Whether you’ve been through a series of interviews, or you’ve spent a considerable amount of time preparing for one, you know the dreaded question — “What’s your greatest weakness?” And, if you’re familiar with that inquiry, you also know one of the most common responses — “I’m a perfectionist.”
Many people go with this response because it appears to give them the ability to spin a negative into a positive. After all, perfectionists work hard to make everything, well, perfect. However, this response only scratches the surface of a real answer. If we dig a little deeper, it becomes clear perfectionism is a weakness if you’re truly obsessed with every detail of everything you do.
So, let’s dig in — here are four ways perfectionism works against you in the office, and one big way to make it work for you.
1. You’re hard to work with
Let’s get the biggest negative out of the way first. Sometimes, perfectionists build a bad reputation for themselves at the office because, well, nothing’s ever good enough. Whether you’re a team leader who sends a task back for tweaks multiple times, or you’re a staffer who can’t turn something in until you’ve examined it repeatedly, your co-workers might lose their appreciation for your hard work after a while.
To break this habit, you should learn how to delegate — no matter how hard it is for you to do it at first. It’ll make you more productive and a better colleague if you master the practice. And then, you can point to this lesson in your next interview, admitting perfectionism is a weakness, but explaining how working on it has made you a better employee all around.
2. You don’t go for it
Perfectionism and insecurity go together like peanut butter and jelly. In other words, you’re so concerned about getting it right 100 percent of the time that you’re afraid to fail. That causes you to take a backseat in your career, and perhaps in other aspects of life, too, because it’s safer to stick with what you know.
No matter how good you are at your job, though, you won’t get far without taking on new tasks and risks. Start by taking steps to overcome your insecurity — accepting the fact that everyone fails sometimes is a big part of it. It will help you let go of your perfectionism, too, if you admit it’s normal to make missteps along the way.
3. You focus on the wrong things
Another con to perfectionism is that you focus on all the wrong details. Think about your last big project — you probably mulled over the meat of it for quite some time, but how many hours did you spend tweaking fonts, designing slides, changing the colors of bar graphs, etc.?
These tiny tasks are just begging you to let your perfectionist side out, but they’re a time suck that draws you away from bigger to-dos. Spending all those hours on the details undoubtedly pulled you away from another project or presentation that deserved more of an effort than you could give it in the long run.
4. You never celebrate you
Focusing on every detail is tiring, but you also can’t stop. As soon as you finish one project — and, let’s face it, it’s hard for a perfectionist to live up to their own specifications and consider something “done” — you’re onto the next. That task gets the same detailed treatment, too, until a deadline forces you to complete it. From there, the cycle continues.
If you’re always go, go, going with projects in this way, you never have time to reflect on the things you could have done differently. This type of reflection can actually enhance your workplace performance, which is great news for perfectionists. But without time to breathe between projects, you’ll never have a moment to think back and improve.
Plus, you also deserve a pat on the back from time to time, and the end of a big project or presentation is the perfect time to celebrate you. It might be a challenge as a self-proclaimed perfectionist, but giving yourself credit for the hard work you do is a well-deserved part of the process that will make you feel even better about the time and effort you put into whatever task you’ve just finished.
You can make it work, though
Fortunately, there’s good news in all of this — perfectionism doesn’t have to be all bad. It’s all about loosening the reins, delegating or otherwise taking a step back. A more relaxed approach will make things better for your state of mind and the states of mind of everyone with whom you work.
Plus, your new outlook will help you in your next interview, too. You know your biggest weakness is perfectionism … but you can avoid the cliché and point to what, specifically, is holding you back and share all the steps you’re taking to make it better. Ultimately, though, your attention to detail shows you care, and the right amount will impress any employer. Most importantly, though, the happy balance you strike will make you feel better about yourself both professionally and personally, which will further spur your success.