how excited should I seem in an interview?

A reader writes;

I have had the opportunity to interview for my dream job with a nonprofit organization that I have always loved and admired. I am a highly qualified candidate for the position. This is the kind of job where if I was independently wealthy, I would do this work as a volunteer for free!

As a typically enthusiastic person, I’m wondering what level of excitement is acceptable to display in my interview? Should the words “This is the dream job I have always wanted” never be uttered, do I need to keep it cool? Also, this is the kind of nonprofit that people protest for and against, can I include a snapshot of myself marching FOR this organization in my cover letter, or is that too much?

You should seem enthusiastic, but not so excited that you might have rose-colored glasses on.

Employers sometimes worry about hiring “fans” because they worry about whether those candidates have a realistic idea of what the job will really be like. If they’re expecting something glamorous and exciting, what will happen to their enthusiasm when the job turns out to have plenty of everyday drudgery to it? Sometimes it also raises questions like: Will you be able to temper your excitement and bring a critical eye to the programs you work on? Will you be able to stay in your lane or will you chafe at the limitations of the role they’re hiring for? (For example, if they hire you as a bookkeeper, will be you sad/frustrated/resentful that you’re not in strategy meetings where the work you’re most drawn to is getting done or spend hours generating ideas for teams that you’re not on and don’t have context for?)

Plus, your interviewer is probably someone who knows the organization intimately (assuming they’re not brand new) and knows all the ways in which it might not be anyone’s dream job (bad management, difficult coworkers, etc.). So someone from the outside declaring it’s their dream job can sound naive — and make the interviewer worried about your inevitable disappointment.

That said, really intense enthusiasm isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. Some organizations like it. But it has downsides and I’d temper it.

And to be clear, enthusiasm and interest are good! Cause-oriented nonprofits especially want to see that you have a particular interest in and commitment to their mission. You just don’t want it to be so intense that it raises questions about how clear-eyed you’re being, or so over-the-top that it makes the interviewer feel uncomfortable.

You also want to make sure you seem interested in the work you’d be doing, specifically — not just in working for the organization. Don’t let your passion for their mission overshadow your passion for accounting or IT or whatever they’re hiring you for.

So, what does that mean in specifics? I wouldn’t use the words “dream job I’ve always wanted” or “this is the kind of work I’d happily do for free.” And yeah, the photo of you marching for the organization is probably too much to include with your cover letter (you can just mention it; providing photographic evidence will put slightly too much weight on it). But yes to saying that you’ve followed and supported the organization for years, that you’ve always hoped for a chance to do this type of work, and/or that you’d be thrilled to be part of what they’re doing.

{ 138 comments… read them below }

  1. Kate*

    The fact you already have an interview but still have to write a cover letter suggests to me you may have gotten the interview through connections, volunteering with them, etc. If you have those types of contacts in the non-profit, why not ask them? They’ll have perspective into the organization’s culture for this type of thing.

  2. Ali G*

    The key, as pointed out, is to show your enthusiasm for the JOB. You don’t know the interworkings of the org, so if you go in all effusive about things you think you know, you will definitely come across as being naïve about the day-to-day grind.
    In my case, I was a SME for a long time for a for-profit company (previously worked at a NPO in the same industry). I decided I wanted to go back to non-profit work, but didn’t want to be a SME anymore. I specifically targeted jobs where my soft skills, and previous non-technical work qualified me for the kind of work I wanted to be doing – even for orgs outside my industry. So I had to make the case that I wanted to be doing the WORK, not just that I had a shared passion for the mission, because many saw my interest in the positions I was applying for as “below” where I had been previously.

    1. Washi*

      I agree. I worked at a nonprofit that served children, and some people really latched on to the “I love kids!!!” thing, even if the position had zero interaction with students. Passion can be a positive, but you can’t just throw it all over the place like glitter. It’s best if you can show how it would make you an excellent employee.

        1. It's just me*

          I automatically have feelings for anyone who quotes “Friends” in any capacity. (Don’t want to say “love” because of the post in an earlier thread today!)

      1. LisaWorks*

        I work for a library, and the candidates who gush “I love books!” worry me. After we go over the job description and daily duties in detail (none of which include reading), I can’t tell if they understand the nature of the job with the “I love books” statement as their answer to why they think they are a good fit for the role. Having a disillusioned employee is THE WORST, so I tend to steer clear of anybody who doesn’t tell me they understand the boring bits.

