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.”
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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