Some interview questions have an obviously good and an obviously bad answer. This one does not belong to the group, and it isn’t an easy one, for a simple reason: On one side, employers want us to strive for perfection. They are looking for employees who never cease to work on their skills and strengths, for employees who always try to better themselves in whatever they do, employees who deliver exceptional work at all times.

On the other hand though, they want us to work quickly, meet deadlines, reach goals. Considering how fast-paced a typical corporate working environment is, we just do not have time to do things with real level of precision while aiming for perfection… Just like in many other occasions, employers want from us two incompatible things at the same time… Or am I wrong?

Anyway, when facing this question in an interview, you should think about the job you try to get. What does matter more in the particular case? Is it more important to do things quickly, or does precision and attention to detail matter more than anything else in your new role? Or is something in between the two the right mix for the job?

Once you understand this, you will know how to answer the question. Let me help you with 7 sample answers, including both extremes and anything in between, as well as some unconventional and rather philosophical answers. Read them all, pick your winner, and then check also my conclusion below the list of answers for a couple of things you should remember when dealing with this tricky question in an interview.


7 sample answers to “Are you a perfectionist?” interview question

  1. I would say I am. And as a process engineer I do not see any other way of working efficiently. Let’s be honest. Today’s improvements aren’t about doubling capacity or effectiveness of something. The machinery and technologies are advanced already. We can achieve only incremental improvements, in tenths of a percent or even smaller. However, when we achieve such an improvement in several processes relating to each other, in summary we can see an important decrease of expenses, or increase of revenue. In order to analyze each process in-detail, and identify these small opportunities for improvement, you have to be precise, and have an amazing attention to detail. For me, it is as close to definition of perfectionism as it can get.
  2. I am definitely not an perfectionist. And as a manager with goals and deadlines I cannot even afford it. I am aware that other people wait for my decisions, and for the work of my team. First and foremost, we have to meet the schedule and deliver our work on time, even if it isn’t perfect. Now it doesn’t mean that I accept everything or do not have demands on my employees. I try my best, and I want to deliver quality work, but I always have a schedule on my mind. In my opinion, it is better to deliver a great product on time than a perfect product one month late.
  3. To be honest, I do not consider myself a perfectionist, but I still try to find the right balance between speed and precision. Working in quality control, I align more to precision. At the end of the day, it is my goal to make sure we won’t ship out any products with defects. At the same time, however, I also have deadlines, and sometimes cannot afford spending as much time with certain checks as I’d like to. And that’s exactly the balance I try to find. Maybe it is okay making a mistake sometimes, and getting a warranty claim from the customer. Because if I wanted to be perfect in my work and never get any warranty claims, I just wouldn’t be able to meet my deadlines. Well, it isn’t easy, and I am still looking for the right balance.
  4. I’m definitely not a perfectionist and I know it isn’t expected from me either. Look, this is an entry level job. I am here to learn, I am here to make mistakes, because only one who never tries anything new makes no mistakes in their work. At this stage of my professional career, it is more important for me to try and learn, and making mistakes is an inevitable part of the learning process. Hence I do not aim for perfectionism, either in work or in my personal life.
  5. To be honest, I do not think that perfection exists. It is just an ideal, something we can aspire to but never achieve. Should we try to achieve it though? It probably depends. First of all, we have deadlines to meet and tasks to take care of every day, both at work and outside of it. We cannot neglect that in our pursuit of perfection. Maybe if I was an artist, I would try to reach perfection. Without a doubt I would fail in my attempts, but I might create some amazing works of arts along the way. They would not be perfect, but they would be amazing. And perhaps that’s good enough, in both work and art. At least that’s how I see it. But I am not an artist, just to make things clear…
  6. I used to be a perfectionist, and I paid a high price for it. Always wanted to better my colleagues, to look perfect, to speak perfect, to deliver beyond-expected results. What did it eventually result into? I can tell you: constant anxiety. You have the feeling that someone is always watching you, that you have to deliver in each and every situation. And that’s too much to bear for almost everyone. I ended up mentally ill, and had to work with a psychologist for six months to be able to get back on track, and return to work again. Now I am not a perfectionist anymore. I am aware of both my strengths and weaknesses, and accept my own limitations. It doesn’t mean that I don’t try hard anymore. But I don’t aspire any longer to be the best one out there, and do not derive my value from what the others think about me. And I must confess life is much easier with my new mindset.
  7. Nope, I am not, and I know it isn’t even important in this restaurant. Customers do not expect a five stars meal here. This is a fast food place. What people expect is to always get the same quality and quantity, the food and service they are used to. And I am not here to reinvent the wheel. I prefer to simply follow the working manual, step by step, with every customer, not thinking too much about whether we could do something better or not. That’s manager’s responsibility, not mine.


Avoid short answers, explain your thoughts

The worst thing you can do would be replying briefly that you are or aren’t a perfectionist, without giving them an additional explanation. First of all, perfectionist can mean a lot of things, and you should explain what it means to you (while answering the question).

Secondly, as I’ve said at the very beginning of this post, this isn’t an interview question with obviously good and bad answer. As long as you can justify your reasoning–explaining why you prefer to be perfectionist in your work or contrariwise, you are good to go, and hiring managers will be satisfied. Of course, if they don’t agree, an interesting discussion may follow, but that’s just a plus for your chances to succeed and walk away with a new employment agreement at the end of the hiring process.

Unconventional answer can help you stand out

Whether we admit it or not, job interview is a competition. You say something, other candidates say something, and you all compete for the same prize: a coveted employment agreement and a great salary. In some cases the employer may give a chance to several shortlisted candidates, but in many cases the winner takes it all. It is nothing to complain about. Things work this way and we have to accept it.

However, in order to give yourself a chance to win, you should not always say that most obvious thing. Try to be creative, especially when a question of the interviewers offers some room for creative responses. “Are you a perfectionist?” definitely belongs to such questions. You can check sample answers no. 5 and no. 6 on my list for some inspiration.

Do not be afraid to experiment, especially when you compete with many other people for the job. In such a scenario conventional answers just aren’t good enough. You should come up with something special at least once or twice during the interview, and this question is a great opportunity to do so…

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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