talking about passion in an interview, and an update

Remember the letter-writer who was interviewing for a position as executive director at a nonprofit and who wanted to ask about their budget deficit (#4 at the link)? Here’s the update — and a new question.

First off, the interview did not go all that well in spite of my preparation. I just didn’t do a very good job answering a couple of the questions. And I was notified the next day that I did not get the job. And I think I am relieved.

When I asked about the budget deficit, the board chair muttered “what do you want to ask that for?” They explained that they often have a contract with a city for funding that is not paid on time. Sounded plausible. The person answering the financial questions seemed pretty flustered about responding to why there isn’t a 990 or financial statement for 2014 and 2015. He said they have a year to submit, but hey, it’s now 2016 and he didn’t say anything about submitting anything anytime soon. It was weird.

The board chair responded to my question about “anything I didn’t answer fully” by replying that I didn’t seem “passionate” about the organization. I blew that response too. First off, I have a huge bias with so many people being “passionate” about so many things in their daily lives. And I wholeheartedly agree with the linguist in a report about language on NPR stating it is a word to be used in the bedroom, period. Are we all really, truly that passionate about Teapots and their Teapotterish qualities and the manufacturing thereof? Can’t we just LIKE them A LOT?? Anyway, I do digress. I did not ask the question about board development and fundraising. I felt that I had already waded in too deep and seriously annoyed them.

My point is that I have NO IDEA how to convey that I am “passionate” about an organization, during an interview. I would love some feedback.I am a somewhat reserved person and very professional at first impression. Then I ease into being very warm, friendly and funny later down the road.

I can see myself growing into caring more and more as I work there, get to know the staff I would direct, figure out the culture, meet the partners and spend time with the board members and so on. But I stumbled upon what I should have said. I have no clue.

And I also blew the question about what I would do in the first 30 days. I know now, but didn’t then. But it was a tough group. The board chair uses all caps and an exclamation point for his name on all his correspondence. He came across as imperious and difficult. The person who is an E.D of a quasi-public organization, sitting directly to my right, was not giving me eye-contact and was on her phone off and on during the interview.

I think I dodged a bullet. I don’t think I would have been happy. I was initially angry with myself for blowing it, but now I don’t think it would have been a good fit. This is a classic case of one who is in desperate need of a job, and wanting to fit that in somewhere.

Well, first, I don’t think you’re missing out by not getting this job.

Any organization whose board chair who mutters “what do you want to ask that for?” when you ask about their financials — when you’re the person who will be responsible for those financials and for running the organization that depends on those financials — is an organization that’s not in a healthy place. And it’s not that you should never take on a job leading an organization that’s in the red; it’s that you want to see that they’re being transparent and up-front with you about the situation so that you know what you’re taking on and you’re not blindsided when you start work. They weren’t doing that.

But as for the “passion” thing … it sounds like you have a hang-up about the word that’s maybe getting in your way in interviews, especially with nonprofits, where commitment to the mission is often a huge thing. You’re splitting hairs about the difference between “passion” and “liking something a lot.” If it helps, when you hear someone ask about passion, reword it in your head to “enthusiasm.”

I’m going to quote myself (how lazy!) from this older post about passion in job interviews:

You don’t need to fake passion when you don’t feel it, but when you’re applying at cause-based or faith-based organizations, you often do need to show a strong interest in their mission. You don’t need to act as if it’s your life’s mission if it’s not, but you do want to appear particularly enthusiastic about what they do — more so than in other sectors. If they get the sense that you’d be just as happy working at a bank or a zoo as working with them, you’re signaling to them that you might not quite fit in with what they’re all about. Because what they’re all about is working toward some kind of change, and they want people on their team who are pumped about that.

It’s not just about passion, of course. Passion is no substitute for talent and a track record of results, and nonprofits run into serious trouble when they hire highly passionate candidates who aren’t actually well suited for the job. But it’s reasonable that they want people who think the work they’re doing is awesome. (And that’s especially true for positions that will be dealing directly with their mission, like communications. It’s generally less true for, say, I.T. jobs or accounting.)

So, how does all that affect you? Well, it’s possible that you displayed a completely appropriate amount of enthusiasm and excitement and these people are just unusual in how much of it they want to see. It’s also possible that you didn’t seem all that moved by what they’re doing. There’s a difference, after all, between “it would be nice to work here” and “what you’re doing is fantastic, and I’d be thrilled to be a part of it.”

There’s more advice on passion when you’re a reserved person here.

But really, the big headline from this interview is that they wanted to hire you to run an organization and yet bristled when you asked about their financials. That’s a job to run far away from.

{ 143 comments… read them below }

  1. AMG*

    Anyone who uses all caps and exclamation points in their signature is not someone I am going to get along with. Nope. Bullet dodged, OP. That’s my opinion too.

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      I don’t even see how it is possible to include all caps and an exclamation point for their name without looking like a crazy screaming person.



