Use Passion to Stand Out as a Job Candidate

When competition is stiff, demonstrating your passion for the job could give you an extra edge over other applicants.

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Curt Rosengren
If you’re in the job search, you know how stiff the competition is. It’s not enough to simply have what it takes to do the job. You have to make yourself stand out from the hordes of other job seekers. And one way to do that is by showing you have passion.

But beyond jumping up and down in your seat and waving your hands in the air (an iffy approach at best), how do you make a solid case for the passion you’ll bring to the job?

Ask what you love. Then ask why.

You can start by identifying what I call your “Passion Factors,” the underlying themes that are present when you feel energized and engaged. When you understand your Passion Factors, you can show how the potential job would be a source of energy for you.

[See How to Answer the Interview Question, What are Your Weaknesses?]

To identify your Passion Factors, make a list of the things that have lit you up over the course of your life—work or play. For each of those things, ask, “Why? What is it about that that is so much fun? Why is that so energizing to me?” For each of those first reasons you identify, ask why again. Think of it as a reverse engineering process to identify the underlying reasons why you love what you love.

In identifying my own Passion Factors, for example, I might say, “I love travel photography. Why? Because I love the exploration and discovery, the creative stimulation, and new ways of looking at things.”

I would then loop back and ask why about each of those, “Why is exploration and discovery so appealing to me? What is it about that creative stimulation I find so engaging? Why is the chance to look at things in a new way so energizing?” Then I would repeat the process for the answers to each of those.

To get the most insight out of this exploration, challenge yourself to go down four levels of asking why. (More tips on finding your Passion Factors.)

As you explore more experiences that light you up, you’ll find the same reasons why keep coming up. Things that look like apples and oranges (like my Passion Catalyst coaching and my travel photography hobby) actually share common themes when you dig down into the underlying reasons they energize you (both my coaching and my travel photography are packed with opportunities for exploration and discovery).

[See The 50 Best Careers of 2011.]

Your Passion Factors—the recurring reasons why you love what you love—are where you find your energy. I think of them as fuel cells. When you have a job that is chock full of those Passion Factors, you are bound to feel energized.

How to use your Passion Factors in the job search

So how does all this relate to the job search? It gives you another dimension that you can use to demonstrate why you’re the best fit for the job.

Imagine two people vying for a job. They’re both equally qualified from a skills perspective, but one is able to clearly, concisely and convincingly say, “Sure, I have the skills to do this job, but more than that, I would also be completely on fire about it. Here’s why.” All things being equal, which one do you suppose would be the more appealing candidate?

To tell your “passion story,” start by asking a simple question: “How do my Passion Factors show up in the job I’m aiming for?” If the Passion Factor in question is a sense of exploration and discovery, where does that show up in the work? If it’s a chance to solve complex problems, or an opportunity to create order out of chaos, how would you get a chance to do that?

For each of your Passion Factors, make a list of how you see them showing up in the job you’re seeking. This will give you specific examples to draw from as you make a case that the position is made for you. You can reinforce that by identifying examples of how each of those Passion Factors has shown up in your past work experience as well.

[For more career advice, visit U.S. News Careers, or find us on Facebook or Twitter.]

Once you have done that foundational work, you have a new tool in your job-search toolbox. As you talk to people, whether in your networking or in an actual interview, you can say, “Not only can I do have the skills to do this job, but I was made to do this job! Let me tell you why. Here are the recurring themes I have identified that are present when I’m most energized, and here is how I see them showing up in this job. If you want an employee who not only has the ability to do the job, but is also inherently energized by it, I’m the one for you.”

The better you can express why you’re the right candidate for the job, and the more you can make yourself stand out from the crowd, the better your chances are of hearing those magic words: “You’re hired!”

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.