By Katie Howells

The ‘what’s your biggest weakness’ interview question has been the subject of many jokes over recent years. With both candidates and interviewers struggling to find the perfect answer, itís no great secret that the process often finds interviewees trying to turn positives into weaknesses. It seems however that for certain hiring managers there’s one weakness they turn into a positive, purposefully screening for it in new hires. “Insecure Overachievers” have become the new ‘golden star’ employee, with self-doubt, a negative in most cases, being exploited within the workplace.

Seen in beloved characters such as Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger, these ‘praise-hungry professionals’ often work themselves into a frenzy in order to be recognized for their hard work, never feeling that their best is good enough. Anthony Ward, Director of Shellington, says this could be a good thing, stating that “It’s self-doubt that ensures you are constantly assessing your decisions and striving to do better.”

However with recent discussions regarding ‘burn out’ coming to a head, as well as progressions in work-life balance, why is it that some employers are still encouraging negative thinking and overworking?

Matias Dalsgaard, who says he and his co-workers at McKinsey & Company regularly joked they were Insecure Overachievers, claims this is more prominent in “most places where big money, success and careers are at stake for young and talented people.” Attached to the pride that comes with high status roles and firms, the issue seems to be exasperated as social media becomes more of an integral part of our lives. Allowing the opportunity to share the fruits of your labour, an attachment to praise has been likened to an addiction, getting worse with the more ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ that are received.

Laura Empson, author of ‘Leading Insecure Overachievers; The comforts of Social Controlí’ says that employers are cashing in on this addiction. Likening them to drug dealers she states they are “Deliberately seeking out vulnerable people and getting them hooked on the high-status identity” that comes with top firms.

A 2012 study conducted via colleagues at Lancaster University Management School, investigates how it is that these top firms achieve this. Analysing recruitment ads for the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers, they found that the idea of overworking in order to achieve status was prevalent even within the early stages. With quotes like Herbert Smiths ‘Invest in yourself’ and PwC’s ‘Be the one who never stands still’, firms are attracting those whose sense of self-worth lies within their job title, and it is these people, Empson tells us, that tend to end up being insecure overachievers.

Whereas once overconfidence was seen as the domineering characteristic of those in upper management, CEO’s have been coming forward to claim their insecurities, and whilst it can be great to see the human side of those in such prominent positions, should we really be seeing insecure overachievers as our next big leaders? As Laura Empson says we could be risking it all as “our economy rests on the fragile shoulders [of insecure overachievers].”

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