Is Passion a Prerequisite for Great Job Candidates? No, and Here’s Why
Every employer wants to hire driven employees–but always expecting new hires to arrive with built-in passion could be a costly mistake.
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To hire great talent and assemble dream teams ready to compete in a cutthroat competitive market, it's not enough to hire on experience alone. Two managers with similar experience levels and even similar skill sets can wind up having dramatically different impacts on your business.
Recruiters and hiring managers thus look for intangible skills that don't always surface on a resume: creativity, empathy, emotional intelligence, likeability, adaptability... and passion. Passion is a core value for many companies, so it's understandable that passion is prioritized in hiring.
Understandable -- but is it advisable? Some experts caution that placing passion as a prerequisite -- whether as the employer or the job seeker -- is likely to lead to disappointment. Here's why.
You're setting unrealistic expectations.
Cal Newport is an associate professor at Georgetown University, and he's written a whole book (So Good They Can't Ignore You) dedicated to eviscerating "follow your passion" as career advice.
"The more emphasis you place on finding work you love, the more unhappy you become when you don't love every minute of the work you have," Newport wrote in a 2010 blog post, referring to what he calls "the passion trap."
The passion trap, essentially, is creating an environment in which employees or job candidates feel deficient when their job description doesn't quicken their pulse. Unfortunately, the expectation for "passion" permeates across a wide range of job roles and descriptions, including even entry-level positions. Requiring employees to be passionate about, say, data entry may deter job candidates who are extremely adept at data entry, but haven't yet identified their passions -- or have identified passions other than data entry.
Setting passion as a prerequisite also, frankly, encourages candidates to bend the truth. And short of wheeling a lie detector device into the interview room (please don't get any ideas), it can be very difficult for even a seasoned hiring manager to determine the depth of someone's stated passion for a job role.
Passion doesn't always predict performance.
Some employees will buy into the company vision with the enthusiasm of overzealous cult members, while others are more driven by career advancement or supporting their families. While passion can obviously make a positive impact on morale and retention, it's no guarantee that an employee from the first group will actually outperform an employee from the latter.
It's often unclear what candidates are supposed to be passionate about.
Say you're a toothpaste company and you're trying to hire a passionate Salesforce administrator. Are you looking for candidates whose personal passion is cleaning up data and setting up new reports? Or who share your company's passion for educating the public on the importance of oral hygiene? Both?
As Bill Carmody noted in an Inc.com article last year, "People throw the word passion around too easily. Many a corporate job description is to blame for this." Recruiter rhetoric and corporate "About Us" pages are partially to blame, too, as they sometimes suggest that all employees have the company's mission statement all but written into their DNA.
Even at a cutting-edge company like SpaceX, with its exciting and explicitly stated mission statement, it's a fair bet that not every employee came aboard with a passion for space travel or Mars colonization. That, though, would be more likely than every employee being truly passionate about his or her job duties.
When employers fail to articulate their values and vision, it's even more unrealistic to expect employees and job seekers to be in alignment with the company.
Passion should be cultivated.
Because an employee doesn't have a pre-existing passion for a specific job or an employer's industry doesn't mean that passion won't bloom in time. Telling people to not follow their passion may seem like a killjoy position to take, but it can actually lead to longer-term career contentment.
"Passion is not something you follow," Newport wrote in The New York Times. "It's something that will follow you as you put in the hard work to become valuable to the world."
That hard work is up to the employee, but employers have an opportunity, too, to help cultivate passion -- both from a company-wide perspective (by sharing visions and values, and maintaining a rewarding work culture) and at a personal level (through training and development opportunities).