      1. Snork Maiden*

        See, this signature strikes me as very HR Professional. One might say…extreme HR Professional!

      2. Triangle Pose*

        It’s totally not possible.

        Unless it’s 2007 and you’re a parent posting on social media for the very first time and you write on your kid’s facebook page, “Congrats on making the water polo team, Fergus! Love, MOM!”

        And even then.

      3. Witty Nickname*

        He can’t help that his parents named him FERGUS!. Just imagine how he felt as a child whenever his teachers would just spell it Fergus and he’d have to correct them. Or how often baristas spell it “Forges” on his coffee cups. Or how many coworkers email him all, “Hi Fergus, just checking on the TPS reports referenced below,” even though the signature in his email, which they are replying to, very clearly says “FERGUS!”

          1. Triangle Pose*

            Yay! I am also a new dog owner – going on five months now – and it’s the best, I’m so in love with him. He’s a yellow lab and so loving, cheerful, cuddly, calm and I have completely become of those dog people. (But still a sane person, of course, I don’t push my dog love on people who aren’t into it like those horrid coworkers in that dog-friendly workplace story).

            1. Honeybee*

              It’s been a year and a half for me and my doggie and I still feel that way about my black lab/Boxer mix. Sane, but in love. Sometimes I just look down at her and say “you’re so cute, you’re so adorable!” over and over while I pet her. And she just wags her tail vigorously :D

        1. Triangle Pose*

          Forges! hahahaha.

          I have a friend named Juan and there is one barista at Starbucks who writes “Guam” on his cup. Every time. It’s not his fault because Juan never corrects him, but it’s still hilarious.

            1. Windchime*

              I went to pick up my fast food order one time and they finally found it under “Gloria”. My name isn’t Gloria and it doesn’t start with a G and it doesn’t rhyme with Gloria.

        2. mander*

          Hey, if bell hooks can insist on lower case, I don’t see why FERGUS! can’t have his all caps and exclamation mark.

      4. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Eh, I have an acquaintance in my field who I can imagine doing that. Her personal brand fits that – she’s dreamy-artistic, a bit kooky, very passionate about our work (and super effective and does great work).

        Now, I still think I wouldn’t be at my best working for her. But it wouldn’t make me feel like I dodged a bullet.

        1. Triangle Pose*

          Really? You wouldn’t feel like you had dodged a bullet if you were an interviewee? An interviewee has limited points of contact and information and one of those is a person who signs her name is all caps with an exclamation point.

          You have a lot of context for your acquaintance, you know her personal brand, her work history and that she’s effective and does great work – an interviewee does not have such fulsome context and I think it’s reasonable to make a judgment based on how someone communicates in the workplace. This is just very much not. done. in a professional context.

          1. fposte*

            If I didn’t get a job, I would consider anything I didn’t like to be an excellent justification for why I wouldn’t have wanted that job anyway.

            But when we talk about dodging a bullet I think of it as being something significant, something that means the job is a nightmare and you wouldn’t have applied if you’d known. A single-point piece of information about a person’s signature wouldn’t rise to that for me; it’s a bad sign, but there are bad signs around various decent jobs.

            Now, collectively, the information here does suggest to me that the OP dodged a bullet and wouldn’t have applied if she’d known. But while I’d advise Victoria’s colleague to knock it off if she asked me, I don’t think it’s on its own something that means working with her would be terrible.

            1. Triangle Pose*

              Hmmm…. my comment below about a bullet being dodged was directed at the entirety of the post by OP – on balance, I would say the organization showed her what it is and she is lucky to that insight and not end up in the role.

              Again, I think we need to frame it from an interviewer’s perspective. Victoria didn’t say her colleague does such a thing, just that she could see it. I still consider someone who signs her name in all caps with an exclamation point in all of her correspondence (?!) to be a red flag. I would take that as a sign I need to look deeper into the culture and especially the communication and function of that organization and its members.

              I disagree with you that if I didn’t get a job, I would consider anything I didn’t like to be an excellent justification for why I wouldn’t have wanted that job anyway. I just don’t think that is true in OP’s case given the tone of her letter, and for myself I know I wouldn’t evaluate a rejection that way.

    2. Misty*

      “The board chair uses all caps and an exclamation point for his name on all his correspondence.”

      I got to this part of the letter and literally said out loud: “Oh HELL no.” Put me down in the “bullet dodged” column also, OP.

      1. GreenTeaPot*

        Yup, you dodged one.

        Passion is a trite, overrated word. Professionalism and commitment are what is needed to be non-profit leader. A decade ago, I took a job with that title and wish I had asked more about finances. Transparency is essential.

        Celebrate your close escape!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          “When the passion dies, you have to be able to at least talk to each other.”
          I think I would have said, “It’s not you, it’s me.” And left.

  2. JMegan*

    The “what do you want to know that for?” side-comment is kind of mind-blowing. Um, because managing the finances is a critical component of the job you were applying for?

