Perfectionism. Just say no!

I recently watched a YouTube video posted by a former employee of a well-known high street fashion brand. Her video, which focused on how to master a retail job interview, provided lots of helpful and insightful advice - how to prepare beforehand, potential interview questions that may arise etc.

 Six minutes in, and attention turns to the dreaded “Tell me about your greatest weakness” question. The viewer is advised that, in order to tackle this question, one must “turn a negative into a positive”.

 So far, so good.

 The viewer is then advised that candidates should respond to that question by stating that they are a “perfectionist” - because you are “basically stating that you spend so much time on things because you want them to be perfect”. Hold that thought. Now, let’s consider why, no matter how well intentioned, this is actually bad advice.

 Spending “so much time on things” could easily be misconstrued as ‘spending far too long on things’. Consider, for a moment, a hypothetical employee, one who keeps working on the job in hand until it’s ‘perfect’. Someone who can’t move on to another task, until the one they’re working on has reached what they believe is the ‘perfect’ standard. Now imagine that, waiting impatiently on the sidelines, is another task. A task which is more important, more pressing and worth more from a commercial perspective. What does the perfectionist do? That’s right, they ignore a task that’s begging for attention in favour of a less important one - at the expense of organisational commercial success.

 This is dangerous from a number of perspectives.

 Perfectionism suggests psychological inflexibility. It implies an inability to differentiate between acceptable, necessary and desirable standards of work delivery. It also indicates a lack of awareness of wider departmental and organisational priorities, AKA an inability to see the bigger picture. And being unable to see the bigger picture is the type of hurdle that stops both internal and external candidates moving into more senior, managerial or strategic positions.

 Sure, consistently delivering a ‘perfect’ standard of work is ideal in an ‘perfect world’, but the world of work doesn’t function like that.  Candidates at interview need to show they understand that work sometimes has to be delivered to differing standards (depending upon, for instance, the wider context of more pressing priorities). This shows awareness of the bigger picture and a healthy level of flexibility. Candidates that demonstrate they understand the fluidity of businesses objectives allow their interviewer to see that actions they take are determined by facts (the head), rather than their desires and urges (the heart).

 In addition to all of this, innate characteristics or traits (like perfectionism) are hard to change - and employers and interviewers know this.  No one runs internal training courses to help remove perfectionist characteristics from your personality. And perfectionist characteristics are only likely to linger on, which means they are likely to continue to impact negatively on the work you do.

 So, when an interviewer asks you about weaknesses, change the semantics. Instead, talk about ‘areas for development’. And change the way you think about your weaknesses. Check out the valuable advice from HR guru The Avid Doer to help you start rethinking and re-framing what your ‘weaknesses’ actually are! And for more intel on answering other, tough, interview questions, take a look at Clear Cut Selection’s blog