A few months ago, I had lunch with an old friend and her husband, Brint, whom I had never met. I soon learned that he was about to graduate from Johns Hopkins and was looking for a job. Eager to learn how I could help, I asked about the types of jobs and industries that interested him. He responded, “I want to use my hands and brains, take questions, find answers, and be outdoors at least some of the time.”


“Really?” I asked jokingly. “Could ya get anymore specific?”


Brint’s serious look let me know that he wasn’t messing around, so I tried another approach. “You’re about to graduate, right?” I asked.


“Yep, just finishing my degree in environmental engineering,” he said.


“OK, so you’re interested in environmental engineering jobs then, right?”


“Yes, I want to be in charge of water-quality engineering or management.”


Now, that’s specific! He did know what he was looking for; yet, the first words out of his mouth left me wondering if he wanted to be a landscaper, a golf-course supervisor, a cattle herder, or any of the other thousand jobs a person could perform outside using his hands and brain.


Next, I asked why he chose this career path. Brint’s face lit up, and he spent the next five minutes passionately explaining his interest in water quality. He also mentioned two organizations where he’d like to work – and I knew people at both. Based on his first answer, which made my eyes glaze over, I wouldn’t have wasted their time. But when he started talking about why he wanted an environmental-engineering job, I was captivated by his passion – and happy to make the connections.


Nearly all the world-class leaders I’ve interviewed over the last decade (and for my next book) rank passion as a top priority in selecting new hires. By way of explanation, most of them say something to the effect of, “I can teach them how to do anything but I can’t teach them how to have passion.” 


So, if you want to stand out, look for a job and/or company that gets you excited – and be ready to communicate that enthusiasm. Here’s how:


  1. Get specific. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, how can you communicate it to others so they can help (or so they will hire you)? Nine times out of ten, I hear job seekers say, “I just want to find a job.” And I want to respond, “Really? Because I hear the diner down the street is hiring. And if that’s the job you want, go get it!” Get specific about the following items: Which organizations (pick up to three) interest you most? What skills/talents do you most enjoy using?
  2. Know your why. Do you know why you want to do a particular job or work for a particular company? Is it simply because you’re good at it, or because you don’t know what else to do?  Be sure that whatever jobs you go after tap into your passions, and be able to explain why.
  3. Communicate your value. Once you’re clear about what gets you excited, you have to get potential employers excited about you. How can your skills and experiences add value to your top-choice companies? And how will your passion boost their bottom lines?
  4. Ask. For the most part, people want to help. Once you have clearly-articulated thoughts about what you want and why, ask your extended network to make appropriate introductions. Remember, what you’re really asking for is an opportunity to add value. Most of us want to help people with such a goal, even if we don’t know them well. I barely knew Brint, but after he told me exactly how he wanted to contribute and why, I wanted to introduce him to people who could help him find a way in – knowing that it would be a win/win for both of my contacts.


Ultimately, Brint refocused his language, got those interviews and shared his passion. Do you think he landed a job? Absolutely! And with the answers to the questions above, so will you!


Rock on,


Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations and Hidden Heroes