    I agree with Alison that you learned as much as you need to about the way this organization operates, from that one question alone. Good luck with your ongoing job search?

    1. Artemesia*

      People doing the hiring lie about finances all the time. I would never take an ED job without the financials. I asked the right questions about an organization I joined in a very junior role when I began my career; they simply lied and the place crashed and burned taking my career briefly with it three years later. In my next job, they lied to my boss who was brought in to run a division and after a few months he found himself deeply in the red as promised revenues were not forthcoming. I knew that because of my previous experience and so was already working on a strategy to turn that around and we were able to do so with new programs but like me, he had asked and been reassured.

      Now I would never accept a major executive role without actually seeing the financial reports.

    2. TheAssistant*

      Dude, even not as an ED, it is a pretty critical question. I once interviewed for a job managing a small organization’s donor pipeline, and the Development Director and I dove into the nitty-gritty on their financials during an hour-long interview. It is seriously important, and it made me reconsider my enthusiasm (passion?) for the job – I thought it was too big a role for someone with my expertise.

      1. addiez*

        I’m also in a development role in a nonprofit, and I came into an organization with iffy financials that had a round of layoffs the previous year. My boss gave me a hard time when asking questions, and I backed off – then there was another round of layoffs a month later. Educated people in job interviews (or in offer discussions) ask these questions. If they won’t answer you they’re not encouraging you to be an educated person and you did dodge a bullet. We disclose everything in job interviews now because we want people to know what they’re signing up for.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah it’s a totally legit question to ask no matter the role. I had forgotten it was for a financial position. Nobody wants to go to work on a sinking ship.

  3. HRChick*

    Any company worth their weight would have been thrilled that someone did their research and knew their stuff. The fact that they did not like you knowing all this stuff is a red flag for me – it sounds like they’re avoiding talking about problems.

    As to the passionate issue – I agree, I hate that. I am not “passionate” about my job. I do my job really well. I do everything they ask me to do and more. But, I do not consider myself passionate.

    1. Anna*

      I work for an organization with a mission, one that I am responsible for getting out in to the world, however at no point during my interview did they test the depth of my “passion” for their mission. I think they assumed that what we do is so good, my skills were most important and the love and support of the program would come later. Which it did.

        1. So Very Anonymous*

          “I love this job so much I would do it for free!” Said a boss of mine once in response to being told that everyone in my unit was being overpaid. (We weren’t. But phrasing it that way made me nervous about her ability to go to bat for us to prove that).

        2. VolunteerCoordinatorinNOVA*

          I once had a board member indicate that my passion for the cause would keep working somewhere even if I wasn’t getting paid. It took everything in my being to not roll my eyes.

      1. Betsy*

        I get why having passion would be a requirement in nonprofits, but it’s increasingly used in other sectors too, like tech or PR/communications. Which is funny, because seeming excited about things is something people can and will do for money, and everybody knows that. And passion won’t always make you good at your job.

        1. MashaKasha*

          As everyone who has ever dated knows, you can’t make long-term commitments based on yours or the other person’s passion, because it most certainly will wear off!

          it’s increasingly used in other sectors too, like tech or PR/communications.

          Indeed it is. Words that come to mind are “rock star”. “Code ninja”. “A home away from home”. Uh, nope to all of these things.

          1. Chocolate Teapot*

            My old company kept talking about passion as a key characteristic for its employees. I found it difficult to keep a straight face, and I think my then boss was upset when my response to “What do you like most about your job?” was “The money”.

            1. MashaKasha*

              Hey, I’m pretty passionate about the pay and the benefits. Isn’t everyone?

              It helps when my employer’s product or service is something that doesn’t go against everything I believe in. But other than that, whatever they do, I’m cool with it. I don’t have to be IN LOVE with it.

          2. Mel*

            As a programmer, I find the ninja rockstar thing kind of tacky. I’m not five, you don’t have to patronize me with silly titles to get me to do good work.

            While I’m being a grump, I’m really not a fan of the passion thing either. In tech in particular it feels like there’s this pressure to perform “passion” by spending all of your free time coding. I love coding and all, but my employer does not get to dictate what my hobbies are.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Passion alone definitely won’t make someone good at their job, and too many nonprofit managers in particular use passion as a substitute for talent and then are surprised when the person turns out not to be well suited for the job. Ultimately what you want is passion for getting shit done.

            1. College Career Counselor*

              You can! You just have to have to bowdlerize it a bit. “I have a passion for getting _stuff_ done!” And then follow up with the appropriate GSD example.

              1. Random Citizen*

                Aw, but it’s not the same, and I hardly ever swear, but that sentence has PUNCH!

                Couldn’t resist.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Lol. I love that.

            I have an old friend from way back in the day who is an extremely passion-filled person. I met her in 6th grade, and she has had an unwavering passion for all things Disney ever since (lucky for her, she has two daughters). She has a similar passion for a couple local organizations. . .let’s say a children’s museum. So I could completely see her bringing something that is easily recognized as passion to a job interview at said museum.

