Your Greatest Weakness
Your Greatest Weakness
If you’ve been on any interview in the past, then you know what it’s like to be bombarded by a slew of questions. One of the most challenging ones being “tell me about your greatest weakness.” This can be a difficult question to answer for some. Yet for others, it’s been a question they’ve been practicing responses to for a while.
But why do institutions, hiring managers, and search committees ask this question? More importantly how do you answer the question “What is your greatest weakness?”
Having a weakness isn’t a bad thing
Most entry level student affairs job seekers won’t want to expose a weakness. That’s because it makes them feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. But exposing a weakness is not a bad thing. Instead, you should take this as an opportunity to demonstrate an area that you’ve struggled and what you’ve done to improve since then.
Pro Tip: Avoid a strength disguised as a weakness
When new student affairs professionals prepare to answer this question, they often try to pivot and pose a strength disguised as a weakness. But, this is something that you should avoid. Mostly because it’s been a tactic that’s become overused by other job seekers. But also because it doesn’t answer the question that the hiring manager is really asking: how have you improved yourself?
Instead, a better strategy is to identify something that has been a weakness that you’ve since improved upon. That could be the way that you’ve organized your calendar; managed conflicts with co-workers; or navigated conversations with difficult students.
If you look at the question this way, it becomes an opportunity for your to tell a positive story about yourself to the hiring manager.
A winning strategy
One of best ways of weaving this story for the hiring manager is to first be truthful. You don’t want to lie to a potential new colleague; especially when there are many potential stories to tell of how you’ve improved in your graduate program; career; and through your student affairs experiences.
The story you tell should answer a few key questions for your hiring manager. The first question is “did you realize that you have a problem?” Answering this means that you’ve been able to develop enough insight and awareness that you need to improve. The second question is “how did you fix the problem?” Answering this demonstrates if you were dedicated and resilient enough to follow through with your improvement.
Though ultimately, you don’t want to self-sabotage yourself by actually communicating a current weakness and your inability to fix it. (i.e. I’m late all of the time because I just can’t get up early).
So how do you answer this question in an interview? Here are some solid examples:
-Answering this question as an experienced candidate:
“I’ve had problems in the past with making sure that the most important work gets done first. That was because I would often get flooded with roommate change requests at the beginning of the semester. That meant, that I didn’t have enough time to plan a weekly hall programming schedule. To address this, I had my team or RA’s first attempt to resolve roommate conflicts. If they couldn’t solve them, they would pass them onto me. That took care of the bulk of conflict interactions – which freed me up to work on some more programming initiatives.”
-Answering this question as an entry level candidate:
“I’ve had problems in the past with making sure that the most important work gets done first. That’s because when I was in college I could just set my schedule and my priorities to whatever I wanted. That meant that the things that became the most important were the ones that were due the soonest. I know that worked when I was an undergraduate. But as a resident director, I know that I have to change things up. So, during my senior year as an RA I asked our resident director at each one of our 1on1’s: ‘what’s the most important thing for me to work on right now?’ Doing this helped to clarify what I needed to work on, and pay attention to, on a regular basis.”
-The incorrect way to answer this question:
“I’ve had problems in the past making sure that the most important work gets done first. So I just tackle every task as it comes my way as soon as I get them. That means that I’m usually working on everything all of the time. But I’m okay with that because it means that I’m on top of my to-do list constantly.”
Three parts to success in answering this question
This is one of the most common questions that you’ll get in the student affairs job search. That means that you’ll need to structure and practice your response to it in order to prepare for any interview. The way that you do so includes three parts:
-Honesty: Be honest in the way you respond. Remember, revealing an actual weakness is a good thing. Because the thing that matters is not the weakness, but what you’ve done to address it.
-Self-Reflection: This is a key part of your response. It indicates your awareness of the weakness and acknowledges that it was something that needed to be addressed and improved upon.
-Action Oriented: This is where you communicate to your interviewer what you’ve done to address and correct the weakness. This indicates what kind of action you’ve taken to mitigate the situation; as well as what kinds of success you’ve seen since you’ve taken action.
Remember that telling your interviewer your weakness isn’t a bad thing. What you should do is reflect on your acknowledgement of it and what you’ve done to correct and fix it. The worst thing that you can do when responding to this question isn’t to disclose a strength disguised a weakness. But rather to eloquently share your story about what you’ve done to correct and overcome it.
Eloquently sharing that story involves a winning strategy with three parts: disclosing your weakness; reflecting on it as a problem worth solving; and a summary of the action you’ve taken to address it.
Be sure to use the example answers above as a way for you to structure your own response. Also, if you need some additional tips on your student affairs job search then check out the free eBook Getting Started in your Student Affairs Job Search available here.
Auerbach, D. (2018, April 10). How to answer 'What is your weakness?' in a job interview. Retrieved from https://www.careerbuilder.com/advice/how-are-you-supposed-to-answer-what-are-your-weaknesses
Autenrieth, N. (0AD). How to Answer the "Greatest Weakness" Interview Question. Retrieved from https://www.topresume.com/career-advice/how-to-answer-what-is-your-greatest-weakness-in-an-interview
Interview question: What's your biggest weakness? (2018, September 28). Retrieved from https://www.hercjobs.org/interview-question-whats-your-biggest-weakness-2/
Tough Interview Question - What is your greatest weakness? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://collegegrad.com/tough-interview-questions/what-is-your-greatest-weakness