How to write a Statement of Purpose (SOP)?

November 19th, 2011 36 comments

With academic internships  on Internshala (likes of CERN, JNCASR, EPFL etc.) ruling the roost, we have been inundated with requests for tips on how to write an impressive Statement of Purpose (SOP). The kind which grabs selection committee’s attention and forces them to accept you in one go. We present, a been there and done that, expert telling you the finer nuances of how to write an effective SOP.

About the author: – Nirmal Jayaram graduated from IIT Madras in 2006 post which he did his M.S & Ph.D from Stanford University. Whether Nirmal is synonymous with the term Academic Brilliance or coined it; I am not sure. Sample this – he graduated with a CGPA of 9.54 from IIT Madras (last 4 sem GPA being 10/10), he had calls from all 6 IIMs and attended interviews of only 2 and converted both including IIM Ahmedabad. But of course he did not join it. He had admits with full scholarships from Stanford, MIT, Berkley, Cornell, UTA, & Purdue. Rumors has it that MIT admission committee stalked him for weeks to swing his decision in their favor and sulked for months when he went to Stanford instead. With these credentials, if I were you I would pay VERY close attention to what he has to say on SOP writing. Happy reading…

1. Understand what a statement of purpose means: You’ve probably been in situations where you have to choose one among several exciting alternatives. Recruiters face the same scenario while dealing with several good resumes intended at the same job opening. The statement of purpose gives you an opportunity to connect all your application materials together and express to the recruiter why you fit the role the best. To understand what goes into a good statement of purpose, you need to put yourselves in the recruiter’s shoes, and try to get a feel for the two burning questions a recruiter has:

  1. Why are you interested in the opening? Sometimes the answer to this might be obvious. You current area of study/ work could well be closely related to the job opening, but it still can’t hurt to clearly enunciate your interest in this area of work and how that helps you move further in your intended career path. Naturally this is much more important when the job opening is in an area unrelated to your current area of work, although you might believe that the new area is really your calling. The end goal is that the recruiter needs to believe that you are very serious about this opening and you would give it your all once you actually get the job. More on this later.
  2. What do you bring to the table? So, you have shown the recruiter that no one could be any more serious about the opening than you are. You’ve won half the battle, but you still need to prove that you are not all bluster and you are capable of performing the work at a very high level. Your resume does this for you partly, but the statement of purpose gives you an opportunity to highlight some of your major achievements and skill sets that are closely related to the job of interest.

2. Tell a story, your story! Let’s talk about structuring your statement of purpose for a bit. Your statement of purpose needs to tell your story in such a way that the recruiter clearly understands your background, your capabilities and your suitableness for the job. There are many ways to structure a statement of purpose, and this would be one:

  • Who are you and what do you do currently? Start out with your current education background and what got you there. Maybe you were inspired by pure science as a kid and ended up as a physicist. Maybe you were excited by the world of algorithms in high school that inspired you to pursue the field of computer science. Or maybe you even wanted to build the next Eiffel tower and decided to become a Civil Engineer!
  • What are your current academic credentials? Dedicate some part of your statement of purpose to explain your academic achievements and credentials in your current education program. If you did great in your college entrance exam or in your college exams, state it here and explain how this reflects your dedication to your current field and the hard work you are ready to put in. If you won scholarships through, for example, the National Talent Search Examination, make sure the recruiter knows that.
  • What is your current state of knowledge? Most disciplines are very broad and diverse, and it is imperative that you explain your specialization in more detail. Discuss your coursework and explain why you chose to specialize in the area that you did. Suppose that the job opening requires an intern that pursues research in the analyses of large data sets. You could be a mathematician and might have pursued a diverse set of courses, but you need to explain why the field of data mining excites you the most. You need to specifically identify your data mining-related coursework that clearly illustrates that you have the theoretical background to succeed at this new job.
  • Discuss your past projects: This is particularly critical for research based jobs that require that you be creative, comfortable working in open-ended problems, good at communicating orally and in written, and will not get easily frustrated by occasional difficulties in furthering the project due to research complexities. Some jobs also require that you be capable of working without much guidance or work as part of a large team. The most obvious way to communicate that you possess the above-mentioned skills is to provide a brief description of all your past projects and the skill sets you demonstrated along the way. Any journal or conference papers that you published as part of your projects will go a long way in helping you get a research-oriented job!
  • Discuss your non-technical skills: A lot of successful people are technically sound but also charismatic and possess excellent interpersonal skills. These are almost essential qualities in modern work places and activities that you’ve been part of where you have demonstrated these skills should help you big. Such activities include playing a leadership role in a department or college level association, being part of NSS, or maybe even running your own small startup!
  • Identify yourself with the company/ university: It is of utmost importance that your statement of purpose does not look generic, rather seems well crafted to the specific job opening. It would be wise to discuss briefly about your interest in the specific workplace and not just the nature of work, and in particular detail the attempts you’ve made to learn more about the workplace.

3. Ensure that the statement of purpose is written in a professional manner: A poorly worded statement of purpose with spelling or grammatical errors is a big turn off that would certainly hurt your cause. Request help from friends and colleagues regarding possible wording changes that would make the essay look more professional. Avoid terminology and wording that aren’t obvious to the reader, and remember that different countries may use different terminologies to refer to the same word. Keeping these sensitivities in mind will help.

4. Be brief: Recruiters do not have the time or energy to read through a rambling 4 page essay. The statement of purpose shouldn’t exceed a couple of pages and should be to the point. We are not trying to author the next Lord of the Rings here!

Comments

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  1. Shobhit Puri
    November 20th, 2011 at 10:44 | #1

    Thanks a lot for it. In a day or two, I was about to start writing the same and then I received your notification regarding the post. Awesome! It was really helpful.

