How long will it take me to write my UCAS personal statement?

Quite a long time if you want to do a really good job!  Before you even start to write you will need to have done some solid research and have established some clear aims.  For example, which course(s) you are interested in and which universities you would like to apply to.  You will also want to visit some universities. Once you have a purpose, you will find your personal statement easier to construct. UCAS has a very helpful question sheet which is excellent for preparing your thoughts prior to writing.  So, to answer your question, realistically, I would allow about  20-24 hours (excluding research) of your own time to get from a blank sheet to the finished statement – which will be about 6-8 drafts.   Don’t be put off by this – if you start drafting the statement early in the summer holidays after the Lower VIth/Year 12 – then you will be relaxed and have time to produce something outstanding and ready to discuss with school when you go back for the Autumn Term.  Working to this timetable is especially important if you are applying to Oxford or Cambridge or to do medicine, veterinary science, dentistry or law as the deadlines are much earlier.  I usually help people with their UCAS statements for between two and four hours.

What are the key points to consider when completing a job application?

Accuracy and completeness are critical. If there are gaps where information has not been provided – or gaps between jobs or education that aren’t explained – then the person recruiting will wonder why. If they are busy (and they probably will be), they may decide that they can’t be bothered to find out and so your application goes on the reject pile.

Selling yourself well is also very important.  Use the additional information section for this purpose, explaining what you bring to the role and why you are interested in the job.

I can help you produce your application from scratch or take the role of editor/proof reader, making comments and highlighting any errors in phrasing, grammar, punctuation, etc.

Do you recommend a certain format for a CV?

No, not really.  I recommend producing a CV with a layout and structure that would suit the job or jobs you want to apply for.  I see the CV as a number of sections which we would put together in a certain way – changing the emphasis as necessary so that the most important and relevant information is obvious and easy to see.  I also recommend sending a covering letter with your CV, highlighting your particular strengths for the job.  I can advise on a layout to suit your particular circumstances and help you construct an effective covering letter

Your LinkedIn profile pic – three things that work and five things to avoid

This article was produced for the wonderful networking group, Women in Rural Enterprise (WiRE), for their newsletter.

LinkedIn aims to be different from other social media. Describing itself as “the world’s largest professional network”, its mission is to “connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful”.  For those of us using LinkedIn, the key word in both the description and the mission statement is “professional” – and this is what you should aim for in your photo.

There are three types of photograph that could work well for you on LinkedIn:

  • the full face shot
  • the pic of you with your product or service
  • the quirky pic

The full face shot – where you look directly at the camera and smile – is the easiest and the safest.  Done properly, it is very effective. You will come across as a reliable, straightforward and consistent business person. Options include cropping in close or going further out to include whole head and shoulders.  (If you include shoulders, then wear business attire rather than sportswear or holiday clothes…).

I have gone for the full face shot because I tend to be cautious on social media and I feel it suits my social media ‘personality’.  Here I am, on the left below, and here are two WiRE members who, I feel, have used the full face shot successfully: Emily Whitehead and Kate Young:

LinkedIn a LinkedIn b LinkedIn c

Me                                                Emily Whitehead                       Kate Young


The pic of you with your product or service – it is great to be photographed with your product or providing your service as the photo then illustrates your business. Two WiRE members who do this to great effect are Ruth Downing (who, incidentally, takes LinkedIn profile photos for people) and Sarah Lewis:

LinkedIn dLinkedIn e

Ruth Downing                       Sarah Lewis


For the quirky pic you need confidence, courage and creativity … Get it right and it works brilliantly.  Get it wrong and you leave your audience puzzled and confused.  But why not try it anyway? You can always take it down if you change your mind..  Here are two more WiRE members  who have pulled it off perfectly:

LinkedIn fLinkedIn g

Helen Culshaw                      Philippa Davies


Whatever you decide to do, here are five things to avoid:

  1. a cropped picture of you taken from a group shot. However careful you are there always seems to be someone else’s arm or hand included…
  2. busy backgrounds which have nothing to do with your business
  3. two of you in a pic (which one are you?)
  4. a pic of you holding a wine glass, g & t, cocktail, pint, etc (unless you sell it)
  5. you on holiday….in sunglasses….at the spa….at the races….on a night out…

You get the picture.

Judith Poulteney MA FCIPD is a specialist careers consultant and interview coach who produces interview-winning CVs, covering letters and LinkedIn profiles. She would like to thank the WiRE members who agreed to her using their LinkedIn profile pictures for this blog.

Example 8: Effective networking

Jane is self-employed and knew the value of networking events for her business – but she never felt she was getting the best out of them. She explained to me that she felt unsure how to describe her business to others, face-to-face, in a way that was interesting and understandable – yet concise. We spent an hour and a half identifying what she did (features) and how it helped others (benefits), gradually reducing the information to a few key sentences. Jane can now state these with confidence and feels that she is a much better ambassador for her business at networking events and elsewhere. Cost: £57.50.

Example 7: Business proposal

James had the opportunity to pitch for some business for his company and wanted some objective comment. He spent some time with me restructuring his presentation and practising the “words, music and dance” until he felt confident and well-prepared. Four hours: £180.

Example 6: Job Interview practice with/without video

Peter had a management job interview which involved making a ten-minute presentation to the interview panel (which he was asked to prepare in advance). We went through some of the questions in a practice interview but he also had several dry-runs for his presentation which was the thing he was most worried about. We filmed his presentation and he was able to fine-tune it and manage his time. This took around four hours: £180.

Example 5: Job Application

The cost for help with a job application is determined by the length of the application. Some are many pages and are competency-based which mean that a lot of personal information is required. Generally speaking, a short job application needs around two hours and a long job application around four hours, so £90 to £180.

Example 4: CV

CVs usually need to be concise – usually a maximum of two A4 sheets and often one sheet only. A CV also needs to be accurate. The skill is in knowing what to put in and what to leave out – and this can be time-consuming. With Alastair’s CV, we started from scratch, which took a total of four hours: £180. Editing and updating a good CV would cost less. Like most pieces of writing, we worked on and off with this over a few days – rather than doing four hours at once; the result is usually better this way.

Example 3: University practice interview with video

Helen had a two hour session with me practising answering interview questions with video feedback. Some of these were technical questions relating to her subject while others centred around aspects of leadership, teamworking, communications, ethics, knowledge of the course and the university, and so on. I helped Helen gather a range of examples from her own experiences to illustrate her points. Total: £90.