Saturday, January 22, 2011

the dangers of perfectionism

We just had our winter quarter career fair on my campus this past week. It was so interesting to see all the kids in my classes who normally show up in sweats and t-shirts transform into polished professionally dressed job-hunters.

Even more interestingly, their patterns of behavior changed, as the reality of the "real world" began to invade the college bubble, and students became stressed about landing an internship or job. Suddenly, I had a bunch of people asking me for help on their resumes, interview-appropriate attire and what to say in interviews. The career center was flooded with anxious students trying to perfect themselves for potential employers. Even the freshmen and sophomore friends of mine were looking to the upperclassmen for guidance.

Here's how the typical conversation went:
Person: "Do you have a resume?"
Me: "Yeah."
Person: "Oh my gosh, can you help me with mine?"
Me: "Sure, what do you need help with?"
Person: "Everything! I don't know what to do! I heard you're supposed to have the margins aligned and the font a certain type and blah blah blah extraneous details blah blah."

So often, we get crippled into paralysis because there are too many things we've heard from other people that we "should" do. Trying to do it all perfectly is so overwhelming, we often miss the entire point of doing it in the first place. Or, we end up getting so stressed out by the possibility of not doing everything right, we just push it to the back of our mind and say we'll do it later or just not try at all. None of these options are optimal.

In order for us to make progress, we need to understand the why.

We're not going to do things perfectly. Why? Because there is no "right way" to get an internship or a job, or accomplish pretty much anything in life. Every person's path is different, and there's no point in trying to do things exactly like somebody else.

The point of a resume is not to have a pretty resume, impress people or get you a job. The point of a resume is to show employers that you will add value to their company. Those other things might come with it, but the whole purpose of having a resume is for the company's benefit, not yours.

Sure, details like font type and margin size help with the presentation, but all that just tells companies that you're neat. "Neat" is not a scarce quality. Tell them what you've done that relates to their open position. Tell them what your strengths are and how that will enable you to not just perform the job responsibilities well, but excel at it. Look at the company's objectives and show how you'll be able to achieve them. Employers don't care about you, they care about what you can do to their bottom line. So tell them! And don't worry about the minutiae, at least for now.

Get the content done first, then work on the details. It is much harder to do it the other way around.

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