            I am such an in-my-own-head person, it would just never happen. I mostly come off like MTV’s Daria, as far as passion is concerned. Sounds terrible, but I’m mostly passionate about me and my own ideas. That can translate to job passion if I get a chance to run with something on my own, but as for an intrinsic “passion” about a organization or mission, nope.

          2. OP, seuuze*

            Amen, amen. In addition, it was not a very comfortable atmosphere. I felt like a deer in the headlights. And since my previous interview was TWO!! months before the second one, it felt like they had no clue what was on my resume. And a deficit in itself was not a deterrent, even though this one was close to 10 percent of their total annual budget. I do not think the budget is in “great shape” as the board chair said in the first interview, if there is a deficit. I don’t think it was a problem taking the job if offered, but I disagree with the board chair on what a budget in “great shape” means.

            Also, the board chair is a founding member from about 30 years ago. My previous experience with long serving board members who are also founders of organizations is not very good. They often seem, as this person was, imperious, self important. I have found them to be unwilling to embrace change or step up and really do what board members should do besides pontificating.

            But I still desperately need a job. But I love all of you posters on here. This is some of the best reading on the web. Thanks ever so much for your support and humor.

          3. OP, seuuze*

            I love that you use “shit” in your comments. Really, truly. And I am that person who gets lots of shit done because I do care a lot.

  4. The Other Dawn*

    “…they wanted to hire you to run an organization and yet bristled when you asked about their financials.”

    One would think they would WANT to hire someone to run a company who thinks of these things. I would. I don’t want the guy that sweeps it under the rug or isn’t thinking about such important things. But I’m not them.

    1. Jamie*

      ESPECIALLY the 990. I can understand wanting to keep some stuff private, but information that’s supposed to be publically available? A lot of donors won’t even consider giving money to organizations without up to date 990s.

  5. AnotherHRPro*

    I agree that this does not sound like a great missed opportunity. On the topic of passion for the work…I can not stress how important this is in the non-profit sector. For most positions in non-profits, not all, incumbents strongly connect with the organization’s mission. This means that just from a cultural perspective, it is important to believe in the mission just to fit in and be part of the team. Generally, a support for the mission is a big minimum qualification hurtle. So, when you are applying for work at nonprofits, really think about why you want to work at that organization. The answer should not be “I need a job and this one looks ok” because that isn’t what nonprofits are looking for. They want to hire people who fully support the reason for their work. If this just isn’t you, you may want to focus on another industry.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I think this is generalizing NFPs – there are so many types and not all of them inspire passion. My non-profit doesn’t count “passion for the mission” as a job requirement at all. Maybe 30% of the people here are passionate about what we do, and I’m being generous. It’s a very corporate environment and I often feel like I work at a consulting firm (I don’t). I’ll be honest – I don’t give a crap about my company’s mission statement. I work here because I get paid well and get 6 weeks of vacation. I’ve worked at an NFP where I was incredibly passionate about their mission, but this place is completely different. And I’m not disgruntled; I actually like my job. I just don’t care about what we do.

      1. Marina*

        I do think it’s different for an ED, though. An ED is always going to be a spokesperson for an organization to some degree. It doesn’t matter if you couldn’t care less about the cause if you’re doing your 9-5 in a cubicle, but if you’re the person the local newspaper calls for a quote, you better sound more than lukewarm.

      2. YawningDodo*

        Yeah, I don’t think all nonprofits can be painted with the same brush. I work for a nonprofit and I really had no passion for their mission going in. It was simply a situation where I had the skills they needed and they had a good enough compensation package for me to take the job. Now, that has changed since I’ve worked here a few years. I still wouldn’t consider it my ~passion,~ but I do care about the success of this place beyond my self-interest in whether they’re able to keep me employed. But that’s something that grew on me and I’m glad it wasn’t a big factor in the interview process, because for me it’s always been about liking the type of work I do without necessarily caring as much about where my skills get applied so long as it’s not something I’m morally opposed to. The type of work I do does have a place in the corporate world, but I’ve always felt more at home in nonprofits, passion about the mission or no.

        Marina makes a fair point about the ED position, though, especially how being able to communicate “passion” (or at least being better than lukewarm) is a skill that’s actually relevant to an ED’s job duties.

    2. Kyrielle*

      I think, though, that this is an argument over phrasing. The OP seems hung up on the term “passion” specifically and talks about how they could “LIKE them A LOT” – if they fully support the reason for the work and like them a lot and think it would be great to work there, isn’t that what the non-profit is looking for?

      OP appears to be interpreting passion as a deeper commitment, maybe one that wouldn’t require pay at all, or something. Which isn’t how I’d interpret it, but I don’t think it means OP lacks what you or I would term passion for the mission; it means OP is hung up on terminology.

