“What are you passionate about?” may not be the toughest interview question you’ll ever be asked, but it’s probably a top contender for most awkward. While the question itself is pretty straightforward, it can feel uncomfortable to share your personal interests with a complete stranger.
You might also ask yourself, “What does my passion have to do with this job?” If you’re applying for a position as an accountant, it hardly seems like the time to reveal that you’re an avid knitter. And what if you can’t think of anything you’re passionate about? Will the interviewer write you off as someone who will lack the interest and drive to complete their daily job duties?
If an interviewer asks you this question, chances are the reason behind it is simple: They want to get to know you better, says to Muse career coach Al Dea. Hiring managers often want to know what excites you even if it’s not job-related, and also get a glimpse of what your life is like outside of work.
“It’s a simple way of truly getting to know a candidate, not just about their professional background, but on a personal level as well,” Dea says. “Given that people spend a good amount of their lives at work, it’s very sensible to have this insight about a potential colleague.”
While you shouldn’t stress over discussing the things you’re passionate about with an employer, it’s a good idea to approach your answer in a way that shows off your strengths as a candidate. It’s also important to be honest. “The key to answering this question is to first and foremost be genuine and real,” Dea explains. The last thing you want to do is give an answer you don’t really mean just because you think that’s what the interviewer wants to hear. It will come off as inauthentic and only hurt your chances of being hired.
Here are a few ways you can answer, depending on what you’re passionate about and just how relevant it is to the job you want.
1. When Your Passion Is Directly Related to Work
Maybe you’re a software engineer who spends all of your spare time working on a coding side project. Or you’re applying for a content strategist role and also run your own personal blog. This is the easiest scenario to be in, since you can draw a direct line between what you love to do outside of work and the actual job duties.
Your answer might sound something like this:
“This probably isn't surprising coming from an engineer, but I love experimenting with code. For example, when I started playing World of Warcraft, I really hated the interface, so I wanted to try to write my own. I had to teach myself a new coding language, Lua, and seek out communities that supported that language, and communities of other people who were modding the same game. I really enjoyed the process of discovery and getting feedback from the community. It's exactly why I enjoy what I do all day as an engineer.”
Or in the case of the content strategist with the personal blog, you might say:
“I’ve gotten really interested in personal finance lately, so I started a blog and I’ve been creating weekly posts for it. It’s been fun to use my content and marketing skills on a type of content that’s really different from my day job, and I’ve had a chance to learn a lot more about SEO, too.”
2. When Your Passion Is Unrelated to the Job
It might feel weird to talk about your passion when it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the job you’re interviewing for. Still, it’s perfectly fine to mention an interest that doesn’t seem job-related on paper. Most employers want you to have a life outside of work and do what makes you happy. That being said, if you can, “take it one step further and connect how your passion would make you an excellent candidate for the role you are applying for,” Dea says.
So if you’re that knitting accountant, you might say:
“One of my favorite pastimes is knitting—I love being able to create something beautiful from nothing. Of course, knitting also requires a keen attention to detail and a lot of patience. Luckily, as an accountant I have cultivated both of those qualities!”
Another scenario is when you not only know what you’re passionate about, but you live and breathe it every day. You probably spend every spare minute on it and have no intention of giving it up, even after you land a new role.
Being 100% in tune with your passion is commendable. Still, you don’t want to give a potential employer the impression that pursuing your passion will interfere with your ability to focus on work obligations.
Craft your answer in a way that expresses your enthusiasm for your passion, but also lets the employer know you’ll work on it off the clock. You might say something like:
“I’m actually a semi-pro tennis player and spend most of my spare time training. In fact, all of my vacation time in the past few years has been used to travel around the country to compete. Playing this sport has given me drive and focus, and makes me even more productive at work so I can complete my tasks efficiently and still have time for training.”
3. When You’re Still Figuring Out Your Passion
Depending on where you’re at in your career—and personal life—you may not have a clear idea of your passions. Maybe you have several interests and hobbies, but not one that sticks out as a main focus. Perhaps the things you used to be passionate about don’t excite you as much anymore.
If this sounds like you, Dea recommends thinking about where your time is focused. “Time is often a reflection of our priorities, and in many instances, our priorities are aligned to our interests and passions,” Dea explained. “If you don’t think you have a passion, ask yourself: Where do you spend your time? If you had a free day where you could do anything you wanted, how would you spend that time? That’s a good starting point.”
While you might not think you’re particularly passionate about anything at the moment, maybe you currently prioritize volunteering a few times a week. To tie this in with work-related skills, you could say something like:
“I have a few interests, but lately I’ve been spending quite a bit of time volunteering with the Humane Society. I love their mission and I love working with animals, so it’s been the perfect opportunity for me. While volunteering, I’ve honed my organizational skills in keeping the animals on a set daily routine, and have worked in compliance with the Humane Society safety procedures.”
Your answer doesn’t have to be something that altruistic. Suppose you spend a lot of time at the gym—you can try an answer like this:
“I put a high priority on my health, so I’m really passionate about fitness. I work out four or five times a week and keep a daily journal of my meals. This has helped me stay disciplined, learn what works for me and where I can improve, and keep track of my short- and long-term fitness goals.”
When answering the question “What are you passionate about?” during an interview, remember to always be honest, and when it’s appropriate, clearly communicate how your passion would make you an asset to your potential employer. It may feel awkward at first, but don’t be afraid to share a little about yourself!
Photo of person in job interview courtesy of GlobalStock/Getty Images.
Quinisha is a freelance marketing consultant, U.S. Navy veteran, and part-time Staff Writer with The Muse. She writes about topics on career development, diversity and inclusion, and financial literacy for entry- and mid-level professionals. You can follow her on Twitter: @KWright0702.More from this Author