On the wish list for many a person interviewing for a job is to come across as self-confident, to make a good first impression (or know how to overcome it if you don't), or to be perceived as a great leader. But no wish is greater than wishing you knew exactly what words to say to get that job you're interviewing for.
Science may be just the seer you needed.
A new study by Kaitlin Wooley (Cornell University) and Ayelet Fishbach (University of Chicago) showed that job candidates frequently underestimate how much recruiters want to hear them say four magic words.
"I love my work."
At the same time, job candidates tend to overestimate how much recruiters want to hear the following words:
"I'm interested in advancing my career."
It's not that you shouldn't indicate your ambition in an interview and highlight your achievements to date. It's about balancing that with expressions of appreciation for what you spend eight to ten hours a day working on. This is about articulating the power of intrinsic motivation (doing something for the sake of the joy it brings), over extrinsic motivation (doing something for the material, external reward).
The study showed that employers get it wrong as well, botching their recruitment pitches. Employers consistently underestimate how much aspiring new employees want to hear that a company values intrinsic motivation and that the company provides meaningful work for its employees.
The researchers wrote this of job candidates and interviewers/employers: "People failed to realize others cared about intrinsic motivation as much as they did; therefore, they underestimated how much expressing that they valued intrinsic motivation mattered to others."
When candidates articulate that they love the work they do, it signals that they're motivated intrinsically, by an inner drive to contribute and create.
It means their work gives them meaning, and meaning is the motivating force that sustains engagement over time.
In other words, they're not as motivated by perks, pay, or promotions, something the employer may not be readily able to provide anyway. This should send positive flares up for the recruiter. Show me someone who loves what they do and I'll show you someone who you'll love to be around. And someone who self-sustains motivation.
I can personally attest to this on two fronts. First, I was the marketing recruiting team leader for Procter & Gamble at Indiana University for many years and had the opportunity to interview more MBA candidates than I can possibly remember. But a consistent theme for me in those that stood out was a burning passion for the nature of the job/work they did in the past, in and of itself.
Those that articulated that their jobs allowed them to create, solve problems, work in teams, coach, and do things they were passionate about, made an impression on me. They made it easy to visualize them on my team, contributing in a high-energy, positive-minded way. If they loved their work, it was more likely I loved them.
On the personal front, I'm always drawn to and appreciative of people who are attacking their jobs with gusto, no matter what they do. I'm a big-tipper for waitresses who clearly show they love their job. I always smile when I see that energetic, smiling traffic cop at my daughter's school. I really do "have a great day" when a cheery barista tells me too.
As a job candidate, why wouldn't you want to generate that kind of transferred energy, that kind of "I wish everyone were like that" sentiment? Why wouldn't you want to be easy to visualize as a great addition to a culture/team?
Now of course, if the whole reason you're interviewing is that you don't love what you do at your current job, that's understandable. You never want to tell untruths in an interview.
But that doesn't mean you can't find ways to talk about why you'd love to do the work that's contained within the job you're pursuing. You can say something like, "The kind of work you offer is meaningful and motivating to me. I love to work hard and would love the work I'd be doing in this job because it's x,y,z." If pressed on why you're leaving your current job, you can graciously say, "Because, x,y,z, what I love to do, is missing in my current job."
So in your next big job interview, remember to show that you love your work, not just that you'd love to do it from the corner office.