How to hire the most passionate people

I’ve written about interviewing candidates for technical ability and culture fit in the past.

Let me introduce a third dimension: passion.

Your ideal hire will hit the trifecta: strong technical ability, good culture fit and passion for the work. 

Before we dive into the practical How-to for uncovering passion, let’s explore how it manifests in a work setting. 

How does passion manifest?

Passion shows as greater commitment to the work. It can take the form of:

  • More compliant behavior – following policies and directives
  • More competent action – doing the job well 
  • Visibly positive attitude – smiling, going the extra mile 

Before I show you how to look for passion in job candidates, let me tell you this important truth…

Passion cannot be taught

You can improve an employee’s technical skills over time. But you can’t do the same about their passion for the work.

Not directly, at least. Let me put you in a scenario:

Imagine you’re doing a task that doesn’t spark any feelings within yourself. You aren’t upset doing it, but you aren’t happy either.

Suddenly someone comes up to you and says, “Come on. Perk up! This looks like an amazing task.” How would you feel? 

In that situation, I’d think, “I will feel how I want to feel. Thank you very much.” Outside force rarely stimulates genuine passion. 

With that in mind, let’s learn how to seek passion for work

It’s not always visible enthusiasm

Some folks are determined to think of passion for work solely as a form of unbridled enthusiasm.

To them, passion is this 🔥 that burns under your skin, boils your blood and tenses your loins.

Anything else is dispassion.

But I contend that passion can be expressed by a calm, analytical mind.

I’ve been passionate about my efforts, but that hasn’t turned me into a ‘Woo!’ shouter.

If you sit on Liz’s definition of passion, let’s agree to disagree. You can think of my idea of passion as interest in the work.

Can we agree on that? Let’s move on

How to identify passion

Don’t play amateur psychologist

Passion and interest for the work lives in a person’s mind. Just don’t play amateur psychologist to uncover it.

Do this instead

Dig into the candidate’s actions in their previous work. Actions often telegraph the underlying attitudes behind them.

For example, someone who neither loves nor hates the work would do the bare minimum required of a task. 

We want to answer this question: How would a candidate with interest in our kind of work behave?

We can do this by digging deep into a past situation that made them proud.

How to pull this off in interviews

Here’s a series of questions you can ask to dig into a past situation:

  1. Tell me about a past task that made you proud
  2. What was it about that task that made you feel that way?
  3. How often did you do that task?
  4. Was it a core part of your job?
  5. Did your previous manager value how you did it?
  6. What made the work challenging?

You can find more questions like this listed in Tom Foster’s post, How to Interview for Interest and Passion.

The more details you get, the better. A candidate has strong indicators of passion for the work if their answers tell you that:

  • They felt the work was important
  • They were proud of what they did 
  • They felt others valued their work too
  • Challenges made the work even more interesting

Sometimes, passion is everything

In some work situations, passion means everything. It can even be more important than technical ability or culture fit.

You might have seen people get passionate about work you’d find utterly mind numbing. 

This phenomenon applies best to what most people would call soul destroying work. 

Now, this concept varies by industry, region and situation. So I won’t paint broad brushstrokes by naming specific jobs.   

But more often it isn’t 

You can’t seek passion in candidates with blinders on to everything else.

Technical skills are also important 

99.99% of jobs* in the professional and technical space have prerequisite skills and competencies.

Education is an obvious example. You can’t have a line cook apply for a pharmacist role but it’s possible vice versa.

General competencies are also important. A high level of passion does not override a job candidate’s lack of basic computer literacy.

Culture fit is also important

Culture fit is just as important for long-term value.

You run a team and every employee should be able to work in harmony with the rest of the team.

In all, most jobs will benefit from hiring a passionate candidate. But be sure to balance it with the other 2 dimensions of great hires.

** Don’t quote me on that statistic. It’s for effect. It’s not real!