        1. Drago Cucina*

          This. I had to add “Do not include ‘I love to read.’” on applications. It’s not a job for someone who wants a nice little job where they can read.

        2. SageMercurius*

          As another librarian, I have never actually said in an interview that I love books. I mean, I do, but I’m not so naive as to think it will be all I deal with every day!

          1. Anne of Green Gables*

            I have talked about my love of books and reading in a broader “why I want this job” context, but I frame it as wanting to support that and grow that love in others. This would have been more when I was a children’s and teen librarian and programming was a big part of the job.

    2. Kat*

      Yes, this is really important I think. You’ve got to be interested in doing the actual job applied for not just working for the organization. I have worked in a back office support area for a couple of non-profits that inspire a lot of passion. I hired for entry-level positions and had so many candidates who were clearly looking for a foot-in-the-door but really wanted to do more programmatic or development work and I learned early to screen for that. My most successful hires were those that were interested in and committed to our mission and energized by behind-the-scenes admin work. The over-the-top passionate people so often just weren’t a good fit for the position we had. I did refer a few to managers in other areas when I knew there were other opportunities that might be a good fit.

      1. Working Mom*

        I couldn’t agree more. I once interviewed a candidate who was so passionate about “changing the world” as it related to our industry… we didn’t hire him because we honestly felt like the work we did would crush his soul. Now, he wasn’t jumping up and down and exclaiming his passion tom cruise style – but I remember the phrase “changing the world” being mentioned, as well as on his resume in his objective. I mean that’s amazing that you want to change the world… but how do you feel about excel? Visio? haha :)

        1. MissGirl*

          And how would he handle it when he “failed” to change the world? Would he burn out or quit in frustration wgen he could only improve it in a small, thankless way?

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            My question is “And how long do you think you will need before you will make this large impact on the world?”

            My worry with these folks is that they can fail to grasp reality and that changing the world is the same as eating an elephant. One bite at a time and you don’t necessarily see the impact in your lifetime. Are you fulfilled and understand that slow movement? Or will you get frustrated and deflated when you don’t see immediate results?

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          A coworker and I who collaborate on change management and process improvement initiatives ARE changing our (little) world one spreadsheet and Visio flowchart at a time. :)

        3. Close Bracket*

          My employer touts how it keeps Americans safe … which I support with a lot of Excel spreadsheets. *shrug*

        4. Burned Ou Supervisor*

          I’m finding that a lot of younger candidates and employees want to feel that what they do all day matters in the big picture and maybe that’s what he meant by wanting to change the world. I would think if you get this kind of candidate again, maybe probe a little bit about what they’re looking for, or explain how the position fits in with the mission of the company (this position is integral in ensuring that customers receive timely feedback on their requests and that they’re being heard by us/the ideal candidate).

      2. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, 100% this.

        I’ve generally been really successful with cover letters to mission-driven nonprofits that say: 1. I was so excited to see this posting. 2. Here’s why I’m such a good fit for the position. 3. One sentence about how the mission is meaningful to me.

      3. Theme Park Technical Writer*

        Yes, this. I work for a theme park (candidate reads: fun all the time!) in a department that works with other countries (candidate reads: travel for work!) on new projects (candidate reads: designing roller coasters!). After the first few interns came in and were horribly disappointed by the reality, we started avoiding people who were waaaaay too enthusiastic about the company as a whole and didn’t talk much about the job.

  3. RC Rascal*

    I worked on the management team for a niche product line that had a collector base. There were Fans. They were generally odd. We got letters, social media requests, sometimes calls. If someone applied to work for us and mentioned they were a fan and this was a dream job, it would make us thing they were like the Fans who normally contacted us. Not a good way to start out an interview.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah, I’ve heard some bizarre stories about “fans” applying for jobs before and it’s given me so much pause hearing people talk about their “dream jobs” and “dream employers”. It’s rarely a good thing to be viewed as.

      In the NP world, being a supporter of the mission is a whole lot different than being a “fan”/”collector” of an product/company.

      I don’t want to work somewhere that I’m a collector or fan though. Lots of my friends dream of being in sports and I learned second hand that being a sports journalist can actually ruin sports on a fan level. Nope, bye thanks.

