From Flaw to Strength: 5 Weaknesses For Your MBA Application
Some business schools explicitly ask for weaknesses in their written applications. For example, the INSEAD MBA application includes a strengths and weaknesses essay:
“Give a candid description of yourself (who are you as a person), stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary in 500 words.”
While answering a question like this, you need to reflect on your work experience to identify a weakness that is, first off, undeniably a weakness, and second improvable. Think of something that is a trait or a skill that needs improvement. Humbly accept it and show how you’re working on improving it. Then pair it with a fierce strength of yours, especially something you’ve been applauded for at work, to balance it out and make a strong impression on AdCom.
But for those schools that don’t have a personal strengths and weaknesses essay, it’s also a question you should be ready to answer in your 1:1 interview, a mandatory part of most business school applications. These interviews are usually conducted by the AdCom or a second-year student and statistically you have a 50% chance of making it through to the school.
In these MBA interviews, a weakness question could come up in many ways, but according to our client feedback the two most common weakness interview questions are:
“Tell us about your biggest weakness”
“Tell us about a time you failed”
Don’t even think about brushing them off with a rubbish answer, such as “I’m a perfectionist”, thinking they won’t be able to see through you. Forget it. They definitely will. So, how do you identify a weakness for your essays and interviews? Let’s read further.
How to identify (a good) weakness
Admitting a weakness might look like it could harm your candidature. And yes, it could if you don’t approach the question in the right way, which is to find a genuine weakness and explain how you are working to improve it. This shows maturity, self-awareness and the ability to address an area for improvement. After all, if you were perfect already, you wouldn't need an MBA!
Instead of focusing on fundamental personality flaws, we suggest highlighting a skill that you are working to improve. To do this, make a list of the technical and non-technical skills that are required to succeed in your industry. Then, identify the skills you already possess and the ones you need to develop. Finally, select a skill that an MBA program could help you improve.
For example, if you find it difficult to share your innovative ideas with a room full of strangers, explain how this has affected you at work. Then talk about the actionable steps you have taken to improve this weakness. This could include taking on a hobby such as public speaking or acting. This approach demonstrates that you are action-oriented, have a growth-oriented mindset, are introspective and have the maturity to articulate your weaknesses. It also shows that you are not afraid of being vulnerable, a trait that is essential for success in an MBA program and in life.
Pro tip: One of the first steps we take with clients is to ask them to complete a Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test. Using this, you can identify weaknesses typical of your personality type. You can take a free personality test at 16personalities.com.
Take an MBTI personality test to find the weaknesses typical of your personality type
Now that you understand how to choose a weakness and discuss it in your interview, check out five examples of personal weaknesses that you may want to use in your essays or interview.
5 personal weaknesses examples for MBA applications
1. I tend to overlook details
“My biggest weakness is that I am not naturally detail-oriented, and tend to focus more on the big picture. As a project manager in my current job, I once lost a significant deal due to overlooking crucial details in the contract. Since then, I’ve been working on improving my attention to detail. For instance, I now take detailed notes during meetings and review them afterwards to ensure I didn't miss anything important. I also make a point of double-checking my work before submitting it, and have been delegating some of my tasks to a colleague known for their attention to detail. I’ll continue to improve on this during my MBA by systematically checking coursework for myself and my study team."
2. I tend to be overly self-critical
“Being highly self-conscious, I sometimes struggle with self-criticism. I often find myself judging my thoughts and ideas, which leads me to doubt my skills and abilities. Because of this, I sometimes get stuck in a continuous procrastinating cycle. Fairly recently, I missed out on an important project at work because I was afraid to open up and share my ideas with my teammates. To improve on this weakness, I’ve been trying to be more mindful of my thoughts and practice self-compassion. I try to remind myself that it's normal to make mistakes and that everyone has unique strengths and weaknesses. I also try to reframe my negative thoughts and turn them into positives. Practicing meditation and mindfulness techniques has also helped me focus on the present and not get caught up in negative thoughts. Recently, I was able to present my ideas one at a time to a prospective client without getting too caught up in my head, by taking these small steps. He was so impressed by my presentation that he signed a new contract. This is the biggest client account I have onboarded in my current role.”
3. I struggle to multi-task
“I can struggle to manage different tasks at the same time. This especially became challenging when I took over as an Operations Specialist, where I led the implementation teams for 10 different tier-2 cities across India. With so much happening on various fronts, I sometimes failed to meet the deadline or could not resolve supply chain issues with different city teams. My manager gave me feedback to use a platform like 'Notion' to manage project timelines better. She also advised breaking tasks into smaller goals and set a to-do list for each day. I have also started to delegate wherever possible so that my team becomes more efficient and self-dependent. Since implementing these suggestions, I’ve certainly improved my ability to multi-task and have received great feedback.”
4. I lose interest during execution
“I’m the Ideas person in my team. When we’re marketing a new product in our agency, I’m the one who devises an innovative marketing strategy and creates effective action plans. I love making chart boards and step-by-step plans and using data visualization tech like Tableau. However, when it comes to executing our strategies, my mind often moves onto the next project before the last one is complete. In my post-MBA role of Marketing Manager at a startup, I’ll lead the in-house marketing team where I’ll need to oversee the execution of our strategies while also devising new strategies. During my MBA, I plan to take the Operations elective with professor XYZ to help manage this.”
5. I can be reluctant to speak up
“Being an introvert, I can be reserved in meetings and after-work networking gatherings. While working with new teams, it takes me time to warm up to my teammates and openly share my ideas. However, I have recently acknowledged this weakness and am working on becoming more comfortable in social settings. I go out of my way to attend networking events regularly, where I challenge myself to initiate conversations with new people. I have also joined the Toastmasters public speaking club to help me improve my confidence. I am determined to continue to put in the effort to become more outgoing and confident in social settings, as I know it will help me achieve my professional goals."
We hope these 5 examples of weaknesses help you understand how to constructively share your weakness with AdCom during your interview. If you need help preparing for your business school interview, why not book a 20-min chat with any of our consultants and explore how our team can help you prepare for your MBA interviews.