How to Answer “What Are You Passionate About?”

By Mike Simpson

Have you ever been so excited about something that you’ve felt it through your whole body?

Has there ever been something you do that you look forward to with absolute and unbridled enthusiasm?

Is there a topic, or a subject, or a project that truly energizes you?

Think back to childhood and how you felt on Christmas Eve, laying in bed trying desperately to fall asleep but knowing it was almost impossible because you were looking forward to the next day so much…

Now fast forward to today.

Is there anything in your life that gives you that same electric tingle? What gets you up in the morning and motivates you to get through the week? Do you have any hobbies? Groups you’re a member of that you love participating in?

What we’re ultimately looking for here is, “What are you passionate about?”

Can you answer that question? What about during an interview? And what exactly is passion?

Why Is This An Interview Question?

Let’s start with explaining exactly what passion is in the context of this blog post and how it’s used in job interviews. For the sake of what we’re discussing here, passion is something you enjoy doing in your free time; a task or activity that brings you pleasure and that you find reward in doing.

It can be hard to see how passion might apply to your job interview, but more and more employers are asking potential hires exactly that. That’s why we’re here today to discuss with you exactly why knowing what your passion is is important, and how exactly how to answer that question.

First off, let’s get something important out of the way. Your immediate answer should never be “This job!”

While it might seem like that’s the correct answer, it’s not.

Yes, an employer wants employees who love their job, and in very rare cases, it really could be the truth, but let’s be honest, in most cases it isn’t…and employers aren’t stupid and aren’t going to believe you. In this case, it’s perfectly acceptable to talk about things you do outside of the job that excite you.

But hang on, don’t employers just care about the work I’m doing? Why would they want to know what I enjoy when I’m not here pushing buttons?

When you have two candidates who are equally skilled and qualified for a job, the hiring manager has to look deeper into what makes each candidate tick, and sometimes what can really make the difference is discovering which employee has a passion for life and which one is just coasting through on autopilot.

Why Is Passion Important For a Job Interview?

To an employer, the side effects of a candidate with an outside passion can actually be highly desirable, even if it seems like that passion has absolutely nothing to do with the job you’re applying for! Here, let us explain:

When you have someone who is passionate about something, odds are that person is self-motivated to learn as much as they can about that subject. This is an incredibly desirable trait to a potential employer. Odds are this self-education has not only increased your knowledge about your chosen subject, but has also strengthened other soft skills you might have, (and remember, soft skills are the skills that come with life experiences that many hiring managers find desirable but that can’t always be taught directly (we go into much greater depth about soft skills in our blog post here.).

Let’s pretend you’re passionate about animal rights and you spend your weekends working at the local shelter helping out with the pet adoptions. Now let’s pretend you’re interviewing for a job at a local law firm as a paralegal.

While it might not seem like the two overlap, there are actually a lot of soft skills that you use as a volunteer that make you a desirable paralegal including the ability to work as a team, organizational skills, motivation to succeed at the task (who doesn’t love seeing a happy pet successfully adopted off to a new home?), networking and dedication.

Candidates with a passion are also usually hard working. They take their free time to develop the skills they need to pursue their passion. This can demonstrate to a potential employer that you’re someone who is committed to completing tasks and who has the ability to follow through on a project.

But what if my passion is boring? Or not exciting? Or just…weird?

Here’s the thing…

While an employer might not share your same passions, the bottom line is, they’re looking beyond what it is that floats your boat and examining instead the skills it takes to get that boat floating in the first place.

So even if your passion is collecting lint balls and spending hours poring over them one at a time, examining each one in exquisite detail for minute variations, it isn’t what you’re doing, but what skills you’re using while you’re doing it (attention to detail, organization, patience, etc.).

Top 5 Tips For Answering “What is your Passion?”

Now that we’ve discussed what passion is in this context and why an interviewer is curious about it, let’s talk about how to answer that question:

1. Do your homework:

As a student of the Interview Guys, you’re already familiar with the Tailoring Method, our technique of preparing for a question before it’s asked (if not, check out our article Job Interview Questions and Answers 101), and this is no different!

Prior to going into that interview you’ll want to take some time and really look at what makes you happy in life and what your passion is. Treat this question with the same amount of seriousness you apply to all your pre-interview homework.

2. Be appropriate about your passion:

Passion is a funny thing…what makes one person wildly enthusiastic might be a complete and total turn off for another person. When thinking about how to answer this question, make sure that what you bring up in the interview is something you’d be comfortable talking about and that others would be comfortable listening to you talk about.

We’re not saying censor yourself and certainly are NOT encouraging you to lie, but what we are doing is telling you to be cognizant of your audience and your ultimate end goal (hint: it’s to get the job.) A good way to determine if you should discuss a particular passion with your potential employer is to go back to step one and really make sure that what you’re about to share with them really does align with the job you’re interviewing for.

3. Apply your passion…to your application:

While you’re preparing for your interview, look at the job you’re applying for and see if there are any skills that are required for it that align with what you’re passionate about. Remember, every answer you give to a hiring manager is an opportunity to demonstrate to them that you’re the perfect candidate!

4. Be passionate enough about your passion to share that passion:

Be prepared to talk about what your passion is and potentially answer follow up questions (especially if your passion is unique, you mad lint ball collector, you!).