      1. Alienor*

        I dunno, it seems as if companies that want you to have “passion” are usually using it as code for “love it so much you’ll put in 18-hour days without complaining/take on the work of three people/accept never getting a promotion or raise.” There are probably some people out there who feel that way about their jobs, but I’m guessing they’re few and far between.

        1. Elliot*

          I work for a small nonprofit, and we are required to do a lot of work for a very low pay because of the organization’s current financial situation. It is all hands on deck right now to keep our facility open. Yes, it’s nerve wracking to worry about if we are going to have a facility to work at in a year. Yes, the low paychecks are frustrating. But I truly love going into work every day because I love seeing how I make such a big difference in the work I do. This is my first director position and I inherited a failing department with a ton of costly state violations. The rush of having all the issues being taken care of and no further citations at my first audit less than two months made the pay cut I took to come here completely worthwhile. I am aiming to make our department one of the best in the area. Certain nonprofits you do have to have enough passion for the cause to make it worth the loss of pay. Nobody where I work is making much money, but we are serving a population which many members of would be homeless without us. It’s not the same as a for profit company. If I didn’t need to eat or pay bills, yes, I’d definitely do this job for free.

    3. OP, seuuze*

      I agree completely. I think part of my stumble on that was tied into not feeling at all comfortable in the room and with the people there. It was agonizing, and that says a lot.

  6. F.*

    I think “passionate” in their minds meant “willing to overlook the obvious poor financial health of the organization to work there despite the very real possibility of not getting paid.” Kudos to the OP for asking the tough questions. I wish I had been able to ask those types of questions before working where I now work, not that I would have gotten a straight answer in a privately-held corporation.

    I do agree that “enthusiasm” would be a more appropriate word, one that applies in both the for-profit and non-profit worlds.

    1. Sharon*

      Along the same lines as your comment, I think it was a bit of gas-lighting. They were uncomfortable with her (very appropriate and good) questions, so used the passion comment to kind of knock her down a peg.

      1. Triangle Pose*

        I agree. Probably a knee-jerk reaction by the interviewer. I think the weird atmosphere of the interviewers (not making eye contact, etc.) also supports this theory.

  7. Lizabeth*

    Something that I dream about doing is to “enthusiastically” ask the interviewer to TURN THE BLOODY PHONE OFF, politely, until the interview is finished. If I’m lucky…I may have an opportunity.

  8. Observer*

    Two comments.

    I think you dodged a bullet. Between the signature (which sounds bizarre and unprofessional to me) and the issues of not wanting to discuss financials, this sounds like a place heading for serious trouble, if they are not there yet.

    As for passion, your first step really is to stop getting so hung up on a particular word, and the second step is to understand that the linguist on NPR is wrong. Passion is a word with a long history of being used for emotional states that have zero to do with amour. Once you get that, it will be easier for you to understand the way most people use the term in this type of context. Zeal is probably the best synonym.

    To be very honest, it’s a totally legitimate question when you are talking about key roles in a cause based organization. The cause and organization do not have to be your life. But if you don’t care strongly about it, you don’t belong in a role such as the Executive Director. At best, you wind up being a “caretaker” that does no harm, and at worst it damages the organization.

    1. fposte*

      I agree with all of this. And if “zeal” doesn’t work for you, consider “commitment.” Nonprofits are focused on their missions; they really need somebody at the helm who’s dedicated to that cause and can publicly convey that dedication.

      That doesn’t mean to the exclusion of everything else–you can consider lots of causes worthy and bring your skills to serve them–but it’s legitimate to ask you to bring commitment to the organization’s purpose. It’s certainly possible that some interviewers can only see that commitment in jumping up and down, but as noted in that great example Alison provides, there really are other ways, and a lot of interviewers will be able to understand that.

      1. Jaydee*

        Yes, there are many other words for passion. Zeal and commitment are good. Enthusiasm is good. Excitement. Fascination. Intrigue.

        And you don’t have to say “I am really passionate about teapots and teapot design” or “I am really enthusiastic about teapots and teapot design.” Really, you want to find ways to show it, and you can do that even if you are more reserved. Body language (leaning in, actively listening, etc.) can show you are really interested and paying attention. Sounding excited or upbeat when you describe a specific teapot project you worked on can convey “passion” without actually using that word. My dad was a pretty reserved, unemotional guy, but you could still tell when he was engaged in a conversation or really interested in something.

    2. SirTechSpec*

      Yeah, I wonder where they found this linguist – that kind of prescriptivism went out of style in academic circles decades ago. Words mean whatever people commonly use and understand them to mean.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        That’s so true. I also here passion used to describe that angry employee every company has “oh he’s just passionate”.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      This is my exact problem with the word- it’s an emotional state. Well, what are you going to do when that emotional state wears off because it will. Do you have the commitment it takes to get through the tough stuff?

      There are for profit businesses that fall into the same pit of looking for passionate people. It’s their biz, they can do as they wish, I guess. I want to work with committed people who make solid, well-thought out decisions. I kind of feel validated by OP’s story because they are so concerned about passion yet they don’t seem to have a handle on what is important- their financial health. OTH, I do see that it is an easy pit to fall into, the pit of allowing your emotions to rule your choices.