  4. whywhywhy*

    This is great advice — and it’s important to internalize reasonable expectations, not just project them, or you’ll likely have a harsh awakening if you get the job.

    1. Fish Microwaver*

      I once landed what I thought was my dream job, doing work I excelled at and was interested in doing, at a start up. At the interview, I was told that we would have significant input into the structure and development of the business, which excited me. Unfortunately the founders turned out to be insecure micromanagers who didn’t want to grow and develop their team. Just before I left, they had a rule that we could not collaborate to problem solve or have any interaction about the work without going through the team leader who would give conflicting responses, then chastise staff for doing as they said. Strangely, they don’t allow interviewees to interact with staff, other than a quick walk through. I had a lucky escape as the dream turned into a nightmare.

  5. TimeTravlR*

    I wouldn’t call it my “dream job” exactly, but the one I have now is a really great fit. I knew when I saw the vacancy announcement that it was meant for me… truly seemed like they wrote the announcement just to reach me. When I interviewed I did share that I thought it was a great fit and why. I was enthusiastic but not too much. As Allison said, I knew it would have its challenges (and it does, daily!). Fortunately, they agreed that it was meant to be and I have been here several years and plan to retire here.

    1. Kat*

      I’m in a similar situation. I fit nearly every single thing mentioned in the job posting and it was with an organization I knew I’d be happy working for! But what my manager told me impressed her the most was the good, tough questions I asked about the job and the organizational culture. She said they were all worried that I’d turn down their offer! (Which did make me wish I’d negotiated a little harder, but I got what I felt was fair.)

    2. Spreadsheets and Books*

      I’m in a similar job. I was looking to make a move to a company in the same industry bucket with a step up in title. The job post looked like it was tailor made for what I was looking for, and I expressed that in the interview. I’ve been here a little over 7 months and I’m thrilled I made the switch.

      I have a lot of passion for my field (one that is generally considered to be a little dull) and I like to show that in interviews. I think I manage to come across as genuine rather than intense.

    3. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      I got my “dream job” and didn’t realize it at first. I saw the ad several times before applying. It turned out it wasn’t what I expected but better. Good pay, good hours and good co-workers. 4 years later and I still look forward to going to work every day. I don’t clock watch and run screaming out of the door at the end of the day. Which may be the definition of a “dream job.”

  6. Macy Lu*

    How funny. I’m in a similar boat where I just got an interview for a position at a non-profit that is doing amazing work and whose mission I’ve long admired and respected (I think I’ve even donated to them). Yet I’m having the opposite feeling compared to OP, like a “don’t meet your heroes” feeling. I’m worried that I’ll find out about behind-the-scenes business practices that aren’t up to par with the company’s stellar work/reputation. And I worry it would sour me to the company – more than if I found the same practices at a for-profit!

    1. Smithy*

      I think that’s a legit fear. I work for nonprofits in fundraising – and while I’ve deeply aligned with the mission of everywhere I’ve worked – “how the sausage gets made” has inspired many different feelings. Sometimes it’s been respect and excitement. Sometimes it’s been disgust and anger.

      All I can recommend is to sincerely interview and treat this like a job where you evaluate the job thoroughly. Because admiring the work from afar doesn’t help if the job is one where you’re miserable.

      That aside….if you really don’t want to learn that an organization may have some unsavory practices – then don’t work there. Because I’ve yet to hear if any nonprofit that’s entirely devoid of something that makes me go “well that’s disappointing”.

      1. Kat*

        Yeah, non-profit work is not the ethical paradise we wish it was. Even the orgs I’ve worked for that I still have a lot of respect and admiration for have had things that are….not great. Fundraising can be very intense and competitive and that means there are some less-than-savory people and tactics involved.

  7. sofar*

    I’m interviewing candidates right now, and my boss (for better or worse) is a fan of the “What’s your dream job, if you had no limitations?” question. We ask it to everyone.

    And it’s kind of a turn-off when candidates say, “Why, this job of course!” In addition to seeming a little too enthusiastic, it also seems like the obvious answer.

