recruiting officer, who is on the lookout for candidates that mesh with that culture, can get a sense of where you fit in.

2. Observe Formatting and Structure

For graduate school applications, watch for any specific directions from the institution and adhere to them. Each school can have different requirements, so tailor your intent to those specifications. For example, the San Francisco State University Psychology Department suggests making your statement only two or three paragraphs. The University of California San Francisco Pharmacy Residency program, on the other hand, specifies a length of one or two pages and three to five paragraphs. UCSF also requires a business letter format.

For job applications, career resource Best Job Interview suggests three paragraphs for the body of the statement. The letter should begin with your name and address; the date; the name, title and address of the hiring officer; followed by the greeting, e.g., "Dear Ms. James." After the body, close with "Sincerely," your signature and name. Optionally, add "Enclosure" below your name, in reference to an enclosed resume.

3. Include Key Elements

For graduate school applications, the UCSF Office of Career and Professional Development notes that your statement of intent must make the case for why you are applying at that institution. For example, your statement might address the following:

  • Previous training and readiness for the program.
  • Why and how the program in question will help you further your career goals.

Depending on the program, you might also include:

  • Background information and circumstances that brought you to the program.
  • Summary of your relevant experience.
  • How the department or program is relevant to your goals.
  • Contributions you can make to the department.
  • Populations you wish to study.
  • Academic or therapeutic leanings.

As UCSF warns, do not include lurid details about your childhood or life before the program in your letter of intent.

For job applications, the body of your statement should discuss:

  • Motivation for writing to the company, such as a job posting or media coverage about the company.
  • Summary of relevant skills, strengths and experience, to be amplified in your resume by five to seven bullet points enumerating skills such as "proven ability to make profitable decisions based on new information" and accomplishments such as "achieving $5 million in sales over the last five years."
  • Your desire to discuss joining the company in the specific department or team, and the positive contribution you can make.

Best Job Interview notes that when writing a generic letter of intent for employment, emphasize transferable skills and core competencies, which apply across departments and job functions, such as:

  • Planning and organization
  • Conscientiousness
  • Calm under pressure
  • Communication ability
  • Teamwork  

4. Edit and Get Feedback

Give the statement to someone else to review, whether it is a friend, colleague or even someone who does not know you well, and get feedback on how clearly it reads. Also distance yourself from the statement and return to it at another time.


As SFSU notes, the idea is to convey enthusiasm balanced with professionalism. "Humble boasting" is preferable to exaggeration. Committees want to see specificity, so give concrete examples of what makes you a standout.