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Among the traits and abilities that lead to success, passion stands alone. Unlike skill, knowledge, or other factors, passion is innate: it can’t be learned or acquired but is always present. Passion, an overwhelming drive to reach one’s goals, is the one factor that unites all successful people in equal measure.

When asked to reflect on his long and successful NBA career, Michael Jordan said:

The greatest thing about the game of basketball to me is the passion and the love I have for it. Because when you have a love for anything, you’ll go to the extreme to maintain that level. . . . To be the best at anything, you’ve got to have a certain love for that to make you overcome all the obstacles that will be thrown in your way.1

Passion powers the hard work, determination, and creativity that make great accomplishments possible. Successful novelists, film directors, scientists, CEOs, world-class athletes, and other people who have risen to the tops of their fields all possess a deep motivation that gives them the wherewithal to work extraordinarily hard at something even when it’s uncertain how, when, and even if they will enjoy rewards for their efforts.

Because passion can’t be taught or faked, recruiters need to be able to identify truly passionate candidates reliably. This is no easy task, especially because people who are passionate about getting a job may not necessarily be passionate about doing that job once they have it. But the ability to identify genuine passion is critical to being able to hire the best possible candidates.

WHY PASSION MATTERS

Passion correlates to a person’s desire and capacity to go above and beyond the call of duty to achieve superlative outcomes. Clearly, passionate employees contribute more to an organization. Passion is also an indicator of an individual’s future success. Even if someone’s resume checks all the right boxes (e.g., good college, relevant experience, compatible personality), the absence of genuine passion means that he or she could easily wind up as an average or even below-average hire. The difference in ROI between average hires and great hires can add up to a lot of money—by some estimates as much as a million dollars over the course of an employee’s time at a company. By any measure, these are massive stakes.

FINDING PASSION

Despite its importance, passion remains a difficult skill to define. Trying to identify passion is a bit like trying to identify motivation: the key to is figure out the “why” rather than the “what.” Why did someone accomplish what he or she did? Is a particular individual motivated by money, recognition, or something else entirely? Does someone thrive on solving complex problems? Or on being part of a team and helping others out? Finding the answers to these questions can help a recruiter figure out how well a candidate aligns with an organization.

If a recruiter correctly identifies in a candidate 90% of the key skills needed to thrive in a role but offers the job to someone who doesn’t have enough passion for it, the result could still be a bad hire—even though the candidate has the “official” qualifications. So it behooves recruiters to learn what passions are most predictive of success in various roles, starting by asking the right questions.

As early as the phone screen, ask candidates about their goals to find out what drives them. Are they team-oriented or more individualistic? Do they focus on the long term or on the short term? What matters to them when it comes to work? What makes them get up in the morning? What gives them satisfaction? A candidate’s responses to these questions can yield crucial insight into how he or she will perform within the organization’s work culture and expectations.

FAILURE AS A PRECURSOR TO SUCCESS

The etymology of the word passion is the Latin pati, which means “to suffer” or “to endure.” Over the centuries, the meaning of passion has evolved considerably. But one enduring aspect is the idea that it involves a certain degree of forbearance.

Work is rarely easy. Succeeding at work requires a willingness to grit one’s teeth, dig deep, and grind it out when the going gets tough. It also means not quitting when something doesn’t work out as intended or hoped. Passion can help people power over these hurdles— another reason why it is a desirable trait among successful candidates.

Regardless of a person’s industry, career path, or talent level, he or she will inevitably encounter some failure and might not achieve success for years. The path to success looks more like a zigzag than a straight line, and how well a candidate is prepared to endure, learn from, and overcome setbacks will determine his or her performance. For example, Steffi Graf played on the professional tennis circuit for almost five seasons before winning the first of her 22 Grand Slam titles—a feat she probably would not have accomplished if she had reacted badly to losing!

Identifying how candidates respond to failure is essential to identifying their resilience. People who deal with failure by assessing and adapting are apt to see it as an opportunity to learn and improve. But responding positively to failure is impossible for people who don’t care enough about why they’re doing what they’re doing in the first place. Passion is what generates the desire to learn, try again, and do better next time.

THE STUFF OF GREATNESS

Passion is the fuel that inspires and drives people toward specific goals, no matter how unlikely or difficult they might be. It generates the enthusiasm needed to plow through the biggest obstacles and overcome the most intractable challenges. It inspires loyalty, teamwork, hard work, and, eventually, success.

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William Clarke is a writer for Entelo, a new and better way to recruit. The Entelo platform combines machine learning, predictive analytics, behavioral listening, and social signals to help recruiting organizations identify, qualify, and engage with talent. To learn how leading companies such as Facebook, Schneider Electric, and Tesla are building their teams using Entelo, visit www.entelo.com.

1. Interview with Michael Jordan conducted by Ahmad Rashad. 2013. One on One with Ahmad Rashad, February 18, NBA TV.

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