Perfectionism can hurt your career
Episode 28 - How perfectionism can hurt your career and what to do about it, with Lynne Cazaly
Since I decided to start a podcast, Lynne Cazaly was on the top of my list of potential guests. Something about her leadership style, her unassuming way, and the quiet confidence that she exudes make her the perfect guest speaker. Last year, while trying to lock her in to record this episode, she was the hardest guest to pin down: she was in such high demand as a conference speaker; she was never in Melbourne long enough for us to get together. With COVID and quarantine, life has changed, we zoomed in, and finally, we had our chat a few weeks ago.
Lynne's training and speaking gigs have included working for the largest organizations in Australia, like Telstra, Australia Post, nab, CBA, and the AFL. She regularly travels to New Zealand, where she has a loyal following and delivers training and keynotes. Lynne has also done keynotes, workshops, and training in Europe, USA, and Asia.
Her latest book, ish: The Problem with our Pursuit for Perfection and the Life-Changing Practice of Good Enough, got a lot of media attention. Lynne was interviewed extensively on TV and in magazines. The topic of Perfectionism is one that everyone can relate to, and for that reason, I was able to see my friend in many morning TV shows over many weeks!
In this interview, we have pivoted the discussion about Perfectionism to focus mainly on career planning, job hunting, and the selection and recruitment process. A "perfect" resume, a "perfect" match for the critical selection criteria, giving the "perfect" answer to an interview question, "the perfect" job, being the "perfect" candidate" - these are sayings we throw around all the time while job hunting. But they do impact our mindset and create an expectation that is unhealthy, unhelpful, and not sustainable. After listening to this episode, I hope that you will feel free from "perfectionism" and ready to embrace "good enough"!
Resources mentioned in this episode
Interview time stamps
4:57 - Lynne's career progression, and her experience in the corporate sector, and the need to be perfect
8:00 - Difference between going for perfect, which is impossible, versus going for complete and accurate information, which is an achievable goal
10:30 - Perfectionism, job hunting and how to improvise
12:12 - How Lynne wrote the book using improved techniques and how this is an excellent example of how to treat your resume, and the concept of version control
21:46 - How "Perfect" is still expected: by your, in the recruitment and selection world, and the corporate world in general: Lynne's tips to dealing with sectors and industries where Perfectionism is expected. 3 main types of Perfectionism.
27:31 - Me explaining the dissonance between the perfect picture put together by companies for job applicants when they go to market looking to hire, versus the candidate working solo trying to meet what is most times "over the top" expectations from recruiters and hiring managers.
30:39 - The Pareto Principle: How job hunters can prepare themselves for the job market and not worry about not being "perfect."
33:25 - Why putting more effort into something can get you to worst results and the idea of iterative improvement of resumes
Transcript of this episode
Renata: Lynne, thank you so much for joining us for this podcast today. Tell us a little bit about your career in the corporate sector before you started doing your own thing.
Lynne: Yes, sure. It's great to be speaking with you and your listeners. My corporate career was around the broader topic of communications. So I worked in public relations, community relations. I seem to have coms in my job role and I worked through a number of positions getting kind of better and higher in the organisation chart as I went. And then I ended up being a senior executive director role. So I kind of climbed, climb, climb, climb, climb, and then hit the top. You know, you get the company car and the credit card and you think you've made it and then you go, why am I not feeling fulfilled? So those roles, when I look back on them now, I just think, Oh, they were the most wonderful jobs. Like they, I worked in public health. I worked in the arts and media, I worked in education and training. I worked in state and local government. And most of my reflections on that time were, wow, look at all the stuff I did and how well organisations support their employees. Cause it's quite different than when you're working on your own. So, yeah.
Renata: And during that time, like the book you wrote, I don't know if you know this, I've mentioned it in two or three podcasts because it's, I think it's such an important book for people that are professionals to read, especially people that are in between jobs. And we can unpack that a little bit more as we go. But do you remember in your experiences in the corporate world, the need to be perfect, that the perfection as being something that was always in the back of your mind or something that impacted the way that you did your work?
