April 23, 2021, by indybamra1

How To Deal With Perfectionism When Exploring Careers and Making Applications

The Career Wellbeing blog series. We know that thinking about your career, applying for jobs, and moving into the workplace can be exciting, but we also know that sometimes it can present challenges and might be a source of stress or anxiety. That’s why, in this blog series, we will explore some of the things that might cause you concern and provide helpful insight and advice, alongside ideas and inspiration for your future career wellbeing.

By Hannah Woolley, Careers and Employability Consultant: Professional Services Partnerships.

Perfection is often presented as a positive, ideal state where everything is rosy and  something that we should all aspire to be.

Polished images of people enjoying seemingly perfect lives overwhelm us through social media, advertising, and popular culture. It’s easy to get sucked in and believe that perfection is within reach if you strive for it, but pursuing perfection can be problematic. Chasing inaccessible goals is tiring, stressful and when faced with inevitable defeat, negative feelings may surface.

Sometimes perfectionism can creep in when you approach career activities. This might happen for several reasons. Perhaps it’s rooted in a desire for control; you feel that by making a perfect career decision you’ll banish any uncertainty you feel about your future. Perhaps it’s born out of fear of negative consequences; you feel that if you don’t make a perfect job application it will result in rejection. Perhaps you’re seeking acceptance or approval; you feel that if you become a perfect professional, people will like and respect you.

Initially, taking some time to reflect on when perfectionism creeps up on you might help you to identify and then gently challenge any underlying thoughts that are limiting or unhelpful. Then, consider when perfectionism has the best impact on your career activities.

Are you discounting career options because they aren’t quite perfect?

Exploring career options can feel daunting if you set out to discover the one thing that you want to do for your entire life. If you feel that your whole future rests on what you choose now, understandably, you might feel under pressure to identify a perfect career and find yourself ruling out almost everything because nothing measures up to the standards you’ve set for yourself.

If this sounds familiar, try lowering the stakes by resetting your focus and considering options for the next six months to a year, or two years at most. By letting go of your quest to find the perfect lifelong career and thinking short-term, you give yourself the license to loosen the search criteria. Try working on the basis that if an option ticks two-thirds of your boxes, it’s worth investigating and possibly trying out.

This mindset shift might help you to be open to more possibilities, and possibly take a risk on something that makes you curious, safe in the knowledge that it isn’t forever and that you can change direction if you want to. By throwing yourself into something, you’ll gain real experience to inform your next move, and in turn, it will allow you to feel more in control when making future decisions.

Does your inner perfectionist rear up when you’re applying for jobs?

If you find yourself endlessly reworking the format of your CV or rewriting a cover letter over and over because they’re not perfect, the chances are that you’re being too harsh on yourself. It might be time to revisit the impossibly high standards that you’ve set and switch self-criticism to self-compassion.

This is not always easy to do, so it might help to seek a fresh perspective. Rather than agonising over every detail alone, working through it with someone else might help you to differentiate between changes that will improve the application and those that will, in reality, have little impact. Plus, with encouragement from someone else, you’re more likely to recognise the merits of your work and feel more confident with hitting the submit button.

It’s worth keeping an eye on how much time you spend on each application. Doing a good job can bring satisfaction, but if you find that you’re spending hours on end tweaking minor details or starting over because you’re not satisfied with your efforts, the experience is unlikely to feel positive. Maybe set yourself a time limit and have another activity lined up for afterward so you have to stop. This might help you to avoid the temptation to endlessly refine things and allow you to keep a healthy sense of balance between this and everything else in your life.

How do you embrace imperfection?

So if you do tend towards perfectionism, it might be a lot to suggest that you can just let it go and embrace imperfection overnight. However, you could try to move towards this by noting any benefits associated with small changes, like the ones suggested above. Maybe they’ll help you to refresh your career thinking, liberate your application writing, or help you make progress that feels positive. Also, with this reflection, you can gently encourage yourself to accept that good enough is good enough.

For further support with dealing with perfectionism:

  • Book a careers appointment – we can help you to work through any career concerns.
  • The University Counselling Service offers workshops, including one on perfectionism and procrastination.
  • The library has created a Reading Well list that includes e-books on perfectionism.
Posted in Applying For JobsCareer wellbeingCareers Advice