Perfectionism vs. Excellence on the Job Hunt and in Life

I spend a lot of time reading other blogs in what I like to call the “career space.” One of the best things about being part of the blogging community is being inspired by others who write thought provoking and interesting posts.

One of my favorite bloggers, Anita Bruzzese, award-winning journalist and author, recently wrote about what a pain it is to work with a perfectionist. She said:

The truth is, there’s a difference between perfectionism and excellence. Perfectionism on the job is anything but. It’s disruptive and unproductive. For the perfectionist, it can lead to physical illness and depression. For those who must work with a perfectionist, it’s annoying as hell.

The problem is that the perfectionist gets so caught up in minor details that they can’t attain excellence. Instead, they become a bottleneck as they fuss, for example, with the binding of a project report instead of getting the report completed by deadline. The perfectionist boss hovers and nitpicks and agonizes over the smallest detail, preventing the staff from getting their work done…

Instead of aiming for excellence, which can energize someone because they like what they’re doing and enjoy reaching for the top, perfectionism seems to bog people down in realizing what they’re missing, not what they’re gaining.

I was struck by the distinction Anita made between perfectionism and excellence. I think many of us mistake one for the other in our lives, our careers and in our job hunts. It’s easy to be confused by the differences…After all, you may think, isn’t it semantics to debate the difference between two words that imply being “the best?”

I don’t think so.

Striving for quality – for excellence – is admirable and necessary. We should all commit the time, energy and resources necessary to achieve top-notch work. In a job hunt, you MUST strive for excellence. Your resume, cover letters, other correspondence, interview preparation…All of it needs to be first-class. It’s important to take your time, to review and double-check. Striving for excellence indicates that you care about the outcome and are willing to put your best efforts towards success.

Quality doesn’t equal perfection, though. I often find myself quoting my first boss who said, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Why? uses these words to describe perfectionism:

Irrational, the underlying motive present in the fear of failure and fear of rejection, a reason why you may be fearful of success, a rigid, moralistic outlook, an inhibiting factor that keeps you from making a commitment to change habitual, unproductive behavior.

Knowing the difference between excellence and perfection? As the credit card commercial says, “Priceless.” I think being able to distinguish between these characteristics is a soft skill that separates those headed for the peaks of success and those headed in a different direction.

At the very least, everyone should be able to follow this advice: The next time you think about answering the pervasive but challenging, “What is your weakness?” interview question by insisting that you are a perfectionist…Think twice!

Striving for excellence is our hallmark! Keppie Careers is here for you! Need a great resume? Some help to write the perfect cover letter? Write to me and visit for more about what services we provide.

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photo by ewitch


2 Responses to “Perfectionism vs. Excellence on the Job Hunt and in Life”

  1. 1 Mike Edwards August 18, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    I loved this post. The pursuit of excellence is a worthwhile pursuit, while perfectionism is something that simply can’t be achieved, and will add to one’s frustration and overall unhappiness with life!!

    Well done!!

    Mike Edwards

  2. 2 Miriam Salpeter August 19, 2008 at 12:16 am

    Mike – Thanks! I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

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