Lynne: Yes. I certainly remember it. Maybe not perfect for everything, but there would be certain things like in communications and PR, I was responsible for producing the annual report of each of those organisations. And so to try and make sure you've got the figures correct in the back and the right captions and you know, spelling mistakes. And I remember one of the first reports I produced and it came back from the printer and the CEO picked it up and he looked at it and like magic, you know, he's flicking it open and he finds a spelling mistake and points at it. I also remember he touched the cover and the cover didn't have a sheen on it. And so his fingerprints were on there. It was like, I was just having these demonstrations of not good enough, not good enough, not good enough. And, but now I look at them and go, no, I was learning stuff. There's no way I could have done all of that perfectly. I had to make a few hiccups so that I could learn that next skill or that next technique.
Renata: I feel that your book came about at an era where we're starting to understand that perfection shouldn't be a goal. But even in theory when we said that maybe 10 years ago, we just didn't know what it meant because our bosses were asking for it, our KPIs and our key deliverables, like annual reports. Such a good example. I was thinking about it when I was asking you the question. I used to have a boss that was unapologetic about perfection and any of that governance space, you know, because the document is finite. If you're not actually doing it yourself, if you are, you know, a level or two up, your understanding is that it is just a document. So you need to get it perfect. But as you and I know because we've done it, it's very hard to actually get it absolutely perfect.
Lynne: Yeah. Yeah. And I guess that word ‘Perfect’ is impossible because there will be an error or there will be something as time changes, the document is now out of date so it's imperfect. But we shouldn't confuse, ‘perfect’ with going for ‘accurate’ or ‘complete’. So I think this blanket label of perfect is too much pressure for us. Whereas if we say we're going for accuracy, you know, we need a hundred percent accuracy or is this the complete information for this project.
Renata: Those are very good replacements I think because people want to understand what does it mean now in 2020, we can strive for something else. So you changing the goals is really important. So people still have aims and targets that they need to.
Lynne: Yeah. I think this is one of the key things is that perfection is this undefined or ill-defined end goal. And the sooner we can define elements of that so we know what we're going for, the more likely we are to hit those.
Renata: Correct. During your work experience and even writing the book, looking back as you have done, do you remember the triggers during applying for jobs or going for job interviews? Because I think that that's again, another time in people's careers that perfection tends to play in our heads and be quite an impediment. So what would you, you know, what, tell us a bit about your story, you know, dealing with it. How would you advise people to deal with it now?
Lynne: Mm. I think there's that. A couple of elements. There's the resume or CV and trying to make it a perfect match to the job, but the information that you've got, the job description or the advertisement, and so you can spend too long doing that. Because I think you need to respond in a timely manner. Now if you're spending too long putting your CV or resume together, I know I certainly missed opportunities because I'd spent days and days and days when I should have just got it in there as quickly as I, you know, as quickly as I could. And then there's the interview and thinking, how do I prepare for every possible question they can ask me. And this is perfectionism, right? We can't prepare for every question, but we can prepare some responses. I learned that in PR, in media training, right? I can't respond to every, or can't prepare for every question the media might ask me, but I can have some general responses under some categories. And so that stops me overworking, overthinking, ruminating, beating myself up in trying to prepare for it.
Renata: Yeah. I love what you're saying. I actually thought you were going to start talking about improv because you mentioned it in the book and I remember starting reading your book and I'm like, oh, you know, I like, I've actually really struggled with improv, improvisation. Yeah. When I was younger, I did piano lessons during many years. Very sort of classical, traditional style. And then unfortunately my wonderful piano teacher passed away. She had cancer and it was actually, you know, quite sad and I was very young and I decided, I told my mom, okay, I want a completely different style now since you know, you know, I'm not going to have this wonderful teacher that I adored. I want to do improv. That was the mistake itself from moving from playing Bach and Bartok and doing sort of very traditional piano. I went into like jazzy improv style and it did not last like six months. I struggled with it.
Renata: So when you were talking about learning improvisation, I was so interested to actually learn more from the book. There's another book idea for you because it's also an art and a technique, right? Yeah. And I think it lends itself really well for networking, job interviews and thinking on the spot and not wasting opportunity. Like you said, not wasting time and just improvising. I from that little bit that I read in your book has changed the way I do career coaching a little bit. I've been telling people you don't have time to do the perfect resume for this job application. You're calling me on a Friday, you're telling me the job application ends today. If you want this job, you have to improvise what we do. So I want you to tell us a little bit more about how that learning about improv changed the way that your career progressed and how you went about doing things differently.
