Show Tags08 Jun 2013, 22:39
This is a tricky one. Isn’t it? How do you tell the evaluator about your failures & weaknesses without making them look bad on your application? Blunders are all too common on this one. Let us discuss how we can safely negotiate this question with an attempt to possibly score few additional points.
First, do not duck the question. The last impression that you want to give is that you can’t take tough questions. That will be unacceptable to the adcom. Similarly, there are easy answers which just won't do, ex. ‘I am a perfectionist and that at times works against me’. This is just as bad or maybe even worse. Everybody, including your evaluator, is rational to believe that no person is perfect. An answer like this will make him/her question your credibility. And that is definitely not something you want to happen.
Now, find an authentic imperfection or a situation where, you would like to have acted differently. When you talk about these situations, the overall sound has to be very positive. DO NOT blame others (boss/colleagues/clients) for the incidence; take it on your chin. The most important part is to demonstrate how you have worked to correct or improve on it. Talk about the lessons learned. If possible cite the example of a similar situation later where you did the right thing. That will demonstrate that you are an authentic person, can face difficult questions, and is ready to learn. The idea is to see every mistake as a learning opportunity.
However, before you go overboard with finding that authentic imperfection, please hold your guns. Some weaknesses are unpardonable. Example, I am lazy, I can’t tolerate dumb people, I stole other people’s credit during a project, etc. All and all, this is a section where you should largely look to play safe. There is typically not too much to gain but a lot to lose in case of a bad answer. An example of a ‘good’ weakness is 'I am not good with technology, and I see that as a major weakness in this day & age (for somebody who is not from core technology background)'. Again, the most important part is to mention the learning. And in case of weakness, the effective steps to address the weakness.
And lastly, keep weakness/failure answers handy for your interviews, irrespective of whether your application essays/profile ask for it or not. You don’t want to be guessing at the interview. Personally, this was one mistake which almost cost me my own admit few years back. Just a little awareness will see you safe and sound.
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When you write about weakness in an MBA Application essay, focus on real weakness, the consequence, realization and how you were able to fix it. The weaknesses can be related to skill or limited exposure to team dynamics. Whatever be your weakness, do not cite the ones that show lack of maturity, leadership, or communication. Some elements of weaknesses in these three areas can be mentioned in your essay, but the very reason that you are writing about your weakness in an objective manner shows your maturity. Only leaders invite criticism and work hard on their weaknesses. By writing openly about your shortcomings, you are highlighting your traits as a leader.
For a complete list of leadership traits that you should highlight in your MBA Application Essay, Download F1GMAT’s Winning MBA Essay Guide
The weakness essay follows a simple trajectory
Weakness (Real Weakness) -> Consequences (Loss of Account/Revenue/Missed Deadlines) -> Realization (Feedback from Managers/Observation about the loss) -> Work on Weakness (Corrective Action) -> Results (Win Back a Client/Exceeding Expectations/Life Lesson)
If you want help creating a structured essay like the simple trajectory shown above, complete the form here.
Dos and Don’ts for MBA Weakness Essay
1. Identify your real weakness
Understanding weakness from an MBA Applications point of view is critical in identifying your real weakness. Stating trivial personal weakness will not help you. Dig deep and find instances in your career where you have not bonded well with the team due to mistrust, lack of coordination, favoritism, or poorly defined roles. It’s easy to blame colleagues or team leaders for your shortcoming. Avoid the temptation and own up to your mistakes.Read about eight Leadership traits that you should promote in your essays (Starting from Page 67)
2. Consequence of your weakness
It is hard to write about the impact of your sub-standard work, but only an objective leader can look at their shortcomings in dollar value. Leaders want to know how their weaknesses translate to the bottom line of the company. If you mistrusted your team members and took up the major chunk of the work that resulted in project delay – calculate the dollar value of the delay. Let’s say three-day delay cost the company $15,000. How did it impact the trust between the client and the company? Find out how to write about "Trust" - a leadership quality that should be highlighted in your essay.
Only in worst cases would you be asked to leave after one failure. It would not be ideal to include weaknesses that led to your firing. But in almost all major botch ups, the supervisor will give one on one feedback on what happened and how the problem would have been averted. Even though at that time, it might have seemed too personal for any reflective analysis, later in your career, you would have taken extra steps not to repeat the same mistake. What feedback did you receive? How did you feel after the conversation? Most engaging essays follows a W Pattern. Learn how to use W pattern for your weakness essay(Page 34 - F1GMAT's Winning MBA Essay Guide)
4. Work on Weakness
Weakness essay is not just a sincerity test; it also checks whether you are pro-active or reactive to failures. A reactive applicant’s tone would be too defensive while a pro-active applicant accepts the weakness and works on it head-on without any excuses. Admission team wants to know how you would improve your skills once a weakness is brought to your notice. Do you take help from colleagues or supervisor? Are you more of a self-learner or do you ignore the feedback? Applicants who are not bound by false pride, and openly ask for help find favor in the MBA Admission process. After all, learning in an MBA class happens mostly through each other. There is no point in stating weakness for which you have hardly taken any concrete steps. Understand the importance of context before writing essays (Page 19 - F1GMAT's Winning MBA Essay Guide)
Another metric that interests the Admission team is the results. Once you declare your weaknesses and articulate how you reacted and felt after your shortcomings were made known, reveal the results achieved with the corrective action. The results need not be completely in a tangible format like revenue, future cash flow, and bonuses, but the impact on team spirit and quality of output should be articulated.
1. Do not mention the weakness like ‘I am a perfectionist’
You might have adopted a strategy to use strengths as a weakness. This might have worked in early 2000, but the admission committee has seen many essays with a similar strategy. It shows that you are not sincere about addressing your weakness. The last thing you want to do is to show that you have not done due diligence in addressing your real weakness.
2. Do not mention the weakness like ‘I am a workaholic”
This is another strength disguised as a weakness. Although you have to show how committed you are towards achieving your goals, direct mentions like “workaholic” will be taken in a negative context. MBA is not just about completing your tasks in the prescribed time; it is about teamwork and networking.
In the following example, the weakness is "Trust.”
“As far as my professional drawbacks is concerned; I have a tendency to “Do the entire task on my own.” I feel that starting my career as a software developer has habitually made me take charge of the entire solution. However, I had to pay a bigger price in one of the projects, where in trying to develop the functionality on my own, the project was delayed by two weeks. It costs the company $15000 in lost revenue. Although as an individual contributor I had generated over 1.2 million dollars in revenue, $15k was still a big number. Understandably, my project manager was not thrilled with my performance. On retrospect, I feel that creative aspirations, mistrust and the need to control had made me take up the ownership of the entire functionality. I realized the importance of delegation and trust during the course of my career. When you see how your team members are able to perform the tasks allocated to them, you will begin to trust them. That is exactly what happened to me. I began to trust my team members and it changed my outlook towards my team and my responsibilities. Their output improved considerably, and it had a positive impact on my career. I was able to come up with unique solutions not because I came up with all the ideas on my own but because I was lucky to receive a bigger pool of ideas from my teammates. Some of the solutions that we created were the result of hours of brainstorming and prototyping. My team played a crucial role in retaining at least two major accounts for our company.”
Weakness: Lack of trust (mistrust).
Action due to weakness: Do the entire task on my own
Consequence: Delayed project, lost revenue & criticism from the project manager
Realization: Importance of delegation and trust
Positive Action: Task Delegation
Positive Results: Improved efficiency, creative solutions and high team spirit
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