Interview Questions for Executives

“What Are You Passionate About?” – Recruiters and Headhunters Weigh In (Part 2)

As today’s job seekers know, open-ended questions like “What are you passionate about?” might cause you to stop and stutter – how to handle this curve ball in an interview? In Part 1 of “What Are You Passionate About“, Tom Stern of Stern Executive Search gave us his take on this question, and how a candidate can navigate this tough situation.

what are you passionate about

Today, we’ve got even more input from headhunters, recruiters, and HR experts on what to do, and what not to do, next time you hear this question. Prepare yourself for your next big interview, and get ready to take the next step in your career!

Passion is easy to show but hard to explain and even harder to teach. When asked this question candidates should answer firstly truthfully, don’t choose the answers you think the questioner wants to hear. When I ask the question, too many people chose ‘business’ and fail to quantify; or highlight an unusual pastime and try to up-sell it to a passion. Choose something you are truly passionate about.

It will more than likely be in your private life but make it business appropriate as well as stand-out/memorable. Family is an obvious one, but perhaps a little predictable and hard to stand out. A hobby or pastime, sport, fitness, a project you have on the go, but something that is a true and genuine large part of your life.

You can’t cite a sport that you only play/take part in twice a year. Too many people go down the charity route – it’s a great option, you have to demonstrate great and true passion, not just a once-a-year fun run dressed as Elmo. I’m an Ambassador for the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity.

I am passionate about that, I spend lots of time on it, help, donate, fundraise, raise awareness etc. But even I wouldn’t choose that if I were asked the question.

For a passion to truly resonate, you have to demonstrate your interest, why the interest, what you have done about the interest, what your commitment is to it and what you have achieved. Ideally, the perfect way to end is to then tie that back into the rest of your life, career or business – lessons learned or direct input.

The key to the perfect response is the way you answer. If you are truly passionate about something your body language will confirm that interest. You will get more animated, your pupils will dilate, you will smile more…. Decide what it is in your life that does that to you, what makes you talk at an accelerated rate and display those attributes.

– Gary Chaplin, Executive Search

If the question takes you by surprise, buy yourself some thinking time with a question: “Do you mean in a professional or personal sense?” Get their steer on what they want to hear from you. The interviewer will want to learn about your personal interests and values to determine whether or not you a good culture fit.

They might be looking for self-awareness and dedication, but the question might also be used to find out how you react to off-the-wall questions.

You should answer honestly (the interviewer will know if you’re not being genuine!) and pragmatically. Your answer doesn’t need to be focused on your career but, if you’re quick on your feet and have anticipated such a question, you can give a great response that aligns your passion with the company values or key job description points.

The worst way to react would be to panic! Avoid telling them a story about a risky sounding hobby or something else that could potentially cut into your working hours for example. With a question like this, an interview wants to see clarity, conciseness and confidence as you provide examples of how you have dedicated yourself to your interest.

But it’s not all about what you say. Interviewers will want to see that you’re passionate about this task or hobby too, so be expressive in your body language.

 – Steve Nicholls, Executive Connexions

I would say that for me, it’s most important to see that the candidate is passionate about his “ passions.” It doesn’t matter what it is – cooking, or driving sport cars. For recruiters, talking about hobbies is a good way to understand someone’s personality, so being sincere and honest is the most important.

Once, I met a candidate who was passionate about astronomy and stars, which is quite unusual, so I asked questions about that. It was great to see his face glowing when he was explaining why he liked it so much.

– Celine Choisel, Biermann Neff

Recruiters know that top candidates are self-reflective and aware of their strengths.  For instance, Gallup’s Strengths-Finder research tells us that if people know their natural talent and invest resources to deepen this, they will be passionate about what they do.

We suggest that candidates answer the “What are you passionate about” question honestly, but try to tie it to impact at work.  This can mean that you explain why you are so energized about coaching and developing junior employees when you apply for a management position.

Or, if you apply for a sales job and are active at sports, link your love of competition with your passion for developing new clients and closing deals.

– Jay Anna Harris, Talent Tree

In German, we normally ask, “Was treibt dich an”, which means “What drives you?” These questions are a part of the diagnostic phase of an interview.

It’s about finding out what motivates a candidate. What is he capable of, as a result of his personal drive? There’s no standard answer here, and no right or wrong. A good answer depends on the position, the industry, and the company. Your specific motivation should be in accordance with the interview.

For example, if I’m applying for a position in sales, where only one position is available and employees are rewarded with large commissions, it’s more than okay to mention money as a driving factor. If I’m applying at a charity or non-profit organization, then of course it’s not a great idea to name salary as a big factor. More altruistic or ideological reasons count for a lot more at such a company.

If I want to work in a more innovative company, then I should also show a personal interest in improving the world through technology. I think the most important factor here is honesty. Answer with something that you really care about, because it doesn’t make any sense to try to fool anyone else.

That may help you to succeed in a job interview, but it’ll never make you happy in this position in the long term. Choose an honest answer that aligns with the values and the idea of the company you’re applying with.

– Philip Athanas, meta HR

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