Personal Statements and CVs: Oxford Style

Estimated reading time: 4 Minutes
(c) John Cairns
(c) John Cairns
One of the great joys of being part of the BSG is the international spirit that our community embodies. For our last cycle we received applications from 97 different countries and territories. Many of our applicants hence come from countries with different traditions in regards to application writing and in particular concerning how to write a statement of purpose and a CV.

I have therefore included an adapted version of the advice given by the Oxford University Careers Services to current Oxford students. Please note that any application writing process is individual and that any advice should be taken solely as an example of how an application can be written rather than as a formula that must be followed.

Today marks the beginning of the final 6 weeks left before our deadline of 24 January 2014 and hopefully many of you are already well under way with your MPP applications. If you have not started yet then be reassured that there is still time to put together a strong application; if you start now!

The advice in my previous blog is a good place to start but please bear in mind that time is short and that the parts of your application that are dependant upon external agents and where materials can take longer to procure should be started upon now. This applies in particular to English Language documentation, references and transcripts. For more information on these materials please see my previous blog. In this blog I will focus on two sets of materials where you are not dependent upon others; namely your CV and statement of purpose.

Adapted Advice from the Oxford University Careers Service on Supporting Statement Writing


  • Check your spelling and get someone else to read it over.

  • Don’t start every sentence with “I”.

  • Give evidence for all your claims.

  • Be enthusiastic!

  • Don’t repeat your whole CV.


The content and style is up to you, but you will need a solid structure to have the best chance of success. Here are some guidelines:


  • Introduce yourself.


  • Explain why you’re interested in the course and the BSG.

  • Target the letter at the BSG. Check the webpage of the School and make it implicit that you have not simply sent out multiple copies of the same letter to different schools.

  • Explain what factors attract you to us – don’t just repeat text from our publicity material.


  • Use the remainder to explain why you are well-suited to the course.

  • Refer to relevant skills, experience and knowledge that you have.

  • Match what you say to the requirements given in the entry criteria.

  • Try to avoid using exactly the same phrases which appear on your CV.


  • Reiterate your desire to join the BSG.

  • Add a ‘look forward to hearing from you’-type statement.

  • End “Yours sincerely”, and type your name and title

Adapted Advice from the Oxford University Careers Service on CV Writing


  • Make sure your CV says the right things about you in a clear and accessible way.

  • Keep it short – ideally one page, no more than two pages.

  • Highlight what you’ve achieved, to make the reader want to learn more by meeting you.

  • Target your CV – don’t just make one CV and send it out to multiple Schools.

  • Find out what skills and experience the School is looking for. Study the BSG’s website. Make sure that you highlight areas of your experience that demonstrate that you have the qualities they seek.

  • Get the tone right – you don’t want to be too bashful or too boastful.


  • Most common style of CV

  • Lists your education and work experience in reverse chronological order

  • Skills and achievements are worked into the content against relevant experience

  • Easy for assessors to spot relevant information

  • Gives a complete picture of you in a clear, well-structured way

Example: Traditional CV (PDF)


  • Often used by people changing direction and seeking to highlight the transferability of their skills

  • Information arranged to highlight the skills developed

  • Work experience section is kept brief and details are presented in different skills categories

  • Key skills are clearly shown on the first page

  • If you have a lot of experience, you can focus on skills that are most relevant

However, this is a difficult style to adopt. Hard evidence is required to make the skills sound meaningful. This CV may require significant re-working for each application. For the average undergraduate we generally wouldn’t recommend a skills-based CV.

Example: Skills-based CV (PDF)

I recently had the pleasure of attending the graduation of our Class of 2012, which was a fitting end to an amazing year! It was great to see so many of our students back at the School and to celebrate their achievement over the last year. Hopefully readers of this blog will be amongst the ones celebrated in 2015 !