Weaknesses and Recommendations

Cover imageMost recommenders either ignore weaknesses altogether (“If Andre has any weaknesses I haven’t encountered them”) or recast virtues as vices (“perfectionist,” “works too hard”). Both approaches fail because they’re hard to believe and because too many other recommenders use them. Unless a school’s recommendation form insists that your recommender discuss a personal weakness, a much safer approach is to focus on skill-specific or professional/functional weaknesses. In any event, if the weakness your recommender is considering is (a) not an obvious vice or character flaw (e.g., bigotry), (b) doesn’t routinely impede your effectiveness, (c) can be rectified, and (d) may in fact be a function of your age (i.e., maturity related) then it will not damage your admission chances. Remember to anchor the weakness section with a brief example. And, remember, your recommender shouldn’t say you’ve addressed your weakness—that means it’s no longer a weakness! It’s OK to be “working on it.”

Here’s a well-executed example of a weakness statement from a peer letter, excerpted from my book, Perfect Phrases for Letters of Recommendation:

“As for his weaknesses, I think Nick would admit that although he can quickly build rapport with almost anyone, he does have a tendency to take the lead role, whether it is his to take or not. At one point very early on, Nick told me to ‘not compromise on quality’ in a way that made me feel like we were no longer peers, but in a manager-employee relationship. So I told him, ‘You’re acting like a boss to me.’ He wasn’t expecting this and I think it hurt him a bit. But instead of keeping his feelings bottled up, Nick and I talked about the incident. He admitted that initially he’d assumed I
was ‘just’ a junior analyst and that he hadn’t really understood my role. This immediately cleared the air, and from then on Nick treated everyone like a peer.”

Notice how un-canned and believable this sounds? That’s the goal your recommenders’ examples should strive for.

Source: Perfect Phrases for Letters of Recommendation (McGraw-Hill), (c) Paul S. Bodine.

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