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When interviewing for a job I sometimes get the question of why I want to join their company. Which to me is a valid question. But recently I got the question what makes me passionate about their industry. It was for a company doing background checks.

What kind of answer would they be expecting in this case? I'm guessing there aren't that many people who've been dreaming of working in the background check industry since childhood.

I ended up answering the question like I always do, that I'm interested in the professionalism of the team and methodologies used.

What's a better way to answer a question like this when you don't find the industry remotely interesting?

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First, I would say do not fake your passion, the most important point is to sound honest. It will not do you any good if they spot that you showed false interest in their field, they could lead you to questions regarding the industry that you would not be able to answer for example.

To me, this question is more about finding if you knew beforehand the industry and how do you feel about it. The term "passionate" makes me question though if they asked that in order to see if you do not have any inappropriate thoughts regarding the business, as Kyralessa mentioned in the comments.

If you do not find it interesting, first, do you know about it enough to say that? Try to stay open minded. A proper answer could be, "I do not know much about the industry but I am willing to learn how it works, especially in your team/company as I am interested by [what attracted you to this company in the first place]". If you already know about it and cannot care less about this particular field ... Be honest. "I worked in this industry/I have heard about it from friends/reading articles here, but what really attracts me here is your [what attracted you to this company in the first place]"

  • if you really need a job, honnesty will probably not get you as far as answering what they want to hear. And if you ask such stupid questions, you shouldn't be surprised to get fake answers... – Laurent S. Feb 20 at 12:17
  • @LaurentS. For the second part ... definitely, but if they ask such stupid questions they probably are not aware that they are stupid (or they follow a standardized form without questioning it). For the first part, I'd argue it depends on how convincing you can be and how discerning the recruiters are. It is ultimately your choice to try it or not, but if it is an important lie/the recruiters are the ones you will work with during the job, it will catch up to you eventually. – Ara Feb 20 at 12:44
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When the conversation moves towards topics like this is can be difficult. However, sometimes it helps to try to understand intent.

When someone is asked if they have passion for something, it has a double meaning, both positive and negative.

The negative: They want to work you into the ground. There was a study done on this and it concluded that passionate people tend to be exploited at work.

In another study, participants rated it more legitimate to exploit workers in jobs more traditionally associated with passion, such as an artist or social worker, than in jobs not generally seen as a labor of love, such as a store clerk or bill collector.

This is a REAL problem and we should absolutely worry about it. There's also this as well:

The researchers also found the reverse is true: people who are exploited in their job are more likely to be seen as passionate about their work. Participants read about a Ph.D. student’s working relationship with their graduate advisor. Those who read a scenario in which the student was being exploited – verbally abused and given unreasonable deadlines – rated the student as likely to be more passionate than students who weren’t being exploited.

Then there's issues associated with burnout. The Harvard Business Review wrote about this as well.

In contrast, those with obsessive passion display higher levels of negative affect over time and display more maladaptive behaviors. They report higher levels of negative affect during and after activity engagement; they can hardly ever stop thinking about their work, and they get quite frustrated when they are prevented from working. They also persist when it’s risky to do so (just like a pathological gambler). A reason for this is that their work forms a very large part of their self-concept.

That's a lot of negative, but I wanted to take this opportunity to establish that there absolutely is an interest to exploit people's work and I don't want it to as front and forward in this conversation.

The positive: So, in truth we want to work with people of passion because passion matters in how we do things. Again back to intent. Passion is likely a misplaced use of the word. What they mean is "what has attracted you to this position" and that is an easily answerable question. You can talk about working with people or you really enjoy team work. You might be detail oriented and maybe you like that. There's a lot of sub-skills or areas of an industry that you can find things that genuinely interest you. Sometimes we apply for a paycheck, but sometimes while getting that paycheck we find little things that we legit enjoy doing and also want to be good at (passion!). So I would lean in that direction. I would up front as say:

I don't know if can say honestly, that I'm passionate about the industry. But I like (example of some subtask or element of the job that interests you) and I feel it would be interesting to that in this context.

What I suggest, before any job interview, do some research on the type of work you're applying for and try to find sub-tasks that interest you. When the passion question comes up you can both be honest and also sell yourself at the same time. Everyone isn't passionate about their industry, but you don't need to be. You need to be passionate about your WORK and that's important, I think.

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The answer they are looking for is an honest and sincere one from you.

They want to know if you are looking for a job, or if you are building your career.

Wanting to know about your passion for an industry is a good way to determine your knowledge base of the industry, and how much they'll need to train you.