    Regards
    Shobhit Puri
    Student
    Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad

  2. November 20th, 2011 at 18:22 | #3

    Thanks for your valuable information about the Satement of Purpose (SOP). Presently I am looking for Thesis in Internship in a company. Your tips will help me to build a good SOP. Thanks once again.

  3. November 20th, 2011 at 22:59 | #5

    Thank you. Its very helpful.

  4. G Ranga
    November 22nd, 2011 at 17:40 | #6

    The article on SOP is interesting to know & read, though I am new to this area of awareness, would like to be a follower of nicely drafted posts. Thanks

  5. Anirudh
    November 27th, 2011 at 16:38 | #8

    Amazing and valuable!! Thanks!

  6. utpal kumaar
    December 5th, 2011 at 23:38 | #10

    HII .I M A ELECTRONICS AND COMMN FINAL YEAR STUDENT..i m searching for internship .please help me

  7. amit
    December 18th, 2011 at 16:19 | #12

    im amit styutding in IIIT- DMJ, IIyear ECE want to know about the summer internships in core elecoronics companies.plz help!!!!

  8. December 20th, 2011 at 11:14 | #14

    really very helpful…. i got the real understanding on drafting sop.

  9. reshma
    January 28th, 2012 at 20:30 | #16

    i’m 2nd yr ece student , n iam confused abt d topic to b selected for research such as FPGA’S or NLP..or some other… cld u plz suggest a gud topic…plzzzzzzz…

  10. Kishore H
    February 4th, 2012 at 09:56 | #17

    pls help me. i am looking for an internship in chemical engg. since i don’t have long vacations after even semesters, i can afford only 2 weeks maximum. i am doing chemical engg at GEC Thrissur, University of Calicut. my cgpa upto 4th sem is 8.77/10.

  11. BINDU
    February 12th, 2012 at 21:44 | #19

    hey ,m very new to SOP, can u plz tell which field it is related to and who iz required to write that?? i am doing my MASTERS IN SOCIAL WORK in HR specialization.

  12. yogesh
    February 20th, 2012 at 15:19 | #21

    i am doind btech in cemical engg. from NIT RAIPUR,my 2 year is going to complete with spi 8.81/10.
    i want to do research project during this summer vacations,can u let me know where can i apply for this and whats the procedure

  13. drashya
    April 12th, 2012 at 08:50 | #23

    Thanks a lot for the tips mentioned are very useful and helping. But I have a very small and a silly question here. What exactly is Statement of Purpose? I mean it doesn’t look very different from a cover letter for your CV.

  14. Mohammed Haseeb
    May 6th, 2012 at 15:11 | #25

    Thank you sir for the above mentioned tips for SOP. I am doing my M.tech in Energy Management, Auditing & Lighting. I am having 10 months internship starting from June, 2012. Can you suggest me any internship oppurtunities in Energy Auditing or Illumination engineering?
    Eagerly waiting for your reply sir

    Mohammed Haseeb
    M.tech EMAL
    MIT, Manipal

  15. diviniti
    September 23rd, 2012 at 20:35 | #27

    Hey!! Its really very helpful.. thanks for the valuable tips.. Sarvesh I just want to ask you that why there are very few opportunities (related to the field of biotech/bioinfo) listed on the website?/ Is it because of few global opportunities available related to this field or you guys just focus on core eng. branches? Anyways I personally find this website very beneficial for future students.

    Keep up the good work.

    Regards
    AP

  16. September 24th, 2012 at 10:18 | #28

    @diviniti
    Hi AP,

    Thanks for your kind words :). I think overall the number of opportunities itself is limited in case of Biotech but do check out our International internships section, we just posted some 2-3 Biotech internship programs which you may find relevant.

    All the best!
    Sarvesh

  17. Arumugam
    September 25th, 2012 at 18:16 | #29

    It’s been really great, while applying for my IPT. But I am yet to apply for my first internship. I ain’t got some really needed technical skills, but I’m more interested in working in language skills related internships. And I want such kind of internships to hit my mailbox, please…!! With my mouth agape, I am reading the profile of the author.
    Thank you, Sarvesh for bringing us these eminent scholars.

  18. sathosh
    October 23rd, 2012 at 11:58 | #30

    thanku sir , i think it will be benificial for all who are eager to get interns.

  19. Pankajam
    November 24th, 2012 at 20:05 | #31

    Thanks a lot! More than glad to receive valuable tips from a valuable person! Hats off to you for your achievements and thanks again for these useful tips!

  20. raaga
    January 29th, 2013 at 11:25 | #32

    i am mba graduate with 5 years exp in HR, i am planning to study MS in CS in usa, can anybody
    tell me how to write SOP for changing of field from HR to CS ( my graduation is in CS )

    need it urgent. thankful to all

    raaga

  21. Mohit Kukreja
    May 7th, 2013 at 00:37 | #33

    really appreciate the valuable information provided above, and in time!
    Had to submit my SOP to a number of places.. internshala never lets me down when in need! :P
    thnx again team internshala!

  22. Kishore Kumar
    September 4th, 2013 at 14:02 | #34

    Internshala, I would be happy if you did a new website called Mastershala or Gradshala or something like that, it would be just fine even if it is a blog. Thanks. :)

  23. September 5th, 2013 at 12:39 | #35

    Hi Kishore,

    Seems a great idea! Thank you for your suggestion. :)

    Thanks

  24. JAISMEEN
    September 25th, 2013 at 22:13 | #36

    Thanks a ton! It is of great help to understand exactly what does the recruiter exactly desires from a prospective candidiate.

 

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