This is a common interview question and given the feedback we receive from students, considered to be quite a difficult one to answer. Start by understanding why the employer is asking it and talk about a topic that genuinely interests and excites you.
Perhaps if you were asked ‘what are you interested in?’ or ‘what motivates you?’ this wouldn’t feel like such a challenging question. You may decide to talk about your interest in sport or music, for example. The use of the word passionate however suggests something really powerful, that you invest emotionally in it. Your interests may not be something that you would describe as a passion – and that they are not therefore relevant to the question. You may also believe that you have to demonstrate this passion in the way you answer – showing enthusiasm in the tone of your voice and your body language. This may feel out of your comfort zone, all of which can help to increase the pressure and perceived difficulty of this question.
Why does the employer ask this question?
It may be just a case of building rapport, a way of breaking the ice with the candidate. In which case answering the question, talking animatedly about a topic you have genuine interest in, will start to build a relationship with an interviewer and/or a panel. The interviewer may even share your passion which will really help you to make a connection. The employer may be wanting to get a sense of your personality. Tim Page, Co-founder of games studio Well Played Games looks for potential when hiring, ‘I’d argue that looking at the things that a candidate has put their heart and soul into – whether related to the job they’re applying for or not – is the best and fairest way of seeing what a person is capable of.’
The recruiter may on the other hand be asking this question to identify your core values to see if they align with the organisations. A teaching applicant, for example, may describe that they are passionate about increasing educational opportunity for every child. If you talk about the things you feel passionate about in an enthusiastic, engaging way it may suggest you will be a good addition to the team – particularly if it is an organisation where collaboration and sharing ideas are encouraged. Gemma Turner, UK recruitment coordinator for the Geoscience company CGG asks this question more specifically in terms of a job role, for example ‘why are you passionate about this role/CGG?’
“We ask this because we are looking for students who are enthused by our work/ business. If a candidate appears passionate about our work this gives us an indication that they will be motivated to perform well and have the drive to succeed. Additionally, this indicates if they are going to be motivated by the job that they are more likely to be an asset we are able to retain and develop.”
What should you talk about?
Don’t worry if the topic doesn’t relate specifically to the role applied for. “These activities which are not work related shouldn’t be undermined”, says Gemma, “they are a great opportunity for a candidate to demonstrate their values and key skills such as team work, ambition, communication.”
Essentially the recruiter is trying to gain insight into your personality, to understand what drives and motivates you. If you can make your topic interesting for the interviewer they may see your potential to sell their company’s products or services to a client. They may start to visualise you in the role you are being interviewed for. Laura Vincent, EMEA University recruiting lead for Tech firm Citrix says that they frequently ask this question.
“It’s really important to us that the people we hire are well-rounded individuals. We don’t necessarily expect a tech related answer (unless we specify ‘what area of technology are you passionate about’) but we want to know that you have interests outside of university/work, and that you can talk in detail about something that excites you. Sometimes we’ll expand the question to be ‘teach me about something you are passionate about or have a lot of knowledge on’ and this is your opportunity to go into detail and really show us what gets you out of bed in the morning. When you have a passion for something, you have usually spent a lot of time learning about it, developed skills (either soft skills or specific skills related to the topic), are dedicated and motivated to continue to pursue your passion, and these are all qualities we look for in our employees. Even if the interviewer has no experience of the topic you’re passionate about, if you’re excited when you talk about it, they will be interested, and it’s a great opportunity to teach them something they didn’t know, which will make you memorable.”
What your passion really tells the employer
Think about the softer skills you are alluding to when you describe your passion. It’s probably taken a lot of hard work, determination and resilience. Above all, it highlights your initiative and a lot of self-motivation – all of which are qualities highly valued by employers. Enthusiasm is infectious and this is an opportunity to talk about something that really excites you. Who knows, you just might actually enjoy answering this question!