Perfect people

In “the upper reaches of the meritocracy,” young college graduates are trying to be “perfect avatars of success,” writes New York Times columnist David Brooks. He urges employers “bias hiring decisions against perfectionists” with “a high talent for social conformity” and no personality.

They got 3.8 grade-point averages in high school and college. They served in the cliché leadership positions on campus. They got all the perfect consultant/investment bank internships. During off-hours they distributed bed nets in Zambia and dug wells in Peru.

. . . Students who get straight As have an ability to prudentially master their passions so they can achieve proficiency across a range of subjects. But you probably want employees who are relentlessly dedicated to one subject. In school, those people often got As in subjects they were passionate about but got Bs in subjects that did not arouse their imagination.

Brooks wants employers to reward job applicants who’ve done something unfashionable, such as going to a Christian college to explore their values.

Interviewees should be asked: “Could you describe a time when you told the truth and it hurt you?”

“If the interviewee can’t immediately come up with an episode, there may be a problem here,” advises Brooks.

My first reaction: Now overachievers will have to come up with an unfashionable thing — but not too unfashionable — in addition to grades, leadership, internships and Peruvian well-digging. I recommend competing in an obscure sport, performing a medieval musical instrument or any activity that can’t be verified by the prospective employer.

Traditionally, job applicants admit to perfectionism when asked for their faults. If that’s out of fashion, they’ll need a new fault. Perhaps, inability to lie with conviction would be a good one. “I tell the truth, even if it hurts me. Let me tell you about the time . . . “

About Joanne


  1. The error seems to be in mistaking perfectionists with those who take no chances lest they fail. That is very different than “a person who is displeased by anything that does not meet very high standards.”

    They are more perfectionist by this 100 year old definition

    Perfectionist \Per*fec”tion*ist\, n.
    1. One pretending to perfection; esp., one pretending to
    moral perfection; one who believes that persons may and
    do attain to moral perfection and sinlessness in this life.
    [1913 Webster]

  2. Stacy in NJ says:

    David Brooks is a first rate fool. At some point, great minds will stop and reflect on who was the greater fool – David Brooks or Thomas Friedman – the result will be inconclusive.

  3. If this were Facebook I’d “like” Stacy’s comment *and* Joanne’s observations at the end of the post.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    If anyone I was ever interviewing said or wrote — or even hinted conspiratorially — that telling the truth was a *fault*, I’d throw their application in the trash without further review.