Lynne: Yeah. So I've been working in my own business for a few years and I'd observed, I'd worked with an agile software development team and I was seeing how they were putting out a very early versions of their apps. You know, it was incomplete yet they were still launching it out to the public for them to test it. So this was happening during the day, I was working with this team thinking gee aren’t they brave and courageous to put this out. And then I'd been watching improv. Usually we see it's comedy but often there's very deep emotional, you know, long form plays on stage. We thought improvisers making up the script. And so I went along to, you know, theatre sports or one of the other performance sort of festivals. And the local group in prime Melbourne were promoting some of their courses and I thought I'm going to do that.
Lynne: That looks like fun. And it is fun but it's also incredibly developing because it helps you build your spontaneity muscle. That was one of the first things we did was learn about spontaneity cause we're kind of all control freaks, we're trying to hold on to things so tightly and predict things and control the ending. For me, what that means is we're not actually trusting ourselves. Like we do have incredible experience. We need to trust that we can handle what comes up. And most of us don't trust that. And so improv I think really helps you build that trust in yourself. And trusting others that even if they do something unexpected, you will still be able to handle it. And it, it really is based on some wonderful principles and being used a lot more in business today. Uh, so there's some great reading on the topic of improv business improv, you know, improvisational wisdom. There's a heap of books, if you're interested in..
Renata: Oh yes. Let's add the links to the episode show notes then I am, I'm interested. I want you to tell me which books they are and we'll have the links there. Yeah. So you wrote this book in a way as well, where you kept, you used improv in writing the book and you use the future editions to adjust and make corrections to the best. I'm sure everybody else did it previously, but they just didn't highlight it. Is that right? So is this a practise that other writers have used but they just didn't tell other people that they were fixing little issues and you, you went and said, okay, this is all about not being perfect. I might as well highlight the fact that I'm maybe.
Lynne: Yeah possibly, there's one platform called lean pub, which some people again in this lean and agile world will start writing their book and they put their very early thoughts up there and get feedback from people. And so that helps kind of steer or guide them in the development. I didn't quite do it like that. I've worked on an initial document, shared it with some people, got their feedback, you know, worked on the next edition. And I think by the time I was up to the third, iteration, not addition, 3rd iteration, I put that up for sale on my website and a bunch of people bought it. And it was, I've got, I still got a pile of them here. It was crap, right. It was crappy. Lots of my thinking, not particularly well organised. And yeah, unfortunately a couple of people reviewed it like it was a, you know, the final thing really, I know it's repetitive and I'm thinking of course it's repetitive, it hasn't been edited yet. So then I did the fourth version and then the fifth version is the one that's out there and that's been edited. Structurally. It's been copy edited. It's been reduced in size. Like I've taken out so much and reorganised it. So it's a much better version.
Renata: I wonder which version I have because I have one from early last year.
Lynne: Yeah, that will be, if the cover, it feels quite soft and velvety.
Renata: I love the cover.
Lynne: Then that's that. That's the current version. Yeah.
Renata: Oh good. Okay. Because I told my husband touch this. Feels so good. But the reason why I wanted you to go deeper into that and explain it because the listeners for this podcast can use this as an example of how you should treat your resume. Folks, listen to me. I've been telling you for a while, you can send out your resume even if it's not your, you know. The one that is complete and accurate. You want it to be accurate in as much as it includes the accurate employment details that you had, but if you are forever procrastinating, sending it out, you will, you won't ever send it out. And one of the mistakes that people, the beliefs that people have is that once they send it out, it will be filed and recorded as is and people will, have that version forever and ever, which is not the case. I can assure you that headhunters, recruiters, hiring managers would really appreciate you coming back to them a month from now and saying, I've, I have then work on my resume and I have a newer version. And I've attached it to these things for you and they will update their records. I know this for a fact. So you shouldn't feel like it, because you don't have the perfect resume. You shouldn't be applying or sending it out.
