The dreaded interview question

I recently saw a post in a Facebook group that got me thinking. In preparation for an interview, the teacher asked how she should answer this common interview question: what is your greatest weakness? She referred to it as “the dreaded question”.

She had many replies from colleagues around the world. Here is a sample:

“Say something that actually makes you sound good. E.g. you work too hard.”

“Say time management. It shows that you are committed to all of your responsibilities.”

“Say you’re too organised so it sometimes frustrates you when others aren’t.”

“Say achieving a work/life balance. It shows that you work hard.”

“Say you’re a perfectionist.”

These cliché suggestions have one thing in common: they are ways to avoid the question. I understand the concern that highlighting weaknesses might cost you the position. The teachers who left these comments are well-intentioned and trying to help. However, I believe that this kind of advice is misguided.

Here’s an alternative suggestion: just be honest.

Ask yourself why it’s such a common interview question. What are they looking for? I’m not a Principal and I have limited interviewing experience. I don’t even have much experience of being interviewed! I’m just speculating, but I guess that they are looking for someone who is honest, reflective, self-aware and committed to their professional growth. This question is perfect for highlighting these qualities. For the successful applicant, they probably want to consider ways that they can help. Perhaps I’m being terribly naive (it has been known), but I’m confident that it isn’t supposed to be a trick question. Do you really think they’re judging your ability to pussyfoot? If they ask, I presume they expect a clear answer. Flawless teachers don’t exist, so they’ll see straight through you if you pretend to be one.

“Teaching is such a complex craft that one lifetime is not enough to master it.”

Dylan Wiliam

Furthermore, the suggestions on Facebook are probably the go-to answers from teachers who are unwilling to share their real weaknesses. School leaders have presumably heard these insincere responses a thousand times before (and therefore know how insincere they are). If you want to stand out, be honest.

As well as sharing your weakness, it’s important that you outline the positive steps that you have taken so far in your commitment to growth and what you aim to do next. You could also ask for their advice in case the interview is successful, or even if it isn’t. The best interviews are often helpful, insightful discussions rather than just Q&A.

You might say that an interview is not the best time for sharing weaknesses because you have to sell yourself. I would argue that there’s no contradiction here. You can sell yourself by showing what an honest, reflective professional you are, and how committed you are to lifelong learning. These are among your most important qualities as a teacher. Your weakness is a way to demonstrate these strengths.

What do you think? Please leave a comment below. I’m particularly interested to hear from school leaders. Have I missed the point here?

If you follow my advice and feel that it cost you the position, I apologise. However, if weaknesses are not allowed at that school and professional growth is discouraged, you probably dodged a bullet.

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  1. It’s an unfair question. All the power resides with the recruiting manager in an interview situation and asking the applicant to identify their weaknesses can seem perverse, even if, as I accept, it’s not usually meant that way.

    Why not frame the question in a more positive way? Asking, “If we were to offer you this position, which aspect of your practice could we support with professional development?” achieves the same aim as, “tell me about your greatest weakness” but allows the interviewee to at least save face and might even result in fewer of the humblebrag-type responses listed above.

    1. Hi,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I agree that the wording can help to put applicants at ease. I’m sure there are many variations of this question. Many people will avoid the word ‘weakness’, for example. I also agree that it should be about taking steps in the right direction and how the school can help with that. I hope that school leaders ask it for this reason. It’s their responsibility to support professional growth so hopefully they want to consider how they can help.

      I actually disagree that it’s an unfair question (as long as it’s asked for the right reasons). I bet it tells the employers a lot of what they want to know about the applicant. In the rare cases that it is asked for the wrong reasons, messing up that interview is probably a good thing! Run away!



  2. I got asked this question during the interview for my current job. It was puzzling to me because I never saw myself having any weakness in my teaching profession but personally, I can list ten in rapid successions…lol(Though they aren’t that bad)
    I had to tell the panel I had none with within a job context but definitely have some in my personal life, I was working to improve on. They asked me to tell them one. So, I told them one of them, which was procastination. They smiled and told me it would definitely transcend into work if it was a weakness. I agreed because I had seen it happen on few occasions in the past where I postponed things that had to be done.
    I got the job and I was encouraged to enrol in time saving training sessions with books suggested for reading too.
    The real deal was that the management one about this and they could help me along in getting better and it also helped me improve on it because I had the knowledge that the management knew and I did want to show I did my work well and at the right time.
    It paid off. Now I had successive promotions and even sit in on interview sessions for new employees.
    I think it is best to always admit and be honest like you said but be able to show that one is working to improve.

    1. Hi Akin,

      Thanks for your comment and for sharing your story. I’m glad that you agree about honesty being the best policy and I’m glad that your employers responded so positively and helpfully as well.

      Is reading blog posts and commenting part of your procrastination? Haha! I always appreciate your input.

      Thanks again!


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