What’s your biggest weakness?
It’s one of those standard, predictable interview questions that you’re eager to respond to with your well-rehearsed and perfectly crafted retort—even though you’re likely sweating through your shirt at the thought of having to admit any sort of flaw in front of a hiring manager.
So, if you listened to a lot of common career advice (or those frequent and often unwelcome job tips from dear ol’ Mom and Dad), you’d likely answer with something cliché like, “Well, I’m a perfectionist…” and then carry on providing some vague and transparent explanation of how that positive trait is actually a negative.
Well, I’ve got news for you. Hiring managers have been around the block a few too many times to believe that your obsession with perfection is your only shortcoming. They know better than to fall for that age-old “position a strength as a weakness” trap.
But, even so, this all-too-common response got me thinking: Can being a perfectionist actually be considered a weakness? Can your obsession with flawlessness ever hurt your career? It seems counterintuitive that a desire to get everything right could be anything but beneficial. But, as a self-proclaimed perfectionist myself, I’ve started to see how this perceived positive quality has quite a few drawbacks.
So, here are five ways that trait can be a real disadvantage—and not just a false one you use to attempt to trick those unsuspecting hiring managers.
1. You Hold Yourself Back
As a perfectionist, I don’t want to do anything that I might not be instantly great at. I have absolutely no desire to put myself out there only to end up with a beet-red face and a bruised ego. It’s for this very reason that I haven’t gone golfing in years (sorry, Dad).
Listen, I know that nobody likes to set themselves up for defeat and embarrassment. But, holding yourself back from opportunities for growth, improvement, and learning in order to avoid potential humiliation isn’t recommended either. Constantly ranking being perfect ahead of being human is a surefire way to limit yourself both professionally and personally.
2. You Place Too Much Emphasis on the Wrong Things
When you’re so concerned with getting things just right, it’s all too easy to become obsessive. Before you know it, you’ve spent all of your time churning over minor details that really have no impact on the end result. Moreover, you likely had to sacrifice time spent elsewhere in order to remain completely fixated on those trivial and inconsequential minutiae.
Those hours you wasted agonizing over what exact fonts to use in that sales report? Well, they required you to pass up a happy hour with your co-workers—an outing that would’ve granted you the opportunity to build better relationships with your colleagues. And, guess what? In the end, that’s way more important than the subtle differences between Cambria and Times New Roman.
3. You Never Take Time to Celebrate Your Wins
Honestly, being a perfectionist is all consuming. I become tirelessly focused on polishing something within in an inch of its life, until someone finally forces me to move on and turn it in. And, once I get that task or project off my plate, I’m immediately moving onto the next thing.
The problem with this? I never take time to recognize my wins and successes. No matter what accomplishment I manage to get under my belt, I fail to acknowledge what a kickass job I just did. Refusing to reward myself and recognize a job well done? Well, it’s already led to total burnout on numerous different occasions.
4. You Become Unlikable
People are different. Just because you’re infatuated with the idea of perfection doesn’t necessarily mean everybody else is. And—let’s face it—most perfectionists also end up being complete control freaks. They not only expect flawlessness from themselves, but from everyone else around them as well.
Spoiler alert: Not everybody wants to live up to the same ridiculous standards you set for yourself. And, if you try to enforce those expectations on them, you’ll quickly become resented and completely unlikable. Your work may be perfect, but your relationships definitely won’t be.
5. You Set Yourself Up for a Lifetime of Disappointment
Here’s the thing: Nothing is ever truly perfect. And, while I don’t recommend throwing your hands up and simply settling for mediocrity, there’s truly no reason to drive yourself nuts trying to achieve absolute faultlessness—because that’s likely never going to happen.
Why? Well, if you’re a true perfectionist, you’ll simply never be satisfied anyway—no matter how excellent the end result.
Yes, you might be tempted to spit out that overused “perfectionist” line when attempting to skirt the classic job question about your biggest weakness. But, I urge you not to default to this cop-out of an answer. As these points prove, your seemingly sneaky reply isn’t nearly as much of a hidden strength as you’d like to think.
Has being a perfectionist had any negative impacts on your life and career? Let me know on Twitter!
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author