  9. VolunteerCoordinatorinNOVA*

    When I’ve been on panel interviews for candidates, I’m looking to see what keeps them interested in the cause that they’re working towards. It’s not necessarily a passion (as I think that mindset can hurt non-profit workers) but what interests you to take this job where there may be some challenges (such as pay, hours, locations, clients, volunteers, budgets, etc.) verse something more stable/not in the non-profit field. Everyone in a non-profit needs to be an advocate for your cause so it’s important that people are passionate about what their doing.

    I guess I’ve always demonstrated this “passion” in interviews by doing some research on the field (I work in the affordable housing field currently) so when I was currently interviewing I talked about the severe lack of housing in the area and how I think that negatively impacts the community and why I think affordable housing is critical to someones overall well being. I also talked about why I think working with volunteers is powerful and important.

  10. hospital admin*

    I have struggled with passion in jobs too. I’m not traditionally non-profit (hospital), and I have a job I am not exactly passionate about (admin). I went to many interviews where I felt as though I was expected to be really excited to do an expense report, and this seemed unrealistic to me.

    It helped me to focus on the things about my job I do like. I thought about the individual aspects instead of the big picture, and speaking about those came more naturally to me. I could talk about how I value organization and optimizing the executives time, even if overall my job is boring. I practiced talking about how I like making things more efficient and being useful to those around me. I would suggest breaking things down into pieces and trying to find a piece that has a little more passion then the overall picture.

  11. nm*

    990’s are on a very weird schedule – our 2014 990 just arrived, and we are in sound fiscal shape. I still think you dodged a bullet, but I would be thrown by an ED candidate asking about the 2015 specifically. (2014 was close enough for jazz)

    1. Sharon*

      This is confusing me because I used to be treasurer for small nonprofits and I always had to get the 990’s done no later than May 15th of the following year. For example, if I was still with my last org, I’d have to do the 990 report for 2015 no later than May 15th of this year. Is it different for larger organizations?

      1. Sharon*

        I should add that before I joined the last org, their founder was doing the books and neglected to do her 990 for the previous year. I was only about 3 months overdue when the IRS letter showed up with a very large fine!

      2. Kimberlee, Esq*

        You can get a free/automatic extension till August 15th by filing a single form, and you can get a longer extension by filing the same form again and having a good reason. You can end up like a year away (though I would still be pretty surprised at an org not having their 2014 990’s available at the end of 2015/beginning of , that’s a LONG time and worth questioning. But I would be equally surprised by an org that actually had it’s 2015 990 or even like a solid set of 2015 financial statements by this time in 2016.

        1. nm*

          It’s just a schedule we’re on, and we can explain it – I checked and our 2014 arrived to us the beginning of Feb. But asking about 2015 would make me wonder how well they know the mechanics of running a 501(3)c.

          1. LQ*

            I disagree, the nonprofit I worked at had financial trouble before I started so every year after that our prior year’s 990 was done by April 1, usually March 1 because we wanted to show that we were getting stronger (until we weren’t, but that was another issue, and fast) and also to get into grant reports. I don’t think asking about the 2015 would be out of touch, but I do think that not only not having, but bristling at not having the 2014s is out of touch.

            1. Observer*

              Asking about the 2015 really IS totally out of touch, in my experience. On the other hand, so is bristling at the question about the 2014.

            2. nm*

              Different fiscal year then – we run on July-June, so the 2014 ended 6/30/15. We’re in good financial shape, and are on top of our financials, but it still came back in the very beginning of 2016. Haven;t run into a real issue with a grant yet, but that could be due to fiscal year allowances? (I honestly don’t know, just know it hasn’t been a problem)

              Still, bristling the question at it is wrong!

        2. Sharon*

          “But I would be equally surprised by an org that actually had it’s 2015 990 or even like a solid set of 2015 financial statements by this time in 2016.”

          If the org is really small, it’s not that hard. I usually got ours done by mid-March but our annual income was only around $20,000, with nothing complex like rent, depreciation, grants or salaries.

      3. Chickaletta*

        This is what I thought. 990s aren’t that hard to fill out either, although I can see situations where an organization would need to file an extension. But when they make extensions a regular practice or blow off the importance of filing like the company in OPs story seems to be doing, THAT’s a red flag to me. It’s a symptom of not keeping their financial house in shape.

      4. Observer*

        You can file for an extension. As long as you do that, you are ok – for a while. But you can’t do that indefinitely. And, it’s very routine to file for an extension, even if you are in perfectly good shape.

      5. BRR*

        It might be that they’re not available on GuideStar (the most common way people access them) until a while after they’re filed. Also it can be messy when GuideStar lists the filing as one year, the 990 might have another year on it, and the organization will report their fiscal year on it.

        The other way to check is look if the organization has an annual report. They commonly report financels there.

