Why Passion is an Important Criterion for Hiring

When we think about the criteria for hiring or not hiring an individual, passion is rarely something that is put into the rubric. However, it is many times the number one corollary with high performing employees. With that in mind, we asked Dean Griess of Schwab Business Learning to share his thoughts on hiring “passionate” candidates.

Why is passion an important criterion for hiring?

I like to challenge not only my thinking but the thinking of the team members I support by asking them, “would you want someone on your team that you have to expel excessive amounts of energy to keep them motivated or someone that inspires you and is willing to be inspired?” If someone doesn’t have passion for the role they are applying for, then ultimately what happens is the manager now has a person that is keeping a seat warm.

Is this true for every type of job? 

1000% YES!  Most people think passion is only visible by making loud noises, jumping up and down and getting people get excited.  That is certainly not the case. Over my career, I have seen passion show up in many different ways and it all depends on how that person is wired.

I personally do not have a passion for spreadsheets; it is not how I am wired. Yet I have colleagues that love taking raw data, diving neck deep into it and uncovering the story contained within the numbers.  That kind of passion usually shows up behind a computer screen and is not visible.  That passion is equally important to overall success.

How does passion rank against other criteria?  Is it a total deal breaker if someone doesn’t have passion?

For me, it is the #1 criterion.  I wouldn’t say it is a complete deal breaker; however it weighs heavily on the decision. Even if a candidate does not have all the boxes checked for what I’m looking for, I would rather hire someone that brings an enthusiasm to the role over someone that is passive and has a “complete” resume.

The person that bring the enthusiasm will take advantage of every opportunity, be a learning sponge, and will ultimately do whatever it takes to be successful.  Those are the kind of people I want to work with.  Let’s be honest, those are the type of people we all want to work with. 

How do you figure out if someone has passion for a job?

There can be several signs. Body language plays a huge part…how they sit, where their eyes go and tone of voice, just to name a few

Here’s an example: A colleague of mine asked me to sit in on an interview with a candidate.  He was top on the list for a role on the team.  During the conversation, he said all the right things and had a very impressive resume.  As we continued to meet with the candidate, he sat very passively to the side in his chair and when he spoke, there was minimal voice inflection and seemed to shy away from making quality eye contact.  After the conversation, my colleague asked me, “So…what’d you think?  Good, right?” He was shocked when my answer was no.  After providing my reasons, he thanked me for my feedback and we went on with our day. Four days later…the candidate withdrew his application before the offer was extended. That is an example of someone just looking for A job instead of wanting THAT job.

Keep in mind, I am not an expert at social behavior, but I truly believe it plays a part in telling a story.  When these types of signs occur, we can all relate to that feeling we get as to whether this is the right candidate or not. 

What do you do when you see someone’s enthusiasm wane once they actually come and work for you?

This can and does happen.  It is human nature.   When circumstances change, career trajectory changes or even life happens, it can impact the enthusiasm.  When these situations occur, I feel it is my duty to help find a way to reignite that fire they once had or help to identify where their passion lies.  Whatever direction is identified, I want to make sure I provide the support they want or need, especially if their passion compass is pointed in a different direction.  I never want a member of my team to feel stuck. If they take an opportunity to reignite their passion in a different role and I find someone that brings passion to that vacated role, it is a win/win for both of us.  I have never faulted anyone for following their passion, if anything I figure out how I can help fan that flame.

Phil Strazzulla

Founder at NextWave Hire
Phil is a founder of NextWave Hire.Previously, he was a VC at Bessemer, and has a MBA from Harvard, and studied finance at NYU.

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