I heard this phrase a lot while hallway tracking at RubyConf, and I hear it regularly talking with clients seeking help with their hiring processes:

“We look for passion in candidates.”

There are two questions I ask when I hear this:

  • What are you seeking passion in?
  • How will that help your product, your team, or your company?

I ask these questions because passion in the wrong place is counterproductive.

Image of two gazelles with horns locked and in conflict

What do you do if a candidate is passionate only about code, but your team cares about how the message is delivered? or if your company prioritizes delivering value to the customer?

How about if a candidate joins who is passionate for your product, but the company needs to pivot away?

What about the candidate who is passionate about learning, but your focus is on maintaining your legacy application?

“Passion” is a tempting attribute to filter on. It feels like something that will be easy to identify, and difficult to fake. It seems like something that all the other companies are selecting for - they can’t all be wrong, can they?

It’s not wrong to admire passion in your colleagues, but it’s not a useful attribute to hire on when considered outside your business needs. Passion – strong feelings, emotions, beliefs, or desires – cannot serve your team’s needs on its own. Instead, figure out what you hope for when you seek passion in your candidates. What behavior are you seeking that will support your company?

Are you looking for someone who is curious about

  • Your business
  • Your codebase
  • Your processes
  • Your team
  • All of the above

Or maybe you’re looking for someone who is eager to learn

  • Mature software techniques and libraries that can be applied to your codebase
  • Bleeding edge software techniques and libraries to be introduced to your codebase
  • All software in general
  • Only whatever will be most useful to your product

Maybe you’re looking for someone who will make a plan and begin to execute on it? or for someone who will defy orders to carry their own dream to reality?

Passion isn’t a terrible attribute to have, but an incompatible mismatch between a candidate’s passion and your company goals can lead to frustration and conflict. Save yourself that pain and lost productivity, and if you still want to seek out passion in your candidates, know what that passion should be for and how it will help you. Hire candidates whose passion is in an area aligned with your company’s goals.

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