In my time at Glassdoor, I’ve interviewed hundreds of recruiters to find out what they look for in candidates. And one of the most common things I hear from them, without a doubt, is passion.
It might sound simple enough to demonstrate passion in an interview, but it can actually be fairly tricky. For a recruiter or hiring manager to truly see your passion, you need to show them — not just tell them. And you always have to maintain the right balance between sounding enthusiastic and sounding overeager.
So how exactly can you best demonstrate your passion in an interview, and what common mistakes should you avoid? I turned to the experts for their advice.
Don’t: Sound Desperate
It’s great to express interest in the job, but don’t make it sound like you depend on it. This makes it sound like you’re looking for a job just to pay the bills, and not because you think it’s a particularly good fit.
“[One mistake] candidates make when showcasing their passion is being so overly passionate that they’ll say whatever they feel like the recruiter wants to hear to help them be a match for a position,” says DW Bobst, CEO of TrendHR.
This will not only make recruiters and hiring managers question the veracity of your responses, but also view you as a little too over-eager.
“Think of interviewing kind of like dating. No one wants to be the creepy over-the-top person on a date. It’s a give and take, a back and forth of showing mutual interest… If an applicant is over the top, much like in dating, it can backfire and be a turnoff to the employer,” Bobst says.
Don’t: Focus on the Superficial
A hallmark of inexperienced candidates is that they’ll focus on how the company can benefit them, and not how they can benefit the company. For example, when asked why they want to work at a given company, some candidates rave about things like how amazing the office is or what a good reputation the company has.
“Everyone may know that Google is an awesome place to work, but the job seeker should not gush about the perks or focus on how a prestigious job will take them to the next level,” says Donna Shannon, President of Personal Touch Career Services. “By focusing on the company, they are missing out on demonstrating what they actually love about their work.”
Now, it’s fine if you genuinely do admire the company and its products/services — but it’s best to tie that back to something greater, like the company’s mission or values. A candidate who says they want to work at Glassdoor because everyone they know uses it won’t stand out in my mind, but one who says they want to work here because they love our mission of helping people everywhere find a job and company they love will. And if they can talk about how excited they are to apply their specific field of expertise to help us, even better.
“Don’t be scared to state that you love your work. Be specific about what draws you to it,” Shannon suggests. “For example, a salesperson should show that they love making new connections.”
Don’t: Sound Cocky
Sometimes, in an effort to sound enthusiastic and informed, candidates will “come off as arrogant or over-knowledgeable; a showman/woman,” says Jill Tipograph, Co-Founder of Early Stage Careers. “This is especially noticeable when a young adult professes to be an expert at something. And this gets layered with complexity if the interviewer/hiring manager really is an expert at something, and his/her questions result in a candidate not being able to walk the talk about the topic.”
It’s great to talk about the skills you possess, software you regularly use and accomplishments you’ve achieved, but stay away from broad all-encompassing statements like “I pretty much know everything there is to know about Salesforce” or “I practically wrote the book on Excel” — unless, of course, that’s true.
Anyone who’s ever had a big schoolyard crush understands how difficult it can be to stay concise when talking about the object of their affections. When you’re really geeked about a job or company, things play out in much the same way — but you shouldn’t subject a recruiter or hiring manager to a ten-minute stream of consciousness on why you love the company. Interviewers only have a limited amount of time with you, after all, and they’ll want to make sure it’s spent well.
“Sometimes candidate are so excited and passionate about a position or the work they’re doing that they talk, talk, talk without taking a break to check-in with the interviewer,” says Marielle Smith, VP of People at GoodHire. “My advice is to listen carefully to the question and answer it succinctly, then stop to check in with the interviewer to see if they want to discuss the topic further, or if they want to move on to another question. Listening, responding, then giving space for follow-up questions is key.”
Don’t: Suck Up to an Individual
You might have heard that flattery will get you everywhere, but that’s rarely the case with recruiters and hiring managers. They’ve seen it all before, and are wise to such cheap attempts at wowing them. Sucking up to them will come across as insincere at best or at worst, creepy.
“I have seen candidates trying to show their passion by mentioning things about me personally from my online presence,” says Pete Sosnowski, Chief Human Resources Officer at career site Zety. “You can absolutely research the interviewer if you know who it is, but don't make it creepy — mentioning that you saw my hometown newspaper's mention of me from ten years ago sounds plain weird.”
Do: Your Research
Passion isn’t always about saying you’re passionate or putting on the widest smile you can.
“A job seeker can show real passion by doing the requisite prep work before the interview even begins,” says Brian Porrell, Principal & Manager at WinterWyman. “In the days leading up to an interview, a candidate should take the time to research the company, learn about the industry, understand the competitive landscape and learn about some of the general trends and challenges that are likely to affect the person who wins the role. If a candidate goes into a job interview armed with that information, the interviewer will know the candidate is passionate about the position.”
Do: Ask Meaningful, Compelling Questions
One of the best times to prove that you’re passionate about the opportunity at hand is when an interviewer asks you if you have any questions for them.
“For an employer, not having a good question is equivalent to not being interested,” says Cristian Rennella, VP of HR & Co-Founder of oMelhorTrato.com. “This significantly reduces your chances of being hired, especially when you are looking for a competitive job.”
Rather than asking self-serving questions about the salary or benefits, Rennella recommends drawing upon your research: “You should always ask questions that occur to you when you are doing the pre-interview research in your home before the interview and write them down — even those questions that occur to you on the way to the interview and when you are observing the workplace during the interview itself.”
Do: Share a Personal Story
Telling a story about why you’re passionate will always be more memorable than just saying you are. That’s not just common sense — it’s been scientifically proven that humans are hardwired for storytelling.
“Work on architecting your personal story to include your passion, so recruiters hear its genesis and find it memorable and/or want to dig deeper into the topic,” Tipograph says. “For instance, one could say (if true) ‘I was raised in a family with a long lineage of loving nature. I grew up always taking vacations outdoors, learning how to create gardens, care for animals. As I matured, I found myself drawn to sustainability causes given what I saw as a child and teen.’”
Regardless of how your interests developed, you can craft them into a compelling narrative.
Do: Back Up Your Passion With Evidence
At the end of the day, actions speak louder than words. If you have any concrete proof points that speak to your passion, bring them up in the interview — they’ll go a lot further than lip service alone.
“Be sure to include job-related passions on your resume. This includes memberships, affiliations, board memberships or volunteer organizations you care about,” says Kim Hughes, Manager - Talent Acquisition at CMI/Compas and founding member of DisruptHR Philadelphia. As an added bonus, “someone coming across your resume could see a common connection that can lead to more opportunity,” Hughes adds.
Do: Be Authentic
Above all other things, the best way to highlight your passion is to be your authentic self. If you’re truly passionate about an opportunity, that passion will likely shine through in your conversation.
“The applicants should show interest, but the most important thing is [to] be GENUINE. Be yourself. Answer questions honestly and with integrity,” Bobst says.
“You can fake a lot of things, but you can’t fake passion,” Hughes adds.