Passion in the workplace

“Why is it that job ads increasingly state a requirement for candidates to be ‘passionate’?”

That was a response to a job vacancy posted on a mailing list for science communicators to which I subscribe. A largely tongue-in-cheek discussion followed – one poster saying he’d only worry when the next stage required applicants to be lustful!

There is a real issue here. Good recruitment practice sets out a person specification against which an application is scored. Best practice maximises the objectivity and minimises the subjectivity of the recruitment panel members.

So how do you measure passion objectively?

Is this a real problem? Well, passion certainly seems to be in demand. In April 2013, the Guardian newspaper reported on its request of search company, Adzuna, to put together a list of the top ten recruitment buzzwords. At number eight in the buzzword league table was “passionate”, mentioned in about one in ten adverts (47,971, in fact). Although beaten by the unsurprising “organised”, “qualified” and “flexible” (among others), “passionate” outranked “track record” (40,471 ad mentions) and “innovative” (36,581 ad mentions).

In the interests of curiosity, if not statistics, I did some of my own research, set out in the table below. While, quite probably unrepresentative of the whole UK jobs market, it reveals that passion is not a peculiarity of Adzuna’s database.

Passion % of total adverts Passionate % of total adverts Total adverts


15% 71 9%



3% 232 3% 8166


5% 22 3%



4% 142 4%



8% 8882 5%

165420 82 15% 66 12%


Although passion seems mostly required in the creative industries and public relations sector, it is not exclusively so. A quick dig into the adverts on the Guardian site found passion required of an RE teacher in Slough, a store manager for Curry’s/PC World, a purchase ledger clerk and even a position known as a ‘growth hacker’.

So how do you prove you have passion? Is it something you either have or don’t have? Would there be a practical test at interview?

The Guardian’s article provided some expert advice from Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University. Although similar to “committed” and “motivated” there is something more extrovert to “passionate”, according to Professor Cooper – “someone who really cares”.

Yet measuring how extrovert or caring an applicant is seems almost as tricky as measuring their passion.

You might ask if this really matters.

There is some evidence that a person’s characteristics affects how they respond to the words used in job adverts. For example, researchers at the University of Waterloo, Canada, found results “indicated that job advertisements for male-dominated areas employed greater masculine wording (i.e., words associated with male stereotypes, such as leader, competitive, dominant) than advertisements within female-dominated areas.” There is a suggestion that gender inequality in a workplace may be reinforced through the language used in recruitment.

And this may have implications because of recent changes in legislation. The Equality Act 2010 makes it “unlawful to discriminate against, harass or victimise a person at work or in employment services” on the basis of one or more of their ‘protected characteristics’. This includes the recruitment process.

So, while a desire for passion might not leave an employer fighting a case at Employment Tribunal, there may be better words to use instead. After all, other words are indeed to be left out. For example, the Equality and Human Rights Commission advises: “Avoid using words and phrases such as ‘young and dynamic’ or ‘mature person’. These could result in a complaint of age discrimination since they suggest an employer is looking for applicants from a particular age group.”

And, given the difficult jobs market, how will you really know an applicant isn’t faking it anyway?

Must you boast?

It can be hard to like someone who “talks with excessive pride and self-satisfaction about their achievements, possessions, or abilities”; ie they boast.

Yet, the word ‘boast’ is widely used in marketing materials, company brochures and even CVs, such as in these examples:

  • “Stunning detached Victorian family house which boasts considerable charm and character.”
  • “Our company boasts 100 professional translators and interpreters.”
  • “My experience boasts a wide range of competencies.”

Is ‘boasting’ helping? Each statement may provoke an emotional reaction; but is it a positive one?

Estate agents might be forgiven. Their use of language is often idiosyncratic.

Maybe a company may boast. Though as impersonal entities, the negative tone may not be helpful to the company’s image.

But should an individual’s CV explicitly boast? CVs are, after all, supposed to be judged. Will the prospective employer think that the skills and achievements merit any pride or satisfaction, let alone excessively so?

None of the statements above need ‘boast’. Simply replacing ‘boast’ with ‘has’ would take away the negative tone.

If an emotional reaction is sought, why not make it easier for the reader? As they stand the statements are about facts or features. Presumably these have some benefit, otherwise they wouldn’t be mentioned. So, why not reword to make the benefit clear?

Some benefit arises because of some attribute. So if any b-word should be used it is ‘because’.