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A common interview question is "What is your greatest weakness?". Having done some online research on this, there are lots of articles on how to tackle this with generic job interviews, and the idea is to turn a negative into a positive. Some examples have been: "I'm not great at public speaking, but have been attending evening classes to improve", "I have trouble managing my work-life balance, but have recently been working on a more careful personalised timetable", and "I have not been great with deadlines, but I now give myself a personal deadline of 24 hours in advance".

However, academic interviews are often very specific, and focus on research, publications, collaborations, outreach, teaching etc. What are some examples of how to answer this question well, which are specific to academic interviews (e.g. for a postdoc / lectureship / professorship)?

1 Answer 1

I would answer it as recommended. The best strategy is probably to admit a real weakness that is relevant to the work (which shows honesty and the ability to be self-critical), but focus on how you are working to improve. There's nothing really academia-specific about this.

Your examples seem largely fine to me, except "I have trouble managing my work-life balance" is too vague and could be interpreted as a very serious issue. So I would avoid that or make it more specific.

I wouldn't spend too much time preparing for this question. Its reputation as a common interview question is greater than the reality. I've never been asked it (at interviews in and out of academia).

It's a poor interview question, really, because it's unlikely to lead to genuine insight on the candidate. Good interviewers don't ask it. Your main task is just to avoid a big mistake. Don't say your biggest weakness is plagiarism or stabbing colleagues in the back, and you'll be fine.