Nowadays, we're hearing a lot about the importance of hiring highly skilled people. But I think it's important to remember that, while it does count for a lot, experience should never be the dominant standard when looking to hire new talent. In fact, I believe that passion can actually play a greater role in predicting and prompting success in your best employees. Furthermore, I think that if companies actively seek out passionate people who care about what they do, they will not only get better results from these workers, but they will attract better hires going forward.
Why does passion matter?
When my kids were younger, I used to coach a number of their sports teams, and I could always spot the child or two who really didn't want to be there and who was only there because Mom or Dad required it. They were the flower pickers and the ones who didn't run hard, the ones who didn't like swinging a bat or dribbling a basketball. I felt bad for these children. They should have been with friends and playing sports or doing activities that they really wanted to do--learning what they like--not playing a sport to please their parent. On the other hand, I could also easily pick out the kids who wanted to be on the team--because they worked harder. And, when faced with setbacks, they didn't shrug and give in. They got better. Plain and simple.
Passion fosters progress. If you truly enjoy what you do, you naturally work harder at it and you improve. If you don't like it, you won't work as hard, and you won't succeed as often--which, in turn, discourages you even more, so that you like it even less. This is true in sports, and I believe it is definitely true in the workplace.
Work is work, folks. It's hard, day in and day out. Of course you can have fun doing it, but it's not supposed to be nonstop entertainment, as a lot of young folks often can think just starting out in their career. Think about professional basketball players. Sure, they're playing a game that looks like a dream job on the court, but they put in hours upon hours of practice every day--tedious running and shooting over and over again. It is very difficult for the players who love it and more so for the players that don't. If they didn't really love playing, the best players wouldn't subject themselves to that pain every day. But they know that is what's required to be the best, and they love working toward that goal.
Passionate employees are the same; they get up and keep trying until they get it right because they enjoy trying. That's why passion is a vital asset to any company, more important than how many years of schooling or experience someone has. Passionate employees don't approach obstacles as burdens, but rather as interesting problems to solve on the path toward achieving goals.
How do you spot passion in a potential hire?
Ask the right questions.
When you bring someone in for an interview, don't just inquire about their accomplishments--because what they've done is rarely as important as why they did it in the first place. Look for the truth within the background. If a candidate tells me about something they achieved that made them proud, I ask why. Why are you so passionate about that?
What I'm looking to discover is whether or not this candidate is the kind of person who wants something enough, and cares about it enough, and whether she will continue to persevere through difficulties to reach the company's goals. I want to know if this was something that was so innately enjoyable to her that, despite challenges, she would sometimes look up at the clock and wonder where the hours had gone that day. And if I can make a connection between that past project that excited her and the work she would do here at Jobvite, then I support that candidate.
Look at body language.
In every interview, I'm looking at body language and listening to tone of voice as much as I am listening to words--because you can tell when someone is talking about something they genuinely like doing. They sit up straighter, their eyes light up, and they look like they're recounting the story of their first home run. If candidates don't exude that kind of energy, and you don't hear that upbeat and optimistic tone of voice, my advice is to pass on them. (If you can't interview in person, listen carefully on the phone, or conduct a video interview!)
Remember this: While hiring for passion pays off, hiring people without passion can be detrimental to the team spirit. The very best company cultures reject "antibodies" that don't share the passion. If you do hire the wrong person, you'll likely know within a few weeks. You'll see how someone doesn't mesh, and how the way in which they work doesn't reflect the drive the rest of the team displays.
But, if you're lucky enough to build a team of people who sincerely love getting up and going to work together every day, you're on the path to even greater success. Passionate candidates can spot their tribe in action. They'll want to work with you, and chances are, you'll see that desire reflected in your talent pool.