    2. Lurker*

      Our fiscal year ends on June 30 and we just approved our 990 this week. We will file in within the next week or so.

      The fact there aren’t financial statements OR 990s for the previous two years would be a red flag for me. (990s less so, but there’s no reason to not have FY14 Financial Statements by now.)

    3. OP, seuuze*

      I asked about the 2013 990. It was all that was available. They had not done their 2014. If they had, it would have been posted online. And there were many years of their financials posted on their website, but nothing for 2014 or 2015. And I can understand about the 2015 information, but not having anything for 2014?? I think that indicates that this is not a priority for them to be up to date on their financials. Not a good sign. I think these things are important.

      1. nm*

        I came back to add – that really depends on your fiscal year. Due to our fiscal year, our 2014 just posted – because that ended in 2015.

        1. Observer*

          That’s not all that typical though. And, I would hope that if someone asked, you would give them a straight answer, not bristle and mutter about “why would you want to know”.

          That’s really the big red flag to me – getting huffy at normal questions is never a good sign. When it’s your potential ED asking then it goes to BIG red flag.

  12. Newbie*

    I agree with Alison that you should find a different word to focus on when interviewers talk about “passion.” The underlying intent in a non-profit is most likely to find out how or why you are committed to their cause. I interviewed with a non-profit a few years ago that wasn’t something I was “passionate” about, but I had respect for their purpose and mission (and just really wanted out of a toxic situation). I spent time prior to the interview researching on their website and finding aspects of the organization that resonated with me. That provided the detail I needed during the interviews to talk knowledgeably about the organization and the aspects of their cause that I found important to the community. I guess I did okay because they offered me the job (though I did decline the offer for other reasons).

  13. Triangle Pose*

    Definitely bullet dodged!

    I like in the linked post how you said, “’s reasonable that they want people who think the work they’re doing is awesome. (And that’s especially true for positions that will be dealing directly with their mission, like communications. It’s generally less true for, say, I.T. jobs or accounting.)”

    I tend to believe that law also fits in with the I.T. or accounting jobs. I’d be hard pressed to find an interviewer in private practice who asked about your “passion” for doing mergers and acquisitions. I suppose there are exceptions for pro bono, startup and initial financing work, or general enthusiasm for “client service,” but otherwise, I’m the type of person who would find a “passion” response a bit baffling and maybe even laughable.

    Sidenote: Alison, I’m getting lots of Operation Smile and Michael J. Fox+Operation Smile ads in the right hand bar of the website (on google chrome browser if that matters). I don’t know if those ads are ones you have control over, but given your stance on their hiring based on the “I had to prepare a meal and entertain 20 people for a job interview — and so did 19 other candidates” post, maybe see if you can get another advertiser there?

      1. Triangle Pose*

        Right?! I did a double take when I saw a huge picture of Michael J. Fox. I’m a pop culture/film/TV nerd so my first reaction was “wait, what new thing is Michael J. Fox in?” before I saw the pictures of the operation smile kids. Then I thought, “Well, maybe it’s because I was looking in the archives of AskaManager and then googled the Gawker story and Operation Smile…”

        But I thought I should note it for Alison, just in case!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ha. I’ll see if I do. (I’m not sure I can remove them without blocking whatever whole category they’re part of, but I’ll see.) That’s pretty funny though.

    2. neverjaunty*

      There are a lot of areas of law where “passion” is important – if you’re working for a firm that helps abuse survivors go after their attackers, or an advocacy firm like Earthjustice, they’re certainly going to expect you to be more enthused about the work than if you were looking for an M&A or contracts review position at BigLaw.

      1. Triangle Pose*

        Yep, and that is why I listed a bunch of exceptions. I didn’t mean the exceptions to be exhaustive, and I likened it to organizations where legal is akin to accounting, I.T. and other functions where the legal aspect is pretty removed from sort of “passion” or mission. I agree that impact litigation and many advocacy organizations would fall into the exception category.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Sure, but where I disagree is that those are “exceptions”; law’s just too varied to make generalizations about whether you should be (or even can be) passionate about your work.

  14. Kimberlee, Esq*

    Honestly, when I think about demonstrating “passion” for the work, I think of it in terms of engagement. Like, do you seem excited to dig in? Are you asking questions that demonstrate an intellectual curiosity about the job or organization? Do you seem interested and engaged? More than just asking a set of questions, to me it’s about a sort of digging in that’s hard to fake.

  15. The Toxic Avenger*

    OP – this just about made my day:
    “Are we all really, truly that passionate about Teapots and their Teapotterish qualities and the manufacturing thereof? Can’t we just LIKE them A LOT??”
    I am so with you. That is my favorite quote of the day.

    1. OP, seuuze*

      Actually, I really, truly vintage love teapots, old timey teacups and all things tea; sugar cube tongs, tea balls, tea cozies, and little “napkins” so the spout doesn’t drip. So it fits. I purchase the “Collectible Teapot and Tea Calendar” every year and enjoy my monthly gazing upon all those fabulous antique teapots and vintage tea things each month that the Brits have squirreled away and share on the calendar.