5. Get excited:

Use the opportunity to talk about your passion to really engage your hiring manager. Part of what makes passion so exciting to them is being able to see how you act when you’re truly engaged in something you enjoy, even if it’s just talking about it.

This is an opportunity for an employer to not only see what drives you outside work, but to also get to know you a little bit better as a person, and not just as an employee. One of the things hiring managers look for are individuals who will mesh well with the already established corporate culture and one way for them to quickly see how you are when your guard is down and you’re truly excited is to ask you about your passion.

How NOT to answer the question “What Are You Passionate About?”

Of course, just like every question you’ll face in an interview, there are right ways and wrong ways to answer this question, starting with not being honest.

While discretion is a good idea if your passion is…ahem…unique (not everybody’s going to understand lint ball collecting), outright faking your way through an answer can be disastrous. An interviewer genuinely wants to know what drives you, and while it’s tempting to give them an answer that you think they’ll like as opposed to what’s honest (again, going back to the ‘don’t ever tell them this job is your passion’ statement from earlier) don’t let that temptation lead you into a situation where you find yourself lying.

Trust us when we tell you…an employer can tell.

Another mistake can be letting your enthusiasm for your passion take you over. Yes, an employer wants to see you genuinely excited to talk about what you love, but remember, this is still a job interview. Launching into an in-depth lecture on how exactly lint balls differ and what to look for when examining cotton fibers versus polyacrylic fibers probably isn’t a good way to spend an hour of your hiring manger’s time.

Finally, and we already touched on this a bit in the above tips section, but it’s worth repeating here…make sure the passion you choose to talk about is appropriate both for the audience you are sharing it with, and the job you’re applying for.

3 Example Answers For “What Are You Passionate About”

Now let’s take a look at three possible ways to answer the question “What are you passionate about.” Use these examples as an opportunity to craft your own responses but remember to make sure to really target both your audience and the job you’re applying for.

ENTRY LEVEL APPLYING FOR A JOB IN SALES

"I love competitive baking! Growing up, I really enjoyed baking with my grandmother on the weekends. Nana has been a part of my life since I was a little girl and Saturdays spent in her kitchen cooking has always been a special time for me. Now that I’ve gotten older, I’m taking what my Nana has taught me and am applying it to local baking competitions. Last year I placed second in both pies and cakes in our annual fair which was pretty good for my first try, but I know I can do better. I’ve been refining the recipes I used and made some tweaks and I can’t wait to enter this year. I just know that blue ribbon has my name on it!"

While this person might be ‘entry level,’ the skills they’ve demonstrated with their passion lets an employer know they have the capability to grow and learn in their position.

They’ve also demonstrated their desire to improve themselves and use that to help them advance, both valuable skills when dealing with sales. A winning attitude and the desire to take home that blue ribbon can easily be transferred to the desire to close a deal or make that sale.

This candidate isn’t satisfied with second place or the status quo and is going to do what it takes to do better, including analyzing their failure and using that knowledge to do better the next time.

MANAGEMENT APPLYING FOR A JOB AS A PROJECT LEADER

"I know it sounds a little silly but I’m really passionate about the time I spend with my friends playing Dungeons and Dragons. While a lot of people just see it as a game, there’s really so much more to it than that. I’m my group’s Dungeon Master, or DM for short, and it’s up to me to not only organize the events, but to come up with the framework for the entire campaign. It takes serious imagination, planning and attention to detail. I create the entire framework of the session including anticipating potential outcomes to decisions my teammates might make at any point along the way. I really enjoy the organization and strategic thinking that comes with my role as DM."

As odd as it sounds, a good DM is a great management candidate! Someone who is a well-seasoned DM already possess several solid skills that will help them to excel in almost any management position they’re hired for. A good DM is organized, can manage groups of individuals, is comfortable both leading and guiding, and is used to thinking quickly on their feet. A project leader is a DM in many ways. You’re all working towards a common goal and a good leader is going to be there to help the team navigate the process as well as analyze any problems that might arise and determine the best course of action when it comes to solving those problems.

EXECUTIVE POSITION IN A LARGE CORPORATION

"I’m passionate about sculpting. There’s something just so relaxing about holding a lump of clay under your hands and watching it slowly become something exquisite and breathtaking. I’ve been taking classes for years and have finally invested in my own pottery wheel. I’ve found that not only is my work sculpting a way for me to relax and unwind, but that it also allows me to explore my creativity both in my art as well as other areas of my life. Some of my best solutions to work problems have come to me while I’m working with clay."

Part of what makes a great executive is the ability to be a creative problem solver and to find solutions to large scale problems. This candidate has demonstrated through their passion that they approach problems in a calm manner, focusing their attention in a way that is creative and calm. They’re also demonstrating that they love to build and create, both important qualities to have in a leader.

Putting It All Together

In conclusion, remember, it’s not what you’re passionate about, but what that passion brings out in you that an employer will find valuable. Make sure that what you’re sharing with your hiring manager is not only genuine, but targeted and appropriate. Get excited, get enthusiastic, and above all…get hired!

Good luck!

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How to Answer “What Are You Passionate About?”
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