If you applied during round one, you are hopefully by now receiving interview invitations from some of your target schools. While preparing for this stage can certainly be a stressful time, most applicants find excitement and take comfort in being identified as someone the schools want to talk to. Some of the most common questions you will likely face will be about your strengths and weaknesses. Are you ready to answer them?
Ah…the time-tested strengths and weaknesses question. It’s something you will face down not only in your MBA interviews, but also in just about any subsequent interview you are likely to face going forward. Sometimes the question will be asked directly and other times, it’s veiled behind various euphemisms. “What would your co-workers say about you?,” for example is basically an invitation to describe your strengths, while “Give me an example of constructive feedback you have received and how you responded,” is a backhanded way to get to your weaknesses. If you identify these types of questions and frame them from a strengths/weaknesses perspective, you will be able to deliver a message you intend for the schools to hear, versus something which sounds disconnected to who you really are. No matter how the questions are presented, however, it pays to have taken a full inventory and assessment of your strengths and weaknesses before you sit in the hot seat.
One thing to remember whenever you do self-analysis for b-school applications, is that you are being considered not only for your potential fit within a program as an MBA student, but also for your potential fit inside one of the coveted recruiting companies after you finish.
Adcoms are constantly measuring and weighing applicants based upon these two criteria. When assessing your own strengths and weaknesses, therefore, you must be mindful of attributes which will appeal to both scenarios.
From the student perspective, it never hurts to highlight strengths which tie into teamwork.
While “I am a people person,” is so overly used that it has become a cliché, if you have strengths in this area, you could come up with a fresh way to couch it, so it comes across as genuine and less trite. An easy way to get to your core strengths is to think about compliments or recognition that you receive, especially with some consistency. If you regularly receive accolades, for example, for your presentations, or if you are considered the “go-to person” in the office for, say, audits or when someone needs something creative done, there’s a good chance these attributes either are or at least tie into your core competencies.
For weaknesses, it’s really just a way for b-schools to assess your maturity level.
Mature people have a good understanding of where they fall short. If you can’t come up with any weaknesses, you will be perceived as not being experienced enough in life to be ready for b-school. Having said that, you don’t want to ever reveal weaknesses of character or fatal flaws (think Achilles heel). I often coach clients on relating weaknesses which are easily fixed by b-school, such as, “I lack the in-depth marketing theory to make me most effective in my current role.” This is far better than, “My anger management issues have often landed me in trouble.”
Specifically when addressing strengths in an interview, it is always better to embed examples into a story or anecdote.
Studies have proven that he recall rate for stories vs. wrote descriptions or listing is tenfold. When you compile your list of strengths and weaknesses, make notes of specific examples of your strengths that you can couch in a brief story—your interviewer will then not be able to get it out of their mind. Naturally, you can use this same psychological phenomenon to expose a weakness. If you briefly list or describe a weakness without using an example or story, it will be more easily forgotten by your interviewer. Having them remember you for your strengths and not be able to recall weaknesses would be ideal!