    By all means, work the job into the answer. But say something like, “I’ve always wanted to be a travel writer, but there aren’t exactly a lot of opportunities. What I like about this job is that it lets me …”

    I don’t LOVE the question. But it does lead to some interesting discussions of people’s interests and passions.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Honestly, it’s a really unfair question to ask. A lot of people have dream jobs they’re unlikely to ever pursue, but worry that answering honestly will make you think they don’t really want to be in this field, and so now they’re wondering if they need to lie and … it’s just not a great position to put people in.

      1. Elenia*

        My dream job is to be a dancer! I work in the not for profit industry! Hmmm maybe I can express my love for non-profit through interpretive dance….

      2. Working Mom*

        I’ve gotten this question – and I answered it in two parts – first, my actual “dream” job – gymnastics coach. We all got a little chuckle; and it gave way to some chatter about my personal background in sports. Then I said my real-life dream job is XYZ doing tasks A, B, and C. (where I explained the actual type of work I’m experienced in and wanted to pursue.)

        I remember the look on his face when I said gymnastics coach. He was NOT expecting that. But I think that because I wasn’t deadpan serious – I kind of laughed it off like “well that’s what I’d do if I won the lottery! But realistically, blah blah blah.”

          1. Close Bracket*

            My dream job of reading on the couch pays me enough to eat. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a dream job.

      3. Seespotbitejane*

        I haven’t encountered this question often, but when I have I’ve said “I would time travel to 1980 to work with Jim Henson on The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.” It’s nothing remotely related to the field I’m in but it speaks to the art background that I have and we’ll have to talk about since it’s usually only semi-related to the actual work. If asked to expound I can say that I would appreciate being able to work with a visionary at their creative peak and help create a work with a positive long term impact on a lot of people. Then move swiftly on.

    2. hackette*

      When interviewing for my current position, I was asked “is this your dream job?” I paused and then answered honestly: “I’ve made a conscious effort in my career to resist the concept of ‘dream job’–I think it’s very limiting and sets people up for unhappiness in their roles. That said, this is definitely a job I am very excited about, because…[insert specifics here].” They seemed surprised but not at all turned off by my response; several of the interviewers on my panel said they thought it demonstrated honesty, thoughtfulness, and courage.

      1. Daisy-dog*

        Once on ExJob’s intranet, an executive asked, “What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?” The first answer that popped into my head: I would fly. Not what that executive was asking for though.

      2. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

        My dream job is, like, I work 25-30 hours a week saving babies from famine, and I make a million dollars a year, and there are free tacos in the office every day.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          This. But I’m only in the office on bad days, and on good days I get to travel the world to help save babies on site.

    3. Heidi*

      So if someone said they wanted to be a flavor tester for Doritos, would that be looked up favorably or unfavorably?

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        My dream job is to be Claire from Gourmet Makes, trying to recreate snack food in the Bon Appétit test kitchen. I have no pastry experience. I’ve never been to culinary school. There is literally one Claire and I am not nor will I ever be her. This job coincides with none of my hobbies or anything I pursue in my work life, but it looks so awesome.

        I have no idea what someone would think if I answered that.

        1. Sarah*

          I personally would hire you on the spot because I love Claire. I think I lean towards Brad as I am not as meticulous as Claire and like fermenting stuff.

          I think working at the Bon Appetite test kitchen is definitely a dream job.

        2. wittyrepartee*

          Lol! YESSS!

          But with none of the paperwork or occasionally yucky recipe testing that Claire does the rest of the time.

        1. irene adler*

          When I was very young, I thought it would be very cool to be in the audience for the Dick Cavett show. I thought that was an actual job one could get hired for. Just loved how he got his guests to tell such interesting stories.
          Imagine my surprise when I learn, years later, audience member is not a job. At least, not a paying job.

    4. Psych0Metrics*

      Maybe you could suggest a question like “Why are you interested in working in industry X?” which I think could also lead a discussion about the candidate’s interests and passions without getting into the’dream job’ messiness.

      1. sofar*

        I’ve suggested dozens of re-wordings of this question, but my boss/company loves it, and so it stays in interviews.

    5. Kiwiii*

      If it helps at all, our new HR coordinator has added the question “How would you instruct someone to make an omelet?” to our interview list.

      1. we're basically gods*

        If this is for, like, a programming position, I could see this maaaaybe making sense, because giving precise instructions is basically what the work is, but otherwise…. oof.

