Putting Too Fine a Point On It

I will admit that I am more of a big picture person than a perfectionist.  Going through old blog posts would likely lead to the finding of some spelling errors and grammatical mistakes.  That does not bother me as long as I am getting my point across.  I also have a pretty good sense that I am in the minority of people who are willing to admit that I lack a big attention to detail.

At the same time, I also advise clients to use pre-employment tests that measure attention to detail and conscientiousness for those jobs that require it.  So, like other personality traits, it certainly has its place.  I’m just not the person you want looking for needles in haystacks.

So, this article definitely caught my attention.  Here’s the most important takeaway (at least to me) from the authors, “…the answer to the question ‘is perfect good?’ is that in total, perfectionism is likely not constructive at work.”  Given this, what are we really getting when a job candidate tells us that he is a perfectionist?

The data shows that we will get someone who will work long hours, but is not more likely to be engaged in the work.  Rather, perfectionists tend to burn out more than those who can let the little things slide.  This is particularly true of those whose perfectionism comes from a place of avoiding failure than those striving to be excellent.

Most importantly, when compared to supervisor ratings of job performance, y’know, the people the perfectionist is trying to impress, levels of perfectionism are not related.  That’s right—managers feel that the job performance of those who feel that good is good enough is the same as for those who choose to gild the lily.

From a selection perspective, a more subtle approach is called for.  There are some jobs (brain surgeon and quality inspector, to name two) where perfectionism is probably important and should be part of your assessment process.  However, it should not be considered a good universal predictor of performance.  One can easily imagine some jobs where being a perfectionist would be a negative predictor, such as creative jobs like marketing or app design. Also, when interviewing, if a candidate brags about her perfectionism, I would not get too excited.  She may be confusing activity for productivity.

The organizational implications here are straightforward: Having a culture of perfectionism will get you more hours, but not better performance, out of your team.  While not explicitly tested in the article, it is likely to also get you more turnover.  This is a reminder that we should be clear about quality expectations and work-life balance.

Finding Talent in Nooks and Crannies

Low unemployment is great for the economy (rising wages!), but challenging for employers (higher quit rates and a smaller available talent pool).  This can lead to many creative recruiting strategies and looking at (relatively) untapped sources.  I came across two not-so-new ideas around this recently.


One is the idea of returnship—these are programs designed for people (primarily women) with white collar education and skills to transition them back into the workforce after raising their families.  These are initially short term job tryouts (like an internship).  I do find the idea somewhat patronizing in that it seems like companies that use it are saying, “We’ll let you take baby-steps (pun intended) back into the workforce and we’ll see if you’re ready.”  It seems exploitative of returning workers’ self-confidence and makes them compete (again) to get jobs that they have already shown they can do.  Having said that, companies that use the program are providing opportunities for a very talented pool of candidates.  The programs are VERY selective, so it is not surprising that more than half (but not always 100%)  of those who are chosen to participate transition to full time positions.

The other is providing job training for older workers.  I’ve written about ageism in recruitment and selection before and the problem is not getting any better.  This article outlines the pros and cons around re-training older workers.  Of course, part of the issue is that companies will force out older (more expensive) workers while they are still productive, and then the employer finds that they are missing important skills. Where the article misses the point is that if given a choice between hiring skilled people or retraining employees (of any age), hiring good talent is less expensive.  With so many skilled older workers available, companies with talent shortages (and not just McDonalds) would be wise to recruit from this talent pool.

Creativity often comes when we are faced with a dwindling resource, no matter how temporary.  Creating paths for working parents to come back to the workplace and retaining skilled older workers should always be part of HR’s recruitment and retention strategies.  Now is as good of a time as any to implement them.

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