I’ve been doing quite a few interviews recently and I’ve noticed that there has been a common trait across all the best candidates – passion.
It didn’t matter what level we were interviewing for or what skill set, every single one of the good candidates was passionate about some aspect of their work. It also seemed (I have to qualify this is a purely subjective judgement here – my science training prevents me from otherwise ) true that it was noticeably lacking in the weaker candidates.
Now I’m not suggesting that the best candidates were maniacally passionate about all aspects of their job (I’m not sure I would trust someone who was) or that the weaker candidates were completely apathetic, but throughout the interview process it was too obvious to ignore. Even the more introverted candidates were bursting to tell you things when it came to a topic that they were passionate about.
I’d even say that it was more important than confidence. Self-help books seem to be overflowing with the advice that confidence is all it takes for you to win the girl/carry the day/get the job. The trouble is that confidence is just a high level of certainty and is actually only your belief about how correct you are. It says nothing about whether you are correct or not. Indeed the Dunning-Kruger effect and Imposter syndrome often mean that the most knowledgeable people can exhibit the most uncertainty and complete half-wits would bet their life on a blatant falsehood being right. Passion is more revealing since it normally indicates that you are so fascinated with a topic that you have taken the time to really understand it.
So why is passion so important?
It shows you have an opinion – more importantly it shows that you are secure enough in your knowledge that you are comfortable having an opinion. In an interview, it highlights qualities that the interviewer is looking for: how you learn, what sort of thing really excites you, what sort of person you are and also gives a hint to whether you could go on to instil passion in others. Passion is contagious – when someone walks into a room crackling with energy because they love what they do, everyone who sees it picks up on it.
It is also strongly associated with a good level of knowledge. When someone passionately says “I love this programming language” and you ask why, no one says ‘I don’t know, I just do!’. People who have a passionate interest in something also tend to have a incredible depth of knowledge about it and this is not a question of education (although I think that this is quality that the best teaching institutions tend to instil) but of how the candidates see learning.
Of course, having passion and nothing else is no use at all, but you will get nowhere without a bit of passion.