AF56 Personal Statement
There are a lot of opinions out there about what your personal statement should say. One of my mentors who was a rated select a few years ago gave me the best advice I had ever heard, so I will pass it on to you:
“Talk about your career, how you led, how you impacted the mission as a leader, and how your experiences and interactions with other officers/leaders inspired you to apply for officer training. Follow up with your career goals (short and long term), and how being an officer would enable you to positively impact the mission. If you can tie those things together, and make them specific to your AFSC choices, it says a lot.”
Here are some points I would like to add:
- Big picture. I look at the Applicant Profile as a summary of your career presented in a way which is most effective for the board to receive. This is from your own perspective and it is telling the board how effectively you can present yourself and your career. I look at your commander’s recommendation as a translation of your record into the O-6 perspective of your record to your leadership and officership potential. If the LOR talks to your character, what should your personal statement (PS) contribute?
- Know your audience. The board is a panel of one O-6 and two O-6s or O-6 selects*, so you should write with the knowledge that the members have a much different perspective of life, they likely have a higher level of education than you, and they have been in the Air Force around 20 years so they know the game. If you have the opportunity, spend as much time as possible with O-6s/O-5s you know so you can get a feel for who they are and how they think. Have someone read your PS to see if you are writing at the level of someone with a graduate (at least undergraduate) degree, or at the level of someone with only a high school diploma. *NOTE: Can someone fact check this for me? I couldn’t find a source.
- Having a conversation with the board. Your PS is your opportunity to have a conversation directly with the board. Think of it like this. The board has just looked over your BOT Applicant Profile and is somewhat familiar with your record and accomplishments. Now they want to hear your story. They want you to answer questions like what inspired you to apply? What in your career has brought you to where you are today? Are you a good potential squadron commander or just a good future SNCO? Imagine this conversation in your head, speak from the heart, and put it down on paper.
- It’s always about the mission. Don’t overlook the mission. Think of your entire career in the Air Force. What is always important to commander’s? The mission. Have you ever directly impacted the mission or are you just going with the flow of the NCOs/leaders above you? Talk about a time when you made an impact, how it made you feel, and how being an officer will help you do it more effectively.
- You are not just a good NCO. When the board reads your PS their impression should be that you would make an amazing officer candidate and not pushing your package forward would have a detrimental effect to the Air Force. A lot of times when I read non-select packages 75% of the content is spent highlighting their career and accomplishments which are already in the BOT Applicant Profile. After reading those, I get the impression “This person would make a really good SNCO in a few years, not 2d Lt.”
- What is the difference between a SNCO and an officer? Do you know? Have you ever thought about it? Reach out and ask the question. Define the difference for yourself and it will naturally become part of who you are. Then speak as that new person, not the old. If you can frame your PS as someone who understands the difference it will add much more impact to your story.
- The board doesn’t assign my AFSC, so why should I mention it? Think of it like this. Think of sitting at ALS graduation and listening to two speakers tell the the story of how they became an officer. The first speaker tells you a story of how his father was a contractor for NASA at Cape Canaveral, and as a young child he would watch the space shuttles launch. He explains the feeling of awe and wonder as it lifted off into space, and the rest of his life was framed around being involved in THAT mission. The second speaker talks about how he was an NCO for ten years, he won lots of awards, and through the years one or two of his flight commander’s impressed him because they were effective leaders. After ten years he was bored and he wanted more responsibility and leadership opportunities, so he decided to apply for OTS. Which story was more inspirational? This may or may not seem like a fair comparison, but I think there are a lot of applications that sound more like speaker 2 than speaker 1. My main point is to tell your whole story, not just a snapshot of your story. Even if you don’t mention your AFSC choices because you simply want to serve as a commissioned officer in any capacity, tell that story. I know there is a story there and I know the board wants to hear it.
- What did my application have that yours doesn’t? It is hard to say, but I think board members get a common feeling from successful PSs. Several of the successful PSs I have read left me overwhelmed with a sense of pride. I understood the author was humble, proud to serve, and was truly ready for the officer level. The individual understood the importance of the mission and saw the bigger picture. I was left with a lingering feeling of “wow, this person gets it, and this person is ready.” Here is an except from my PS:
- “For the past 10 years, I had the privilege of receiving mentorship from numerous leaders, both enlisted and officer, which ignited the passion I have to take on the responsibilities and accountability of an Air Force officer. When I reflect on those moments of mentorship, I conclude with confidence that I am ready to step up to the challenges ahead. I am grateful for the incredible experiences, training, and the opportunities to contribute to the successful execution of Air Force missions.”
- I began writing my PS very early in the process, mostly because my commander didn’t really want me to do anything until 2 months out. My PS started very NCO heavy where I spent the whole time talking about myself. My wife helped me re-write it with an educated pen, but it still sent the wrong message. I really struggled with what message I needed to send until I spoke to my mentor who I referenced at the beginning of this post.
- I literally re-wrote my PS around 12 times. In the end I framed it like I did above, and talked about myself and my career from a reflective theory lens instead of simply I did this and I did that. I led Airman and passed inspections became my experience in program management, standardization, inspection, and international relations. Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do became my devotion to duty and innate desire to diversity my breadth of experience.
- My PS was one huge block of text, no paragraphs. I filled the entire space except white space at the end of every line ranging from 1/8″ to 1″ on the last line.
- I really have to give credit to my mentors. I knew what I wanted to say but they helped me say it in an effective, educated way. Thank you.
- My final draft wasn’t done until about four days from the deadline. It was terrifying.
- Post any questions you have, I am glad to help.