MBA Interviews, Part 4: How To Answer The Weakness Question

“What is your greatest weakness?” It's an MBA interview classic for a reason, and part of a broader family of point-blank questions that challenge MBA applicants to quickly answer simple (but important) questions on topics from your greatest fear to your favorite color. 

Check out the 25 MBA interview questions you need to prepare for on our website.

We're here all week with a video a day on how to ace your MBA interviews (and get over the terror of doing them). Angela has a whole bestselling book on interviews you can find here.

If you missed the beginning of our interview mini-series, find it here.

YouTube video

Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:

Hi, I'm Angel Guido. A career coach, an MBA coach, a former recruiter at the Boston Consulting Group, and a trainer and developer of MBAs worldwide to ace their interviews. I've got a bestselling book on interviews, and I'm here to walk you through the key MBA interview questions and answers that you're going to face on your MBA journey. Welcome to the Interview Hero MBA interview miniseries. Please subscribe to our channel. We have new videos every Monday to help you achieve your MBA dreams.

Point-blank Questions and MBA Interviews

In this video, I'm talking about point-blank questions. Point-blank questions are unique in the MBA interview question ecosystem because they evoke a really specific and immediate response. So if I ask you what's your favorite book, you might quickly say Principles by Ray Dalio, but you haven't really told me very much about you. You've achieved one of the goals in a point-blank question, which is to give the interviewer the response up front right away, easy to understand. That's goal number one in a point-blank interview question. But if you stop there, you have failed to show me anything meaningful about yourself. And that is goal number two. In a point-blank interview question. It's to give them the answer first so that they know where you're headed. But it's to add just a little bit more information about yourself so that the dots are connected throughout your story and the interviewer can draw deeper conclusions about what you value, what important to you, and how you live your life. If you asked me “What's your favorite book?”, I would say something like this: “My favorite book is Letting Go by David Hawkins. He's a brilliant writer, very easy to read, and has expounded in the most brilliant way, deep philosophical and spiritual insights that have added tremendous value to my life, and to the lives of everyone I've recommended that book to.”. You see how this answer is just a little bit longer. It's still less than 30 seconds, but I've managed to share with you a lot of information about myself. I've shown you that I value intellectual insights, spiritual and philosophical ideals. I've shown you that I'm the kind of person who recommends books to the others and is trying to share the things that I think are awesome with the people around me. Inherently, I'm revealing a lot more about my values than just the point-blank answer would do. So this is your goal in point blank questions. You want to quickly home in on the answer, and then you want to just say a little bit more to contextualize the response for the interviewer. This style of interview question makes up nearly 100% of the Harvard Business School interview. In those interviews, the interviewer will have reviewed your entire application from top to bottom with a fine-tooth comb, and they will have decided what specific questions they want to ask you about your experiences. So, it's going to be a series of point-blank questions, trying to suss out your motivations, your rationale, how you went about the achievements that you went about. But they're also going to be asking about where you get your information. What are your ideas on various business topics? They're going to be kicking the tires and looking underneath the hood of your business insights and your knowledge of your industry and the field that you're in. But these are mostly going to unfold through point-blank questions. So if you're interviewing for Harvard, you need to master the point-blank question. But point-blank questions will come up in any interview you will ever have. They're easy questions like: What's your leadership style? What's a weakness? What's your greatest strength? What's one thing your friends would say about you? What’s a question you wish I'd asked? All of these are point-blank questions, so you're going to want to master them before any interview. Similar to behavioral interview questions, the array of possible point-blank questions is so vast that you will never be able to prepare for every eventuality. You want to do your best to prepare for some of the most predictable point-blank questions that show up in MBA interviews. And I just named many of those just now.

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Improvising Answers To Questions You Didn’t Prepare For

But the thing you really want to get good at is improvising a response to a point-blank question when one comes up that you're not ready for. These are always the kinds of questions that stump the interviewee. It's like, “Why is the manhole cover round?” That's a point-blank question. It's also a little bit of a case interview-y, market size-y type of question, which is a whole different challenge that mostly doesn't come up in MBA interviews. So don't freak out. But the questions that will trick you are usually going to be in this category. So you want to have a framework to attack point-blank questions that gives you the confidence that even if you don't know the answer when they first ask it, you'll be able to find your way to the answer while you're answering it. So here's the process that I recommend when you're encountering a point-blank question. The first thing you want to do is just quickly find the answer. If I ask you “What's your favorite movie?”, just quickly look and see what's right there. Now, when I ask you a question like this, that's a superlative (What's your favorite movie?), you might be tempted to scroll through the database of all the movies that could maybe be a candidate for favorite, and then weigh them against each other briefly and decide “Okay, here's the one I want to talk about.”. That's going to waste time, and it's going to be a really awkward silence. Instead, I recommend you just take the first thing that comes to mind. Then you want to ask yourself, what does this movie mean to me? And this is like the filter for all point-blank questions. What's your favorite book? What's your leadership style? What's your greatest weakness? The thing that comes after the point-blank answer is about meaning. It's about what this response means to you and about you.

Weaknesses And Self-Awareness

So let's take the example of a weakness. If someone were to ask me what's my greatest weakness, I would say by far my greatest weakness is my own sense of perfectionism. And I know that most people don't see perfectionism as a weakness. The truth is, it does help me sometimes achieve great things, but the downside of perfectionism is threefold. Number one, I'm never really satisfied. So even if I achieve something that other people think is great, to me, it's not good enough, so I don't actually get to enjoy my own achievements. The second downside is that things are never finished, so I stress myself out. I cause a lot of trouble for myself by always having things that have to continue to be worked on because my perfectionism is not yet satisfied. And the third and the biggest downside of perfectionism for me is that I am want to suffer in silence and toil all alone on a problem before getting the input of other people, which sometimes leads to delays in teamwork and doesn't maximize our group productivity because I'm trying to solve it all by myself when somebody else with ten minutes of time could help me do something much better. So these are the ways in which perfectionism is a weakness of mine. And what I've done to try to improve on this dimension is to really let go of this tendency as much as possible, and to notice when I'm trying to overly perfect something so that I can approach my teammates, my team, with a bit more humility and move things forward faster and in a more effective way than I would just left to my own perfectionist tendencies. That was a very long answer. But you see how much you learned about me and my weaknesses and more importantly, how self-aware I am and how much I'm trying to overcome this genuine weakness of mine that I'm calling perfectionism. That answer I actually constructed around the framework that I outlined in Interview Hero that I call the W.I.M.P framework. It's a framework specifically designed to address questions about weakness which will inevitably come up in most of your MBA interviews. But this was a hallmark point-blank question. What's the answer, and what does the answer mean about me? I expanded and I said a little bit more so the interviewer really gets a window into the person that I am and not just the single word response. This is what you want to do in response to point-blank interview questions in your MBA interviews.

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Angela Guido

Angela Guido

Student of Human Nature| Founder and
Chief Education Officer of Career Protocol

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