Know your #strengthsandweaknesses

Do you know how to answer this common question?

My clients are often confused about how to discuss their strengths and weaknesses in essays and interviews.

They also struggle to find appropriate strengths and weaknesses when brainstorming possible topics with their recommenders.

First, here are some common questions that are often asked to elicit your strengths and weaknesses.

  • What are your three greatest strengths and three greatest weaknesses?

  • What are your greatest management strengths?

  • What are your greatest management weaknesses?

  • In what ways could your performance improve?

  • If managers were describing you, what would they say?

  • How would your colleagues describe you?

    • What would you add to their description?

    • In other words, what is something that others are surprised to learn about you?

  • What are your personal strengths?

  • What are your personal weaknesses?

  • What is the weakness of your application?

  • What will the admissions committee perceive to be your greatest weakness as an applicant?

  • What areas do you need to develop?

  • What are your development needs?

  • What personality trait would you most like to improve?

  • What is one thing you would like to change about yourself?

  • Tell me about a team experience that was a failure for you.

  • Tell me about a time when you failed to persuade someone of your view.

  • Tell me about a time when you failed to resolve a conflict.

  • Describe a significant failure in your life and what you learned from it.

When brainstorming weakness, consider your:

  • weaknesses as a leader

  • weaknesses as a team member

  • weaknesses working cross-functionally

  • weaknesses working cross-culturally

  • weaknesses managing time

  • weaknesses managing details

  • weaknesses thinking about big picture / abstract issues

  • weaknesses conveying bad news

  • weaknesses confronting others

  • weaknesses beginning new tasks

  • weaknesses maintaining energy mid-project

  • weaknesses being patient

  • weaknesses persuading subordinates

  • weaknesses influencing seniors

  • weaknesses closing projects

Examples from Stanford's Rubric:

  • Displays limited range of influence techniques

  • Builds bonds with team members in immediate area of organization

  • Completes assigned tasks; frequently misses opportunities if not identified by others

  • Sometimes lets distractions or setbacks reduce effectiveness

  • Sometimes underestimates or overestimates own capabilities

  • Generally paces work though occasionally must rush to meet deadlines

Use my friend Adam's method

Strategies for talking about your strengths and weaknesses:

Advice from Adam's blog:

HAVE AS MANY WEAKNESSES AS POSSIBLE, NOT JUST ONE OR TWO. TRY FOR THREE TO FIVE. Here you be preparing answers to the very common questions that are asked about weakness, but in addition you will need to think about how the MBA program and/or some other aspect of yourself will make it possible for you to overcome this weakness. Weaknesses should be real and not abstract.

You should have clear stories that demonstrate your weaknesses, something many applicants initially have a problem with. Additionally knowing how a program will help you overcome your weakness will explain why you want to attend that school. Finally, SOME, BUT NOT All weaknesses make for great failure stories, another very common topic for interviews.

Strengths/Contributions/Future Potential/Personality

  1. One of my key strengths is X. A story that demonstrates this strength is... Another story that does is... This strength will be a contribution at your school because... This strength will contribute to my future goals because...

  2. Another of my key strengths is Y. A story that demonstrates this strength is... Another story that does is... This strength will be a contribution at your school because... This strength will contribute to my future goals because...

  3. Another of my key strengths is Z. A story that demonstrates this strength is... Another story that does is.. This strength will be a contribution at your school because... This strength will contribute to my future goals because...

For each X, Y, Z insert a keyword describing your strength. Connect keywords to specific stories. If possible, find more than one story that demonstrates the keyword. Next think how this strength could be a contribution when you are student. Next think how this strength will contribute to your goals. By using this method, you will have prepared answers to such common questions as "What are your strengths" and "How will you contribute to our school." Additionally you will be ready to show how your past experience will help you achieve your goals. Additionally when asked questions which are less direct about your strengths, you will already have keywords and stories ready for those questions you can't predict. Keep in mind that your strengths might include particular skills as well as personality characteristics. You should think about strengths in the widest sense. Try to develop about 6-12(or more) keywords and 12-20 (or more) stories that relate to your strengths, contributions, personality, and future potential.


Some questions to ask yourself:

1. Does the strength demonstrate one's potential for future academic and/or professional success? If so, it is a probably a good topic. If not, why does your interviewer need to know about it?

2. Is a weakness fixable? If you are writing about a weakness that cannot be improved upon through your program at school X, why does your interviewer need to know about it?

(found at; accessed 2010/09)


What is your greatest weakness?

Some advisors will tell you to select a strength and present it as a weakness. Such as: I work too much. I just work and work and work. Wrong. First of all, using a strength and presenting it as a weakness is deceiving. Second, it misses the point of the question.

You should select a weakness that you have been actively working to overcome. For example, I have had trouble in the past with planning and prioritization. However, I'm now taking steps to correct this. I just started using a pocket planner . . . then show them your planner and how you are using it.

Talk about a true weakness and show what you are doing to overcome it.

Finally, I encourage you to read this handy list of 28 soft skills from "Ask a Wharton MBA"


  1. Self-awareness

  2. Emotion management

  3. Self-confidence

  4. Stress management

  5. Resilience

  6. Skills to forgive and forget

  7. Persistence and Perseverance

  8. Patience


  1. Communication skills

  2. Presentation skills

  3. Facilitating skills

  4. Interviewing skills

  5. Selling skills

  6. Meeting management skills

  7. Influence / persuasion skills

  8. Teamwork skills

  9. Management skills

  10. Leadership skills

  11. Skills in dealing with difficult personalities

  12. Skills in dealing with difficult situations

  13. Networking skills

  14. Interpersonal relationship skills

  15. Negotiation skills

  16. Mentoring/coaching skills

  17. Organizing skills

  18. Self-promotion skills

  19. Savvy in handling office politics

Good luck with your self-study and practice!