Illustration by Marian Blair
Searching for a job can be challenging and daunting for anyone, regardless of personality or experience. But there are particular hindrances or barriers that can surface for people with perfectionistic tendencies.
Perfectionism, or the practice of refusing to accept anything short of perfection, can certainly make for some excellent professional outcomes. It can signal an admirable work ethic and a deep devotion to mission, and can lead to genuinely high-caliber work. When left unchecked, however, the ever-present desire to be flawless or above reproach can also be derailing.
By disentangling unreasonable expectations from reasonable ones, you can learn how to overcome perfectionism and more easily move through the stresses and challenges of the job hunt.
Are you a perfectionist?
Before diving into the specific ways in which perfectionism can impede your job hunt, it is first helpful to assess whether you have some of these traits or tendencies. If you’re a perfectionist:
- Time management is a struggle for you because you often don’t think your work is good enough to be considered complete.
- You see mistakes as a sign of inadequacy rather than a learning opportunity.
- You are aware of your areas of growth, and you do your best to hide them. You feel that if you hide your flaws, then you don’t have to experience the judgement of others.
- You are avoidant of trying new things, since success is not guaranteed.
- You struggle with feeling proud of your own work.
- You expect perfection from everyone, not only from yourself.
When perfectionism gets in the way of your job hunt
While striving for perfection can lead to great outcomes, it can, at times, be a barrier. Perfectionism may be getting in the way of your job hunt if:
- You are extremely rigid when considering the next step. You are only applying to (a few) jobs that fit your experience and skill set perfectly. If you can’t figure out what the most perfect next step is in your career, you stay in your current role.
- You spend way too much time sweating the small stuff. Seeking perfection often leads to accidental procrastination. You catch yourself spending a disproportionate amount of time worrying about a bullet on your resume, the introduction to your cover letter, or your lack of a particular type of experience. It makes you feel like you’re not ready for that next step.
- You are missing deadlines for jobs that genuinely excite you. You finally find a job that seems well-aligned with your interests, skills, and experience, but you find yourself endlessly tweaking your application package until you end up missing the deadline.
- You experience job dissatisfaction and stasis at the same time. Even though you feel ready for a new job, you convince yourself that you haven’t mastered enough at your current job to justify leaving. You end up staying put, even though an important part of you wants something new.
Pro Tip: If you need help figuring out next steps for your professional development, be sure to check out our free course, Designing Your Dream Career, and get all the guidance you need—from planning concrete steps to sprucing up your resume and cover letter.
How to overcome perfectionism during your job search
Working against your instincts can be challenging. Luckily, once you understand your default mode of being, it becomes easier to identify strategies to help achieve your professional goals. Here are some tips for moving through perfectionistic tendencies when you’re on a job hunt:
- Lower the stakes. Perfectionists tend to operate in extremes, so it can be tremendously useful to find ways to set smaller intentions. You don’t have to find the most perfect next job in order to meet our career goals; you can simply identify new skills you want to utilize or learn, or a new industry you want to explore. If you are growth-oriented, you can learn to trust that you’ll gain something valuable out of any new job experience, no matter how perfectly (or imperfectly) aligned it might be with your larger goals.
- Set rules or boundaries around editing processes. If you are the kind of person who can spend hours writing and editing one cover letter, set some rules or guidelines. Give yourself no more than an hour per letter, or no more than three rounds of edits, or some other boundary that won’t make you feel terribly anxious. It also could be useful to build proactive templates for resumes and cover letters (based on industry, type of job) so that minimal editing is required for each application.
- Find an accountability partner. Sometimes, being accountable to someone can be motivating and helpful. Find a friend, colleague, neighbor, or family member who is also on the job hunt. Ask them to hold you accountable to the rules and boundaries you make for yourself. Perhaps they can play a role of affirming that your cover letter is indeed free from typos and errors.
- Incrementally and slowly build some comfort around risk-taking. Maybe you’ve never been in a managerial or directorial position before, and you don’t feel qualified to apply for positions at that level. While it might be scary to apply only to those kinds of positions, you can build in some room to try new things. Perhaps for every five job applications you submit, one of them can be for a position that is at a higher level than what you think you deserve.
- Remember: even the most high-achieving humans experience rejection. It is nearly impossible to avoid the experience of rejection during a job hunt, no matter how seemingly perfect you might be for a position. It’s important to allow your excitement and anticipation to motivate you, but it is also useful to remember that the outcome of a job application process is not an indicator of your value and worth!