Student in a careers appointment getting support

December 16, 2019, by Leah Sharpe

The rise of perfectionism

By Joanne Workman, Employability Education Projects Officer

A student asked me recently if I thought ‘perfectionism’ was a good response to the interview question, ‘what’s your biggest weakness?’

This really got me thinking about the perceived value of ‘being a perfectionist’, and how this might impact on careers and employability. Particularly in light of recent research suggesting that perfectionism, described as excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluation, is increasing in university students.

The study highlights a 10% increase over the last 30 years in the extent to which young people attach importance to being perfect, hold unrealistic expectations, and harshly criticise themselves. At the same time, it shows an increase of 32% in relation to young people perceiving their social context to be excessively demanding and judgemental, therefore feeling the need to display perfection to secure approval.

Consider the rise of social media platforms presenting images of ‘perfect’ lives, and the competitive nature of securing good A-level grades, university places and internships. It is clear to see the potential links between pressure to live up to our own and other’s expectations and the reported increases in young people facing mental health concerns, such as depression and anxiety.

So, what is the potential impact of perfectionism on your career journey and how can you manage this?

1. Finding the ‘perfect’ job

When it comes to decision-making, focus on what you want from your working life, not the expectations of friends, family, and society. You may even have your own expectations to manage if you change your mind about what you want from your career. Reflect on your objectives. Are they achievable and realistic? Or are they based on an unfair comparison with others?

2. Being able to act

A student explained they had missed a deadline to submit an application for a job because they didn’t think their CV was good enough, and they didn’t want to risk being rejected. By deselecting yourself from a field of candidates to avoid failure, or settling for something less satisfactory, but which is easier to achieve, the greater risk might be to waste your talent and potential.

3. Being able to react to outcomes

If you applied for a job but didn’t get an interview, what would you say to yourself? Would you say the same things to a friend if they came to you for help in the same situation? Be as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend. If you fail, you’re not a failure, you simply didn’t succeed this time. Learn from what happened to help you succeed in the future.
Do you see yourself in some of the behaviours described above? If so, take some time to reflect on which elements of perfectionism you can use to support your progress, such as goal-setting and committing time and effort. Make sure you also recognise those elements that might have a negative impact on your confidence, such as being harsh on yourself.

If you feel like it would help to talk to someone about any of these behaviours, come along and see one of the team, or Student Services.

Posted in Careers Advice