  16. SRB*

    Eh, sometimes you just have hangups about certain buzz-words. In my case, “operationalization” can die in a tire fire. I can see “passion” being one of those too.

    I don’t work in non-profits, but it sounds like you can often expect long hours and lower pay than you’d see at a for-profit, so for them it’s critical to have employees that won’t jump ship the second something better comes along. But with those downsides, the employees need a reason to stay. Some call it “passion”. I like the idea of re-dubbing it in your head as “commitment”. Or re-frame the question like this:
    “Sometimes the work will be terrible. You won’t get paid as much. The clients are unreasonable. It might be boring and tedious (e.g.: acquisitions and mergers). It might be stressful pulling an organization out of the red. So if you take this job, what will you tell yourself on bad days to drag yourself out of bed and into work every morning, instead of running for the first higher-paying, less stressful job that comes your way?”

    That might be an easier question to answer than something ambiguous like “what makes you *passionate* about our cause?” *jazzhands*

  17. Browneyedgirl*

    I’m in a passion industry. It’s a very specific type of non-profit (probably not what you’re thinking of) and I am a true believer (also not religious). That’s how I ended up as an intern for four years. I just took a temp gig in my field (although a few steps below what I used to do) and during the first week they surprised me by letting me know it would be part time instead of the full time I signed on for. I’m still a true believer, but I think I need to apply to jobs I’m less passionate about.

    1. Honeybee*

      Passion can sometimes burn you out – there’s a really excellent post Alison made about this a while back and a lot of commenters made good points:

      I moderate a college admissions and life forum, and I have this post bookmarked to post to students who are really bummed out because they’re an upperclassman and haven’t discovered their “passion” yet but need to pick a major/career.

    1. Adam*

      Excellent. I’m not particularly perturbed by the word “passion”, but to me it is one of those words like “epic” that can be used so indiscriminately it ceases to have any real punch. When it can apply to anything from books to smoothies it’s time to find a thesaurus.

      1. Jack the treacle eater*

        This is absolutely it. It’s not that people can’t be genuinely passionate, it’s that passionate is such a ludicrously over-used word that it’s ceased to have any meaning. The genuine enthusiasm of those who really believe in what they do is lost among the legions who meaninglessly claim to be passionate about utterly unimportant things. Saying you’re passionate these days signifies nothing.

    2. OP, seuuze*

      Thank you. That was hilarious, well written and completely in-sync with my feelings about the word. Overused, over trite, and to me obnoxious. But I will do the changey-change in my cranium if that word rears it’s ugly head in my next interview.

  18. Marina*

    As the ED of a nonprofit, part of your job is “selling” the cause to partners, donors, etc. That’s basically impossible to do if you don’t have some level of connection to it coming in. Think about it–if you said, “I don’t really care about this organization right now, but I’ll probably grow to care about it later” to a donor, they’re going to be seriously underwhelmed. That doesn’t mean you have to be crying all over whenever you think about it or whatever, but you should be able to speak to why the organization is important right off the bat.

  19. Shannon*

    I’m not sure you could have described a charity that sounded any sketchier, OP. You didn’t just dodge a bullet, you dodged a bomb.

  20. bkh*

    I got an interview with a company who wanted passionate people – I’d been stalking their postings for a year or so, and finally a friend got a job there and I slid a resume in for an accounting position. It was internal, and would have been primarily consolidations, which I needed practice with. I got an interview.

    During the time I was stalking the postings, I noticed their accounting department turned over twice – CFO, controller, and accountants. In the interview, I asked why, given that they were company built on passion.

    They mumbled something about fit, and the interview awkwardly, ended shortly thereafter. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

  21. fred*

    I always wondered, what is all this “passion” stuff people talk about? I hear people use that word, but I seriously don’t know what it means. I don’t even like my job.

  22. Amber*

    When I’m job hunting, I’m never passionate about a company. Serious, how could you be? But what I can be passionate about is the product, the brand, or the job. I think you should focus on those when asked about passion. What gets you exited about doing this job? I work in the computer game industry and I might be really interested in a game they are working on. Or like if I had applied to Adobe I would care about the product and the brand, it would be something that I could get behind. If it’s not a product, brand or job description that really excites you then question if it’s even worth applying to.

  23. Lillian McGee*

    Eee-yikes about the dodginess over the financials… No one is served by ignoring the problems and becoming defensive about it! My ED can get a pretty defensive over financial stuff (even though we are in a pretty great position, currently), especially with the board. I cringe inwardly sometimes over it, but what else can I do?

  24. JulieBulie*

    “The board chair uses all caps and an exclamation point for his name on all his correspondence.”

    Anyone else remember Denny Crane from Boston Legal? That’s how he always said his name – “DENNY CRANE!”

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