      2. bassclefchick*

        You’d hire the person who sang Something Rotten/Make an Omelette from Something Rotten, right?!

      3. Short Time Lurker Komo*

        I don’t eat omelets. I dunno how to make an omelet. I’m actually not much of a cook at all. I can follow directions from the person cooking and assist them by doing some of the grunt work (peeling, mixing, etc), but I myself rarely cook. XD What if the response started off with “Well, first I would Google ‘how to make an omelet’ and get a understanding of what I needed to do first….”

        1. Pilcrow*

          That would actually be a good answer for tech writing. It’s more about how you approach something new/unfamiliar and turn it into something the audience can use rather than your current knowledge base.

          1. juliebulie*

            Yeah, that was actually a question I had to answer on a test for a tech writing job. It was a take-home/no time limit test and I was told I could consult any cookbook(s) or website(s), but I needed to write it out in my own way. (Also, the interviewer didn’t even know how to cook.) Fortunately, I know how to make omelets, so this was no problem.

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              Interesting. I’ve seen “How to make a sandwich” and “How to fold a paper airplane” …

              I’d love to use Kliban’s method for “How to draw a cat”. As I recall, it involves drawing a meatloaf and then turning it around to see the cat. (From that, my family has “meatloafed” as a standard cat posture.)

              1. Jennifer Thneed*

                Nope, I’m wrong. The meatloaf drawing was about how to tell a cat from a meatloaf (watch for the tail). The “turn it around and there’s your cat” uses your basic 3-circles-and-2-triangles drawing of a cat. Turns out that there’s an awful lot of Kliban on Pinterest.

      4. NW Mossy*

        “Well, first I’d need to spend several hours fighting over whether the instructions should say omelet or omelette…”

      5. Pilcrow*

        It’s pretty common in tech writing to create instructions for a simple task: how to use a microwave to heat a cup of cocoa, how to get a soda from a vending machine, how to use a search engine to find info on a topic.

        A longer pre-interview task is often something like create instructions based on an attached list of notes from a developer or incorporate a bunch of statements and facts to create a press release.

      6. Gertrude Stein*

        I would tell them to make scrambled eggs instead of an omelette. It takes the same amount of butter and the same amount of eggs, but it shows less respect.

      7. Anonomoose*

        Yeah, super worried about the discrimination bit here. If you’re from a culture which doesn’t eat omlettes, this question is going to blindsided you way more than someone from a culture that does. Just, like, do a real programming test! Get them to talk you through fizz/ buzz or something. Don’t just rip off the IBM how to make toast question.

    6. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

      I would have to demur and work around the question, myself. I’ve never in my life had a dream job. I still don’t!
      I have tasks I enjoy more than others, but I have no idea what specific job role matches that (which is going to be a problem soon).

    7. Close Bracket*

      “What’s your dream job, if you had no limitations?”

      I’d like to get paid to lie and the couch and read while drinking gin and tonics, with site visits to tropical locations.

      That’s a stupid effing question.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        I’d essentially be the Indiana Jones of epidemiologists. And it would be incredibly well paid. Also, one or two months off a year to study a foreign language in an immersion setting and/or go to a yoga retreat.

        That’s feasible right?!

  8. Anon Here*

    My concern about working with “fans” (of anything) is that the work, just by having its usual ups and downs, can turn them from fans to critics or even enemies (because of the let-down). You go from idealizing something to seeing the complex human side of it, which is full of flaws and probably some dysfunction. It’s not going to be what you expect. There will be some stuff worthy of AAM letters (“And then they asked me to reimburse them for the guacamole,” or whatever . . . because people are weird). When you go from really loving the idea of something to a more human reality, the love can sour. And fans are often friends with other fans, so it can lead to bigger problems. You want your biggest fans to remain fans.

    The obvious flip side of that is that you’re dedicated to the work and you really care about it. And your history of involvement will give you a lot that you can contribute.

    My point is that OP should show enthusiasm, but also address the first part (and do so indirectly). Just say something offhand about how you know it won’t be perfect, but it is something that you really care about. Act level-headed and realistic. And show your enthusiasm through knowledge. Demonstrate that you know a lot about the org. They’ll get it, and it will sound more professional than gushing. You can also just act really up-beat and happy to be there when you talk in person – let that emotion show without actually saying, “I love you guys.” (Cue previous post from today.)