Lynne: So true yeah, the version that is out there may not be the final version. That's why we use the thing in business called version control, right. Is to say what edition of this document am I rating? Put it, put a date in the footer. You know, you could say resume number six, July, 2020. Now I know that's the version that that person's looking at. So we know when was it current and then you can send the next one and go, here's my, you know, August, 2020 version of my resume, which has been updated with a new certification or a new contract roll I had, or a new client.
Renata: That's great. So, you know, and I've been asking you questions and talking about it and every now and then I make a mistake to use the word you the perfect resume. And I find that in the recruitment and selection world that will, that word is thrown around a lot.
Lynne: Yeah. I could imagine. Yeah.
Renata: Yeah. And it's not a thought leadership that has permeated that environment. And if you are talking to recruiters or if you're going to, if you're a younger member of the audience, who’s still at uni or graduate, you know, you might go to a graduate event where you would have an organisation speaking with the HR talent person there. And they may use, they may say something like, you have to be very careful when you're sending out your resume. Don't make any spelling mistakes. You know, they say that a lot. And then it makes you anxious and it makes for perfection. So how do you deal with that? And people that are at work, you know, how do you deal with the boss who is a perfectionist? And you've mentioned that in the book, but I'd love you to tell the listeners as well, what tips do you have for people that work with perfectionists or work with environments that still use that word as well? And there's a lot of expectations.
Lynne: Yeah. And I see the reason why perfectionism is a problem like this is, and the research over the last 20 years showed that perfectionism is on the increase. So us behaving in this way isn't working because we keep getting worse at it. So what we see with someone who says a boss or leader who's a perfectionist, that is a particular type of perfectionism. It's where they hold very high standards for other people. So there's three main types of perfectionism and that's what I would, from the research I would call type three. The other two types, the first one is where we have very high standards for ourselves. So that might be where I can't send that resume yet because it's not perfect, you know, I couldn't send it. Then the second type is societal or society's perceptions. What we think is society's perceptions. So that could be that feeling of I couldn't send this because the recruiter wouldn't accept it.
Lynne: He had, that's different too. I have high standards for me. Maybe the recruiter wouldn't accept it. You get a job and then the boss is the third type, which is they have high standards for you. So if you find yourself in that third type of, what we need to do is kind of nail or pin down the standard that this person's asking for. Usually we hear it as something is due next Tuesday. And so we work flat out between now and next Tuesday to get it done. And the only standard we have is a deadline of time. But the smart thing to do is to ask, and I will write it down in front of someone, I'll say, so it's due next Tuesday. Can you tell me a bit more about what you're expecting? Is it one or two pages? Do you need, you know, how many words is this? Are you needing images with it? So I'll ask them more, I guess qualifying questions, trying to get them to define more of what the standard is that they're expecting, not just the deadline.
Renata: Would you try to negotiate or build some empathy around deadlines that might be achievable?
Lynne: Oh, totally. Yeah. If that's like, if a deadline's not, achievable, but we only know it's not achievable if we know what the standard is we're going for.
Renata: Right. Absolutely you’re right.
Lynne: If someone says it's due next Tuesday and you think there's no way I could do that. How do you know? Your perception of what needs to be done could be quite different to what that person needs. And I saw a great example recently, a participant in one of my workshops had worked really hard for their manager for this day at the workshop, put together all of this data, all of this information for presentation. And she, she looked into it all and she went, Oh yeah, that's a bit of overkill. All I really needed with those three top that top line data, that's all. And they've gone, Oh no, I worked night and day on that.
Renata: Yes, yes, yes. So many times I've been there and done that. You know, you try to over deliver when in fact that is not needed at all.
Lynne: It's not needed. So until we might, we might need to be brave enough to ask the question, but it's like a, you know, it's like someone coming in and building a fence in your field from the front of your house. You don't just say, build me a fence. And then they build this incredible fence and you go, well, actually no, that's not the fence I was wanting. We have a brief, right? We say, I want a fence. It needs to be wood or I'd like some bricks, like some wrought iron in there. We have the brief and therefore that person delivering on that brief knows what it is. And I think too often we work for no brief. The brief is imaginary in our mind.
