24 years ago Spud made me cringe, and not a moment too soon. You see, up until first watching Trainspotting (movie), my stock answer to the interview question “What’s your biggest weakness?” was “I’m a bit of a perfectionist.”
I’d only recently doled out that very answer during a series of job interviews.
I know, I know. Such a spud! But what was I know? I was only 24, myself. I’d been taught at school that interviews were a time to present everything in a positive light. And I was specifically coached on how to answer the “What’s your biggest weakness?”. That coaching included a role play with my school’s careers adviser (the “head of industrial relations” in my school) to help me practice saying it.
It wasn’t till hearing Spud saying “I’m a bit of a perfectionist.” that I realised what a rubbish answer it was.
What made it rubbish wasn’t just that it was a cliché doled out by many other students of primitive employment counselling. It wasn’t even because I didn’t consider perfectionism a proper weakness. After all, I saw perfectionism as advantageous because I thought it lead to high standards.
What made it especially rubbish was that I never thought for a minute that I was an actual perfectionist. In fact, I kind of aspired to be one.
As it turns out, I was definitely a perfectionist. I just hadn’t worked out that perfection was unattainable. And I certainly wasn’t conscious of all the pain perfectionism was still to cause!
In later years, various people tried to coach me to answer the “What’s your biggest weakness?” by picking a weakness to share which I was already well on the way to overcoming. Why? Because that would demonstrate that (a) I had enough self awareness to recognise my own weaknesses, and (b) I was the kind of person who tackled weaknesses head on.
If only careers advisers coached people to actually address their weaknesses!