    1. Captain Raymond Holt*

      Yes! I picked up a part-time job at a retail store that I really admired. I loved the type of products they sold, what the company stood for politically and how they marketed. I quit six months later (I had a different side gig to pursue) completely disenfranchised. Turns out, working retail is working retail whether it’s at a big box store or one selling your favorite widgets. I also didn’t think they fully lived up to their reputation as a retailer.

      Haven’t shopped there since and I’ve found other stores that sell my favorite type of widgets!

      1. wickedtongue*

        Hmmm, I wonder if it’s the same retail store I applied to, that I also loved the products and ethics and always enjoyed the experience in-store. There was a group interview (did not know about that), and the general vibe I got was that they’d only hire if you had other retail experience. Felt kind of iffy about them ever since!

        1. Lilysparrow*

          Why iffy? Sounds like good hiring practice to find people who will actually do well at the job.

          Nothing ruins a great in-store experience for the customers like underskilled or distracted staff.

    2. Smithy*

      This is such great insight. A coworker if mine recently left the job due to a reaction like that. She loved the org and the programming they did. But once at the nonprofit found it very difficult to respond to realities where some programs were having their funding cut due to lack of donor interest and our limited ability to help change that. It was great that she really cared about wanting to find donors for programs that were struggling – but it wasn’t necessarily the best use of her time.

      So it’s always could to balance your depth of excitement with a pragmatic reality. If the reason you love ABC Animal Shelter is because they have a branch in a town you grew up in and it’s the only animal shelter for dozens of miles…..they may be looking at a financial reality where that shelter is closing.

      So while affection is wonderful – it’s just so important for that to be balanced with the job at hand.

    3. Elenia*

      Yes I have seen exactly this in action, adoring fans can’t take flaws. I need people who have a level gaze and know sometimes things go wrong.

    4. Lilysparrow*

      There’s a lot of clergy in my family. They refer to this as “knowing too much about how the sausage is made.”

      There is always ample opportunity to become disillusioned when you see the inner workings of an organization.

  9. MMB*

    There’s a fine line between making eye contact across a crowded room and the maniacal stare of a serial killer. The same balance exists in an interview. Find that balance OP. Focus on the details of the position combined with a professionally phrased acknowledgment that you support and believe in their cause. As a hiring manager, I would definitely find a picture of you marching for our cause eye rolly at best and ……kind of …..extreme at worst.

  10. Princess Bubblegum*

    Thanks for publishing my letter, you’re a rock star and I’m honored. I have an informational interview with someone who worked for the organization, and they are going to put me in touch with the big bosses then. Its the kind of organization that is in the spotlight a lot so the names of their employees are not online. I had this feeling I need to keep a lid on my enthusiasm, but now that it is commanded by Allison it will be much easier to do.

    I am very enthusiastic about BOTH the organization and the work. I have worked with people doing this job in the past, and always wanted to do that kind of work. My enthusiasm is for the actual tasks of the job, as well as the organization, and I read many many Glassdoor reviews of what working there was like to try to rub the rosiness off my glasses.

    1. Aquawoman*

      I think that’s key–that the part of work that is, you know, work, day to day tasks, is something you enjoy AND that you’re truly passionate about their mission also.

    2. Mainely Professional*

      So you’re the OP? Let me again reiterate as someone whose job involves fans and fans applying: saying much more than you’re “enthusiastic about and a long time supporter of [their] mission and work,” will make you look like the thousands of other people who are also huge fans. Make sure you’re focussed on the role and not the organization.

    3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      If this is the org I think it is- one that attracts some very dedicated negative attention from its detractors, when you tone down the enthusiasm, make sure you convey that you’re fully on board with that aspect of the job. It’s my understanding that orgs like that want to know that their staff won’t quit when their grandmother goes ballistic and threatens to write them out of her will because it offends her sensibilities.

    4. Smithy*

      In one interview I had with a “dream organization” – I spoke about a project they did that was strongly tied to the role I was applying for and why I found it exciting professionally.

      This worked well to drop that I was a fan (it was a fundraising campaign that had dropped a year ago from when I was interviewing), but also clearly articulate how it tied to work I had done and wanted to do.

