Tuesday Tips – Strengths and Weaknesses

Almost every MBA application asks some version of the strengths and weaknesses question. It may be part of an essay, or it may be one of the questions your recommender is asked. Whatever the context, the need to define strengths and weaknesses for an MBA application is one of the most difficult tasks an MBA applicant faces.

If you have difficulty knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, it can help to read through past performance reviews at work, think about projects where you were particularly successful (and why) and speak with your colleagues and friends about what their perception. Often your own desire and motivation to involve yourself in a particular task can reveal the areas where you feel strong and the areas of improvement.

Honesty is the best policy and you should be honest about your genuine areas for improvement and the qualities you are quite proud of. Often your greatest strength is the flipside of a frustrating weakness. For example, you are an analytical and thorough worker who is detail oriented, and yet have a difficulty seeing the big picture in a strategic way.

Avoid insincere weaknesses that are clearly strengths disguised as weaknesses. Statements like: “my driven nature sometimes leads others to dislike working with me because I am always the strongest member of the team” certainly exhibits a weakness in interpersonal skills. The candidate may have intended communicate a strong work ethic and willingness to take on additional responsibility with such a “weakness” but the attempt can easily backfire.

The ability to discuss your weaknesses candidly is a strength in itself. In general, MBA programs are seeking smart, dedicated and self-aware students who are able to see themselves clearly and improve and adapt when necessary. Your own ability to understand the areas you might be able to improve is a great way to demonstrate this ability to self-assess.

Sometimes discussing a strength can seem too much like bragging. The best way to communicate effectively about your own abilities and talents is to show and not tell. Provide a very specific example of a time that you utilized this great quality, and your solid results. If you are still worried, create a reality check for your own ego by having a friend or family member read your essay and let you know if you are coming across as arrogant.

Strengths and Weaknesses in a Recommendation: For some reason, this question strikes more fear in the heart of a recommender than any other. Your recommenders are often concerned that they will expose a fatal weakness to the admissions committee, and somehow ruin your chances. Therefore, many recommenders ask you to tell them what your strengths and weaknesses are. Ideally, when you are asked to communicate your strengths and weaknesses to your recommender, you will be able to take the opportunity to sit down and brainstorm together. This can be awkward, but if you are honest about what you think you need to work on and what you are hoping to gain from your MBA education, it can be a productive conversation.  Make sure that your recommender is able to cite solid steps you have taken to overcome any weakness that is raised in a recommendation.

Overall, honesty and self-awareness will be noted and appreciated in the process whatever your strengths or weaknesses may be!

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