If this were a financial industry job, and you can't relay what your passionate about it, I'd know that you'd likely not know much about equity swaps, for example, and I'd likely have to train you if it related to your job function.

The shipping industry would require a basic knowledge of tariffs, maritime law, and bills of lading. Media would require a knowledge of "copy" and many of the industry terms, et cetera.

It is also a stress question, designed to get a reaction from you. But you should be able, in the very least be able to express some interest in the field. If you can't express this, they're going to wonder how long you're going to stay with the company and industry.

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“I like helping people and think this opportunity gives me that ability.” This could basically be true of any service industry. But you could prepare a better answer by simply thinking of the positive things the industry does and formulating a response based on that.

As far as that specific industry, background checks help employers filter out people with an undesirable history. Person wants to work in a bank, but has $100,000 in credit card debt? That would certainly be something likely to prevent a hire and not really any other way to find it out without requiring the candidate allowing a credit check. What if their credit is great, but they had a felony embezzlement conviction? Background check catches that; a checkbox in the application does not. And so on.

No industry is completely without some merit if you think about it.

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Why is this industry attractive for you?

Apparently doing background checks wasn't your childhood dream. However, there are still aspects why you're applying there instead of, for example, food processing or retail, and you can and should mention these. For example:

  1. You understand the purpose of the industry, the goal why others might need background checks (e.g. so that convicted pedophiles don't get jobs as shoolteachers, or people with extreme unpaid debts don't get hired as bank cashiers, or whatever you feel is the purpose of background checks), and feel that this purpose is valuable and it's great to be part of making this thing happen;
  2. You like the prospects of working in the industry - e.g. the industry may be fast growing, or lucrative, or prestigious, or a stable thing to work that will have jobs even in an economic downturn - not all industries are equal in these aspects, so those are valid aspects why you might be looking for a job there and not somewhere else.
  3. You have some personal connection or familiarity with the industry - that also is a decent reason; if you know some of the ins-and-outs if industry X, then you're more effective there than elsewhere.
  4. Lack of negative factors - if you purposefully excluded some somewhat similar employers from your search for some reason, then this is the place to mention it. For example "I last worked in a gambling company, but I feel that this industry prey's on people's weakness, and I really want to work in an industry that helps honest people do their best", or whatever's appropriate for your situation.
  5. etc, etc - there are all kinds of factors that don't really distinguish company X from their competitors in the same industry, but are meaningful when comparing them against job options in other industries. Truly, why did you send your offer to them instead of some totally other job?

They want to hear that you know why you chose that industry and prefer it - because otherwise it seems that you didn't really chose it and don't prefer it, and are more likely than others to quit because you really want to do something entirely else.

  • Fair enough. But why use the word passion in this context then? Because none of the things you list is related to that. – dan-klasson Feb 20 at 13:27
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I've worked in IT for all sorts of companies including the medical, financial, healthcare, law enforcement, and now a factory. The industry is less relevant than the type of work I'm doing: IT.

If that's the case for you, be honest and say that. Don't fake it and claim to have an interest in the field, as much as tell them what you like about the job -- and what it is that you'll be doing for it.

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passion

/ˈpaʃ(ə)n/

  1. strong and barely controllable emotion.

If a company is looking for passionate candidates, they should specify it in the ad. The definition leaves little room for misinterpretation. According to definition it's an emotion that nobody can have for everything.

After so many years in the 🚫🚫🚫 * industry with a passion that I carry for too long to remember, I've learned one thing: there is no such thing as passion at work. I was passionate about what I do. I'm not anymore. I try to enjoy but I avoid passion. Passion can kill you. Mentally or physically (or both). So my answer is biassed and as such please read with a grain of salt.

The answer assumes that the industry you work for is not directly related to your field or studies. If you try to become an accountant, and you studied being an accountant, while you don't find the industry remotely interesting as you've said, then sorry but I can't help.

If on the other hand you are a software developer (like myself) that might have the chance to work for many industries not directly related to IT, then my (subjective) advice is that you don't need passion. They have a problem. Software related problem. If you feel (and you should feel IMHO) strong enough to solve these problems then focus on this during the interview.

If someone asked me why am I passionate about their industry I would take it as a sign that they are looking for the wrong guy for the job. I would possibly walk away. I am as passionate to work for the industry as they are to pay my salary. I would never ever say that, but I would like honesty during the interview and at least not pretend that it isn't true. I work for almost 10 years and I've worked for several unrelated industries. How could I be "passionate" for all of them? I am focused though to deliver the best work possible, but if I exhibit passion, this is related to my industry, not necessarily theirs.

* removed to preserve anonymity

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