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I am going to have "entretien de motivation" (interview of motivation) for a graduate school. There is a high change that one of the questions will be like "What are your pros and cons?".

What to say if I can't see any serious cons that can influence my study? I admit that I am not perfect but all these imperfections are normal for all humans (e.g. make mistakes in English, ask stupid questions on the Internet).

I mean, what is the point to be aware of personal cons and to do nothing with it? Obviously, once I am aware of it I manage to get rid of it.

So, how to say it? I do not want to look complacent but in the same time I do not want to make up stuff just to answer these questions.

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    I usually just made up one and then elaborated how I fixed it. To me, it is just a regular question. Nov 8, 2021 at 9:14
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    FOUND ONE! CONStantin. ;-)
    – Peter K.
    Nov 8, 2021 at 16:51
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    This is just a variant of the classic “what is your greatest weakness?” interview question. There’s tons of articles discussing it, for example here and here.
    – Dan Romik
    Nov 8, 2021 at 17:41
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    @DanRomik I really like "I could use more experience in…" from the first article, I think that's actually a constructive, actionable "weakness" instead of the usual "I just love work too much" kind of answers that people are probably sick of hearing. Everyone has things they would really like to know more about, and it might start a useful discussion as long as it's used properly (and you don't put "I don't meet any of your needs" as a weakness)
    – jrh
    Nov 8, 2021 at 18:02
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    @PeterK. that is an awesome way to start an answer to such a question if the interview is in English ("I would have to say my biggest person CON is the start of my name"), but I suspect from the post that the interview might be in French, in which case I don't think this joke will work.
    – KCd
    Nov 8, 2021 at 20:13

10 Answers 10

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Everyone has imperfections, and pretending you don't have any would be preposterous. But they are normally not looking for any serious flaws of yours, but rather how self-reflected you are.

If you cannot think of any flaws yourself, try asking those around you that you have worked with before what they think you could improve on. There might be some minor issues that you are not aware of, but might bother others.

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    "Try asking people around" is a great advice: what's "normal for all humans" might be a problem of varying degree to others. Maybe OP comes 5 minutes late to work on a daily basis and "c'mon, everyone does that" but their colleagues are, in fact, seething with rage about it. Not knowing that any issues actually impact performance is probably a lack of feedback.
    – Lodinn
    Nov 8, 2021 at 10:44
  • "Reflection" is the keyword here. This is what this style of question is really trying to get at - is OP a person who thinks a great deal about what they are good at, and what they could improve? For this questions the most important part is that you talk about something coherently - people don't care about the specific weakness you identify, they want to see that you think about how you learn and work.
    – xLeitix
    Nov 8, 2021 at 13:32
  • @Lodinn Depends---some people may be willing to give you an honest answer, but a lot of people will feel put on the spot by such a question unless you frame it well. And if you get an honest answer, you may not like it and it may affect your relationship with that person.
    – Kimball
    Nov 9, 2021 at 12:53
  • @kimball if you can't handle constructive criticism, that is an imperfection in itself. Nov 9, 2021 at 15:21
  • @Kimball In all fairness, ideally a candidate would have gathered this feedback already by paying attention to others and reflecting on interactions. If someone can't come up with a few examples of "when I inconvenience colleagues, it's usually (...)", they probably aren't paying enough attention. That alone would actually suffice for OP's purpose of listing cons ("I'm not really sure how people I interact with feel"). There are also people struggling with things which were meant but not voiced explicitly, for them asking questions bluntly is often pretty much the only option.
    – Lodinn
    Nov 9, 2021 at 16:10
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The actual idea of this interview question is (usually) to see that the candidate is able:

  1. to identify weak spots of a project and
  2. to propose approaches to fix them.

Some committees will ask for weak spots of your personality, while others will ask for weak spots of a specific project, but in the end it is the same question (I prefer the latter, though).

That means, answers like "I am aware of my English not being perfect, and thus I am trying to improve by taking language courses and always seek feedback from native speakers for my manuscripts" or "my background in X is not too strong, so for aspects of my research connected to X I am reaching out in my network to get advice from experienced people" should be perfectly fine.

The answer "I don't see any serious cons that could influence my study" is rather problematic, as it may indicate that you are unable to identify such potential influences and hence you will likely fail to address them appropriately.

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Think about aspects of your work behavior that you struggle with or want to improve. You already mention that once you see a weak point you get rid of it. This is good. This is of course not an instant change, it takes time to build new habits. Mention one of the weaker points you are now working on getting rid off. For me personally one of the things I struggle with is procrastination, so I would word that like so:

I tend to procrastinate sometimes, especially when I'm working on something that is a bit boring/repetitive. This is something that I am aware of, and that I am working on. I am using daily to-do lists and the Pomodoro timing system to make sure I am doing what I should be doing.

Here I mention the issue, I mention when it affects me so I know when I need to be aware of the issue, and how I handle it in those cases.

