Turn Your Teacher Weaknesses Into Assets and Nail the Job Interview

Combine honest self-assessment with a plan of action to impress employers

Businesswoman at job interview
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One interview question that can stump even seasoned job-seeking educators is "What is your greatest weakness as a teacher?" This question may come at you disguised as "What would you most like to change/improve about yourself?" or "What frustrations did you encounter in your last position?" This weakness question really tags as an opportunity to "Describe your strengths."

Your response can tip the interview in your favor -- or send your resume to the bottom of the pile.

Forget Conventional Wisdom

In the past conventional wisdom recommended putting a spin on this question by describing an actual strength camouflaged as a weakness. For example, you might have tried to be clever and offered perfectionism as your weakness, explaining that you refuse to quit until the job gets done right. But in responding to your weaknesses, you should should stay away from any personal qualities. Save your personal qualities such as perfectionism, enthusiasm, creativity, or patience for describing strengths.

In responding to a question about a weakness, you should offer more professional traits. For example, you may recall how you noticed your attention to detail, organization, or problem-solving may have needed improvement. Once you have provided the trait, you should provide details on how you purposefully worked to address this weakness. Include any of the steps you have taken or are currently taking to mitigate this weakness.

Here are two examples of how you might respond to a question about your greatest weakness.

Corrected Weakness: Organization

For example, you can state that you have been less excited about the amount of paperwork that comes along with a classroom of students. You may admit that in the past you tended to procrastinate on assessing classwork or homework. You can also admit to having found yourself on more than one occasion scrambling to catch up right before the grading period ended.

You might feel like your honesty leaves you vulnerable. But, if you go on to explain that in order to combat this tendency, you set a schedule for yourself this past school year that dedicated time every day to paperwork, you will be viewed as a problem solver. You might include other strategies you used such as self-grading assignments whenever practical, which allowed students to assess their own work as you discussed the answers together in class. As a result, you can acknowledge that you learned to stay on top of your grading and needed a short time at the end of each period to compile the information. For new teachers, examples like this could come from student teaching experiences.

Now an interviewer will see you as self-aware and reflective, both highly desirable attributes in a teacher.

Corrected Weakness: Seeking advice

Teachers are independent, but that can lead to isolation in problem solving, and some problems may necessitate advice from others.This is particularly true in dealing with confrontational situations such as dealing with an irate parent or a teacher's aide who arrives late to your class every day. You might admit that you may have tried to solve some problems on your own, but upon reflection, felt it was necessary to seek the advice of others. You can explain how you found the teacher next door to you or an administrator was important in helping you address different kinds of uncomfortable confrontations.

If you are an educator looking for first job, you may not have classroom experiences to use as examples. But dealing with confrontations is a life skill and not limited to the school building. In this case, you can provide examples of problem-solving confrontations you may have had at college or at another job. Seeking the advice of others shows that you can identify people or groups that can be resources instead of trying to tackle confrontational problems on your own.

Self analysis

Employers know job candidates have weaknesses, says Kent McAnally, director of career services at Washburn University. "They want to know that we are doing the self-analysis to identify what ours are," he writes for the American Association for Employment in Education.

"Showing that you are taking steps to improve is essential to making a positive impression, but more importantly, it is essential for developing your personal and professional goals and development plans. And THAT is the real reason for the question."

Tips to Master the Interview

  • Be truthful.
  • Do not try to guess what the interviewer wants to hear. Answer questions candidly and present your authentic self.
  • Prepare for the question but do not let your answers sound coached.
  • Remain positive as you explain how your weakness could be seen as a positive in the job.
  • Avoid using negative words like “weak” and “failure.”
  • Smile!