That’s an odd question

What’s your passion?

I ask this question every time I interview someone for a job. At first it tends to stymie the interviewee because he doesn’t know what kind of answer I want, so I usually follow it by asking, If you were at a party, what’s the one topic that could keep you talking all night? I can tell the minute the question hits home because the interviewee’s eyes light up and the answer pops out before he has a chance to think about it. It may not be typical for an interview, but I learn a lot from this line of questioning.

Over time, I’ve come to believe that a person who can answer this question without a lot of thought has a pretty decent sense of self; he doesn’t have to search for focus. In addition, if he is really passionate about something, he can’t leave that thing alone–and he can’t wait to tell me about it. He finds ways to touch it, feel it, play with it whenever he can in his daily life, even if actually doing the thing isn’t practical all the time.

What do I mean? If a person’s passion is world travel, for example, he may not be able to afford frequent trips. I’d be willing to bet, though, that he’s the guy who reads travel magazines, eagerly asks questions about friends’ trips, watches TV shows about exotic places, and is always researching his next destination on the internet. 

I’d much rather have a person on my team who finds creative ways to feed his hunger than someone who lets his passion languish. He’s the guy who can focus on a goal, who knows how to jump hurdles and find alternate solutions. He has drive, commitment, and enthusiasm; I just have to figure out how to tap into them. That’s a much easier task than trying to develop those qualities in someone. (In fact, except where it concerns my kids, that’s not my job.)

There’s certainly a longer list of criteria that I have for my hiring process, and there’s no wrong answer to my passion question. I don’t hire people based on their passions themselves, but I don’t hire people who aren’t passionate about something.

The next time you want to get to know someone–whether in an interview or just in conversation–ask the question. You might be surprised what you learn.

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