Do make sure you mention an honest weak point, not a pro hidden as a con! For example, "I am too much a perfectionist, I don't stop until I'm really satisfied with a task", which would show a lack of self-awareness if you'd mention something like this.

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    not a pro hidden as a con --- (+1) Definitely this. But I suppose it could work if you describe doing this several times and how it caused problems (not getting something done on time, others felt you were wasting their time with minutia concerns, etc.) AND THEN describing how you eventually overcame it, or at least limited the negative aspects somewhat (maybe by trying to always keep this issue in mind when seeking to perfect something, as I just now forced myself to stop after revising this comment 6 or 7 times after my initial posting). Nov 8, 2021 at 14:59
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If you genuinely can't see any flaws or cons with yourself, this is a serious flaw and you could consider mentioning it:

I have a serious lack of self-awareness that leads me to be unable to spot any particular shortcomings I have. I know, of course, that I'm not perfect, and I share certain imperfections common to all humans like making mistakes in English or asking stupid questions on the Internet. But deeper introspection has never been my forte. In the past, I have coped with this by ... and .... One example of how I used my other abilities to get through such a situation was ....

If in the course of filling this out you are reminded of some other gap, flaw, or con in yourself, probably use that one over this one.

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    I really like the meta-awareness of saying you are aware that you are not self-aware. But I wouldn't actually recommend saying this in an interview -- saying you have a "serious lack of self-awareness" is probably a huge red flag.
    – Andrew
    Nov 8, 2021 at 18:01
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    @Andrew Agreed… more useful as an exercise to get to a better answer than as an answer to use verbatim, to be sure.
    – Charles
    Nov 8, 2021 at 18:03
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If you really can't think of anything, you could go with something universal, such as "I think my writing is okay, but I think it can be better." This will be true for just about everyone in the world, including the interviewer. Be prepared for the obvious follow up question: "What do you think could be better?" You probably already know a few things to answer that.

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There are two possibilities.

It could be that you really do not have flaws of any kind, and are a perfect, productive, working machine that pumps out correct and high-impact research at a very high rate. In this case, I wouldn't worry too much about the interview. Someone will hire you, and even if they don't you can just self-publish your research on your own and make a name for yourself as an eccentric and reclusive genius who solves major open problems in your field. If you are worried about this question, you can always make up a flaw out of politeness so you don't make your interviewer feel insecure.

Or, it could be that you are a human being from planet Earth, in which case there are some areas where you can improve. Maybe you can manage your time on administrative tasks more effectively so you can spend more time on research. Maybe you have never done a project with a collaborator and want to learn how to work with others effectively. Maybe you have not developed good habits around unit testing your code. Whatever it may be, being able to identify an area where you can improve, and articulate how you will improve that aspect of your work, is a major skill that you want to be able to demonstrate in an interview.

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There is no clear answer to this. It ultimately depends on your personality and what they are looking for.

If you are humorous, you'd inject something funny as an answer, like refusing to reveal your weaknesses.
If you are honest, you will list your weaknesses.
If you are dishonest, you will list weaknesses you think they want to hear.
If you are confident, you give a blunt answer, like refusing to answer such a question or claim to not have them.

They may look for a certain type of personality, so you should answer what you think suits you best. Choosing to appease them might be just as much a mistake as to not to - they may value obedience or are repulsed by desperation. Maybe they are looking for people who express confidence and maturity in their personality. Maybe they want you to reject the question as childish. Maybe they want a well thought-out, honest answer, showing your capability of self-reflection. Maybe they have no clear expectations and will be impressed by your answer (although consider that it's just a tiny factor of many).

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Considering that this is an interview for graduate school, this is really a softball question. Your weakness is "a lack of advanced knowledge in the subject field". That's why you're applying to that school, to fix exactly that weakness.

You can strengthen the point by explaining how your basic knowledge of the field made you realize that there was still much to learn, specifically in areas X,Y and Z (and you've prepared for the interview so you come up with areas that are relevant to that particular school).

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Be honest. I suspect the interview doesn't have to be looking for serious cons, just that you are aware of those that you do have and can give a realistic account of your qualities. Wanting to do something about the cons you know about is of course something worth mentioning.

If you have to "sell" yourself at such a meeting, the problem lies with the institution, not you.

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Whenever you're asked "what are your cons", or similar, just reword it in your head. Just like you've got areas of your academic life that you want to improve, so to should you have areas of your personal life.

What are the areas of yourself that you want to work on? What interpersonal or personal skill do you want to develop or learn?

I don't like to think of them as "cons", or "bad things", any more than the fact that I don't understand quantum mechanics very well is a "bad thing" - they're just areas I want to improve and learn. I usually pair them with some areas I have already worked on, to establish my personal growth narrative.

I want to work on my ability to sell my work, so I can better promote my team's interests, and on my emotional awareness, so I can be a better leader for my team and a better partner for those I work with. Recently, I worked on my patience, and on my listening skills. I've found that listening to others, even when I think I already know the answer, has given me better ability to understand the problem, and improved my relationships with my coworkers.

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