What does this mean?: Persistence and perseverance

Persistence means:

  • Finishing what one has started
  • Keeping on despite obstacles
  • Staying on task.

Perseverance is about mustering our will to perform in the face of contrary impulses. What often gets in the way of finishing what we start are boredom, tedium, frustration, difficulty, and the temptation to do something easier and perhaps more pleasurable.

Taking a coffee break is far more tempting than finishing our tax return.

Reading one more chapter is more pleasurable than doing the dishes or mowing the lawn.

When faced with a challenging task, particularly one that takes a while, it is not achieving the goal that is admired, but the perseverance, the sticking with it through to completion.

Persistence is also linked to self-discipline, as it, along with maintaining focus, are central to self-discipline and leadership. (Sarros et al, 2006, p. 192)

Employers like staff who finish what they start and keep at a task despite obstacles. Those obstacles can be within, such as our own thinking that puts temptation in our path. They can be external – other people, lack of resources, insufficient time, unanticipated problems.

When applying for a job, persistence can also be couched in terms of:

  • Commits to action
  • Shows personal courage
  • Displays resilience
  • Shows energy and drive
  • Sustains high levels of effort following a setback
  • Maintains momentum
  • Maintains an optimistic outlook.

Examples of times that demonstrate persistence are:

  • A problem that was difficult to resolve – many solutions were tried, most failed, but people kept at it until it was solved.
  • A project is going well and then is hit by an unanticipated issue that puts it at risk. Urgent action is needed. People become demotivated but you maintain an optimistic outlook to keep people going.
  • A major program takes a long time to implement. You find ways to keep momentum going and sustain effort for the long haul.
  • You initiate an idea in the face of opposition and criticism, but keep going until the idea proves itself.

Interview questions that could be asked about your perseverance:

  • Tell us about a time when you faced a difficult problem. What methods did you use to sustain your ability to keep going until you had fixed this problem?
  • Tell us about a time when a project is put at risk. What steps did you take to ensure the project was completed? How did you respond to the pressure of this situation?
  • Tell us about a time when you were given a project or task with an impossible deadline or other difficult to meet requirements.
  • How did you handle this situation? How did you keep staff motivated to complete this task?

Keep in mind, that “perseverance does not guarantee success, but success is often unattainable without it.” (Peterson and Seligman, 2004, p. 229)


Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, Character Strengths and Virtues, A Handbook and Classification, Oxford University Press, 2004

James Sarros, Brian Cooper, Anne Hartican, Carolyn Barker, The Character of Leadership, What works for Australian leaders – making it work for you, John Wiley & Sons, 2006

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.