How To Respond to a Constructive Criticism Essay

It’s easy to talk about yourself—to tell someone what you do well. However, the flip side is not nearly as easy or as comfortable to discuss. Whether you’re in a job interview and a future employer is asking you, “What is your greatest weakness?” or you’re applying for an MBA program and one of your essays is a constructive criticism essay (“Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have received recently”), talking about how you need to and can improve is difficult. If you’re applying for University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management or a similar program, this type of essay is not something you can skip. So, what do you do?

The ability to recognize your weaknesses, react positively to criticism, and respond with maturity is vital to becoming an effective business leader. And the people who most benefit from an MBA program are those willing to be critical of themselves and to change their approach to a situation when they’re introduced to a better angle. So, take the constructive criticism essay as your opportunity to show the admissions’ team why you would make an excellent candidate.

To make sure that your essay is successful, there are a few essential elements.

Face the Essay Head On

First, get ready to face the issue head on. The MBA Admissions team wants to investigate how you accept criticism and if you know how to respond constructively. Don’t over-embellish or side-step the issue. If you didn’t have to write an essay about it, it is very likely you will still have to answer an interview question over the same topic. Don’t dance around the topic by pretending a strength is a weakness. Instead, find a true criticism and start from there.

Choose the Right Weakness

We spoke with Alex Brown, an MBA admissions counselor and previous Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Wharton. He recommends choosing a weakness that has three particular and helpful qualities. Address a weakness that is:

  1. A genuine weakness
  2. Something that you are working on
  3. Something about which you can show evidence of improvement

“For example, a weakness might be a tendency to rush to judgment without really assessing all the relevant facts of a situation,” says Alex. In this type of weakness, you can talk about how you’ve set up a process that forces you to look at every side of the coin first, before speaking about the issue.

If you have a difficult time coming up with a weakness, ask your coworkers, friends, and family for their brutal honesty. No one is perfect and it’s best to discover where you need improvement sooner rather than later and begin to address it accordingly.

Avoid the Wrong Weaknesses

Just as you have to choose the right type of weaknesses, there are certain critiques that are important to avoid. They’ll end up harming you more than helping you. “On the one hand, avoid a personality trait that really can’t be fixed, regardless of how hard you work on it,” Alex explains. “It is important that the weakness can be corrected. ‘I tend to get angry too quickly when something does not go my way.’ No matter how you frame that, it is not going to go well.” But just as you shouldn’t choose a weakness or criticism that allows no room for improvement, don’t choose a weakness that’s a masked strength. “Avoid a weakness that is really not much of a weakness, and more an avoidance of the question,” says Alex. “A good example: ‘I am a workaholic, I am trying to get more balance, but …”  That type of answer is not really going to play well. Adcoms will tend to tune out.”

Answer the Entire Essay

Rarely does a constructive criticism essay ask you to list your weakness or criticisms and move on. They want to know if you can recognize your weakness and if you’ve made a real effort to work on it. Understanding that you have a difficult time keeping your schedule straight is only appropriate if you’re also working to negate the effects of your weakness. “Provide an example where this [the criticism] occurred, and the consequences,” details Alex. “Address how you discovered the weakness (perhaps it was identified during a performance review), and then how you have worked on it, and a more recent example regarding an outcome that shows how you have changed.” By outlining the entire process, you make yourself a valuable and interesting MBA candidate because it shows that you can recognize areas for growth and work towards a better you.

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About the Author

Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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