First, it's important to understand why interviewers often pose this question to job candidates. Here are three possible reasons: 1) To get to know you better and see what you really care about, which might tell them if they'd like to work with you and if others at their company would like to work with you. It's a sort of 'Do you fit the company culture?' test to see if you're compatible with others at the company; 2) To find out if you're a hardworking person and to determine if you're a committed follow-through type of person. Note that the “passion” question is never about the passion itself. Rather, it's about what you do with that passion: where you take it, how you incorporate it into your life, and how it might apply to the job you’re interviewing for; and 3) To try to understand the depth of your thought process and if you care and are passionate about weighty things or simplistic things. This doesn't mean you need to be passionate about existential philosophy, but it's important to show to your interviewers that you're a serious person and have the ability to problem solve and think deeply, thoroughly, and broadly.
With all that in mind, and before we get to what a good answer to the passion question might look like, it's also important to talk a little about the word "passion." "Passion" is an overused and often misunderstood word, which is partly why people have such a problem answering the passion question, and why they believe they might not have any passions.
To get at what a passion is, it's easier to begin with what a passion doesn't necessarily have to be. It doesn't have to be your life's work. It doesn't have to be the one thing you hold higher in importance than all others in your life. It doesn't have to be the one true love of your life. It doesn't have to be something incredibly weighty. And it doesn't have to be something that you do every day.
As for what a passion could be, it could be something you like to do very much but don't get to partake in all that much. It could be something you do in your free time. It could be a so-called hobby and not related to your career. And it could be something abstract. For example, it could be competition, solving problems, storytelling, learning, or standing up for the oppressed.
Now that you have an idea what interviewers are trying to determine when asking about your passions, and what a passion is and isn't, it's time to decide on a passion to give your interviewer. As mentioned above, you should be prepared to talk at length about your passion since there will likely be follow-up questions about your passion. And so, as a first step, make sure your "passion" is something you feel comfortable with talking about for a long time. Which is to say, make sure it's something you know quite a bit about, could hold a conversation about for several minutes to an hour, and make sure it's something that excites you (you definitely don't want to come across as not all that excited about something that you say you like a fair amount).
Next, make sure it's something that'll get across a quality of yours that you'd like your interviewer to know about and that will help your job candidacy. This should go without saying, but never forget that the intention behind everything you say and do in an interview is to get the job (or at least, get to the next round of interviews). You want to highlight why you'd be a good fit for the job and excel at the job. And the passion question is a perfect place to help differentiate you from other candidates.
Finally, make sure you answer honestly. This should also go without saying, but there is a tendency (an understandable one) to give your interviewers answers you think you should give them as opposed to answers that are honest.
As for an example answer, above it was mentioned that "competition" could be a possible "abstract " passion. A lot of job candidates (especially recent college grads and recent grad-school grads) that receive interviews with top companies are, to a great extent, passionate about competition—and they might not even realize it. At least, they might not think of competition as a passion. But it could be a perfect answer to this passion question—especially for those who struggle to determine what they’re passionate about—in part because a competitive spirit is a (written or unwritten) requirement for most professional jobs out there.
For example, you likely can't become a highly successful student or athlete (or employee) without loving to compete. You might think the obvious way to use a competitive passion is to compete against the competition, but what often makes successful students and athletes truly successful is they love to compete against themselves. They often love to compete to see not only if they can score or perform higher or better than others, but also, and perhaps more importantly, if they can score higher and perform better than they themselves had done previously—if they can push themselves to be better, faster, stronger, more productive, etc.
So, let's say that you, on further thought, find that competing is indeed one of your passions, and so you decide to use competition as your answer. Your interviewer will then likely ask you to tell about how this fits into your life. You could, in response, talk about past experiences in which you competed: academically, athletically, on the job—where you wanted to perform better as an individual and/or as part of a team.
You could also talk about how it fits into other hobbies of yours, how you always try to make something a little bit better than you did before (say, if you often cook) or do better than you did before (say, if you run marathons). This will underscore that you strive to do excellent work, while showing you have other interests, and that you are committed to outdoing yourself, that you continually want to improve upon work you did previously. Which is certainly a good quality for any employee at any company.
And then, if you're asked why you're passionate about competing, your answer might include that you take great joy and satisfaction in trying to outdo yourself, in trying to see how far you can go and how well you can perform. Maybe it's also exciting to see that you're able to go further than you thought.
Of course, this is just one of numerous possible passions that could be used. It’s up to you to search yourself and your own life and experiences to find your specific passion(s). And then it’s up to you to determine which of these passions is the best fit for the job you're interviewing for.
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