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Saturday, October 9, 2010


Here's some advice about how to answer the cliché interview question about yourweaknesses.

One weakness is that I'm not so good with organizing events, conferences and meetings with several components and involving the cooperation of many people and institutions. I started to late last year trying to apply to direct an NEH seminar and I just couldn't get it together. The intellectual content of the course developed very easily, but not the logistical elements. I have organized events, but it isn't easy for me.

I had a serious weakness with time management in the past. Now I'm practically a time management genius!

As a scholar, I'm probably too "narrow" to compete for jobs that want someone wider-ranging. I like small problems rather than big sweeping ones. I'm not that good at promoting myself either, in convincing others that what I do is interesting. I am too introverted for some roles.

I am a horrible proof-reader. I just don't see mistakes. People have told me I'm dogmatic.

I am also prone to sloth, pride, envy, anger, greed, lust, and gluttony, not necessarily in that order.

That's just the beginning of my weaknesses, past and present. A weakness is just a *fact* about yourself that you ought to know and be able to deal with. That interview question seems hard, but I think the advice given in the link I've provided is sound. Just tell them how you worked on a particular weakness and improved, or what you are working on right now:

"I'm really working on my prose style. I am not at all satisfied with the way I write. I've had some articles accepted, and some journal editors have helped me see some improvements I could make by reducing jargon and writing more clearly."

"I'm a little bit manic and I tend to say yes to many requests for book reviews, tenure evaluations, and invited articles. In the past I've overcommitted myself and had trouble meeting deadlines. Now I've developed a more systematic approach and have learned to say more often, choosing only the requests where I can make the most difference."

Look, our jobs are multi-faceted. We are scholars, bureaucrats, teachers, writers, editors, evaluators, managers. I know a very few people who are very talented in all of those roles. Normally, however, any one individual is going to be better at some things than at others.

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