Renata: Absolutely. You're absolutely right. And I think that in this environment, that I’m in where I'm helping people get jobs as a career coach, the challenge that I have is that I am asking my clients to develop their personal briefs before they go out and look at Seek and find other people's briefs for them. And I think that the whole recruitment and selection world is structured in a way to take away the individual's power and control. And to make them feel anxious and that need for, perfection in the way that they present themselves is, well, the onus is all on them. The organisation came here as imperfect as we know they are, but we still want to work there anyway. And they put, they put these beautifully done, expensive marketing material out in the world on their beautiful websites. And the position descriptions are a mile long and it makes you feel very uncomfortable because you can't meet all of the criteria. So this is the reason why I've mentioned your book so much and it makes me very conflicted because this is the reality of what my clients have to go through, what my listeners have to go through. And here I am pushing back against that and trying to give them more power. I'm trying to give them more of a voice to do that, that they need to, but that brief aside for a bit and built their own brief. So that they walk in to the recruitment and selection literally or via email, whichever way it is, but they walk with more confidence in their abilities and what they want and how they want to negotiate the final salary package and all of that. But it's structurally very unfair in the space that I operate in. And I, I don't know if you have any thoughts about that in terms of how to deal with, I mean, you mentioned the society, your idea that the society needs perfection is and you can't meet that. So it's basically around that sphere. And what would you add to that in terms of how we can better build the armour around the candidates going through selection and treatment processes and how to give them more umph, more confidence for them to go through this process?
Lynne: Yeah, so the idea of being a good fit is what I go for is that, you know, that I'm 80% of the way there, or even less, but it's enough, enough of a match or that I have enough of the characteristics or capabilities or experience that they need. Not every single thing. I'm not a recruiter, but I've certainly been, you know, a job Hunter in the past and, and I guess a recruiter as a, as an employee. But the idea of perfectionism is, is that it doesn't exist. And so all, all the effort or the over thinking that we do, all of the extra hours working on things is often not bringing us a reward. And the research around that was quite shocking is that we think it is working or it makes us feel better about the information, but it doesn't actually change the quality of the information we've produced. And we know this from the economic law, right? The law of diminishing returns that yeah, at a certain point our effort does not return equal to the investment of time we’ve put in. It does for a certain point. And then there's that tipping point where it's just a waste 80, 20 principle, right? The parade over principle, 20% focus on the most important stuff to get that incredible return rather than faffing about on the 80% that's only going to deliver you 20% return.
Renata: And with that in mind, how would you structure your day as a job Hunter if you were a job Hunter? And it's very similar to what you and me doing in terms of developing business, right? So how would you structure your day to make it the more effective and efficient possible and not impact your wellbeing in that sense? That part of your book was really important to me. I remember reading it when I was actually putting too much effort on things and things started going wrong for me. And that's what I sometimes see happening to candidates. So I'm, I'm, you know, candidates listening to this podcast may have missed this opportunity, but at the moment, cause it's not going live until next month. But at the moment I'm doing free consultations, but I'm, I'm talking to a lot of people and they all come to me with, I'm putting so many resumes out there or I've been to so many interviews and nothing is converting. I'm not getting, and I can relate to that part of your book where you say, it doesn't matter if you put that much effort, you're not going, not only, you're not going to get more returns, you're going to get worse. So I wanted to see if you had any ideas of how to structure your day, you’re routine to make the most out of it. Maybe based on research that you've, um, did for the book or you did for yourself?
Lynne: Yeah. A key is to work at the times that work for you. So you're, I know there's lots of data around where the people are night owls or early morning people, but I found that getting into activity early in the day is important. So I make sure I'm, I'm either learning or reading something or writing something, building curation of my own skill rather than scrolling through social media or, you know, starting to hit on a downer. So I've got to do something that makes me feel good that I'm in a good state of mind. And then I think another thing is where you mentioned, you know, you're putting all these resumes out there and nothing's happening again from the software development field. Where I did some work and still do is they run experiments. So if you think about putting your resume out there as an experiment and then you're going to get some data back from that and then you need to tweak or adjust depending on that response. Now, if you've put heaps of resumes out there and you've got no response, that's data, right? That's saying you need to change something. Whereas what if you put a few out there, you've got a couple of responses. You can make some tweaks or adjustments and this is the idea of iterative improvement or iterative development over time rather than sweating away for days and weeks, putting it out and going, well, that's my perfect resume. I don't need to change it anymore. That's a very fixed way of thinking in a fixed way of working. If we put our resume out there going, right, this is a bit of an experiment, I'm going to say, what does the market think of this? What's the market looking for? Okay, I need to dial up these skills. I have, you know, quieten down this experience and test. Keep testing and iterating your, not only your resume, but also your responses. How you show up and you know, what you wear, what you say. If you can keep changing and iterating that and finding where the sweet spot that works, that's me, you know, feels good for me and it works out to be a match for that client. Now we're learning and adjusting and adapting.
Renata: And listen as if you are listening and thinking, Oh Lynne, nobody gets back to me anymore. That's why it's good to have a coach or at least a mentor. Right. And let me tell you, Lynne, they're right because the market is so busy at the moment that the recruiters sometimes never get back to you, especially in Australia. So if people are overseas and they move to Australia, they usually tell me, you know, surely nobody gets back to you. You know, and they may have been in other countries where, even New Zealand, you know, people that have moved here from New Zealand say that New Zealand headhunters and recruiters are lovely. They, I think that by law, maybe they met, maybe. But if you have somebody like me or the job hunting podcast, private group on Facebook, you can say, this is what they told me on the phone. What do you think it means? You know, and that's why that private group is so good because it's a safe environment and you can unpack that, those unwritten feedbacks or you know, what does it mean that I didn't hear anything? And then now it could have meant one of these three things. So remember that guy. So what Lynne is saying is absolutely correct. You can still get feedback even if you don't get feedback.
Lynne: Yeah, yeah. It's just an experiment that each thing I'm doing is just another experiment or a hypothesis that I have. And let's see what I hear about that and want to come learn about that.
Renata: I have unpacked things even with like two liners and emails that were sent to a client of mine. You know like they said, Oh, I called them and this is what they said just very briefly. They only said this to me. What do you think it means? And I said, I know exactly what it means, blah, blah, blah. So you need to have somebody that have been just, there are just a few years ahead of you. That's all you need. You know, somebody that has done that, been there and they will give you feedback. So either work with somebody like me or some other coach that you have that you trust or go to the private group, you know, cause that's free and ask people. And you know, we have another podcast today, Chris, who does a career podcast in the U S and he's also, you know, I told him, if I'm not around, you just answer it, you know, like know each other. Lynn, it has been so good to talk to you. Now if people want to know more about you, want to read your book or do one of the wonderful training, the things that you do where they can, they find you tell us.
Lynne: Yeah. Go straight to my website, https://www.lynnecazaly.com.au . And I'm on social media under those as well. I'd love to connect on LinkedIn, Instagram, sharing, I share posts most days on LinkedIn, which are getting a great following. So it's about being, you know, unique in yourself, is working out what your positioning or what your ideas are and, and sharing those with the world. Yeah. And then books where you normally get your books, but yeah, come to https://www.lynnecazaly.com.au and there's plenty of blogs, history, lots of other resources.
Renata: Lots of other books as well. Yeah. Yes. Okay. All right. I'll put those links in the episode show notes and also in the Facebook group and Facebook paid. So follow us and you shall find Lynne Cazaly. Right. Thank you so much.
Lynne: Thank you. Thank you Renata.
About the Host
Hello, I’m Renata Bernarde, the Host of The Job Hunting Podcast. I’m also an executive coach, job hunting expert, and career strategist. I teach professionals (corporate, non-profit, and public) the steps and frameworks to help them find great jobs, change, and advance their careers with confidence and less stress.
If you are an ambitious professional who is keen to develop a robust career plan, if you are looking to find your next job or promotion, or if you want to keep a finger on the pulse of the job market so that when you are ready, and an opportunity arises, you can hit the ground running, then this podcast is for you.
In addition to The Job Hunting Podcast, on my website, I have developed a range of courses and services for professionals in career or job transition. And, of course, I also coach private clients.
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