      I will caution that while I worked well for me in the interview – what I would have assumed was the exact type of fundraising campaign I would be working on, it was actually of an adjacent but similar team. So again, it’s finding that line of “I am a fan of this work personally and professionally” without saying “this is the exact project I expect to be doing.”

    5. LGC*

      Good luck!

      As for being enthusiastic about the work – I know you said you’ve worked with people who’ve done this work, but have you really worked with people who’ve done this work? Like, let’s say it’s taking care of llamas at a llama sanctuary. You’ve read Glassdoor, but I don’t know if they’re necessarily writing about mucking out the stables or driving in at 2 AM to help a female give birth.

      And this isn’t to discourage you from applying at all! But – like – I’m still a little worried that you might have rose-colored glasses on. I think part of it is that I’m dead inside a little cynical about everything, and I’m reading your post as “don’t worry guys, I love the job!” as opposed to a more measured approach. (I know, take the LWs at their word, and you’ve done a lot of research.)

      1. wittyrepartee*

        And it’s not the first time you have to muck out a birth stall. It’s when you have to cover for someone unexpectedly and muck out the birth stall in year 3 after you’ve done it hundreds of times. And then you forget to log it and get dinged for that.

        And you can still like the job after that! It’s just that every job involves unpleasant things.

    6. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      In addition, don’t be so enthusiastic that you don’t pick up on any possible red flags (or yellow ones) about the organization/managers/employees. Good luck!

  11. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    Agree with Alison and the other commenters. I think I’d also be concerned that uncontrolled enthusiasm might translate into a lack of critical thinking when it came to difficult issues. For example, a llama rescue organisation sometimes has to upgrade the volunteer database instead of building a new llama house, even though it’s less obviously aligned with the mission of the organisation. Someone who just thinks llama llama llama all the time might not see that big picture.

  12. Jellyfish*

    Since you’re highly qualified, speak to that. You have the opportunity to go through the org’s list of required and preferred qualifications and explain specifically how you can meet each one. That gives you a way to express your enthusiasm with real examples and explanations. It’ll let you showcase your passion without looking like you’re just broadly enthusiastic with no nuance.

  13. Cowgirlinhiding*

    If a new employee tells me they are so EXCITED to work for us, they never last. Those rose-colored glasses really do affect how they see the job. If they come in and say they will try to work hard and learn new things, they usually work out pretty well.

  14. Project Manager*

    My job actually is my dream job – I like almost all of my coworkers, the work I’m doing is challenging, I have tons of opportunity to really grow as a person, and I truly believe in our mission. And there are still days I don’t want to go to work. That’s just life.

  15. Junior Assistant Peon*

    At a previous employer of mine, they hired a new HR manager who was over-the-top bubbly. I was suspicious of her for a long time because I thought it might be a deliberate act to get me to drop my guard, like “I’m your best friend and you can tell me anything!” My suspicion of her waned when it gradually became clear that it wasn’t an act and she was naturally like that, but you aren’t going to have enough time for them to get to know you and see that your enthusiasm is genuine.

  16. Donkey Hotey*

    Best response I’ve personally used was “I strongly believe in your company’s mission of {X} and would enjoy the opportunity to support that mission.”

  17. Jamie*

    I guess I’m lucky in that I work in an industry absolutely nobody is excited about, nor do we have fans.

    (We make thingamajigs that go in things that benefit all people, but the utilitarian nature means no young child dreams of sitting in my desk one day.)

    I had five interviews over 4 months for this position (which was being created as they interviewed for it – long story) and on my final interview I said I would love the opportunity to work there, but I wouldn’t take any more time from my current job for more interviews so I hoped they had enough info to make a decision.

    They made me an offer shortly after, which is when I learned that “I can take it or leave it” is also a good approach with prospective employers.

    Fwiw anytime I’ve learned in an interview that I absolutely did not want that job I’ve gotten an offer. Something about the lack of interest brings out the best in me.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      This kills me, but it’s so true: I am very successful in a role I do not give two figs for, *because* I do not give two figs. I am not afraid of anyone or desperate to make a certain impression. I do genuinely respect most of my coworkers, and the mission of the company is one I am (mostly, most days) on board with, so it’s not all bad. I have a side job that means the world to me and sometimes I just get frozen by anxiety around the networking and putting my work out there aspects of that job because I care so much. I wish I could bring more of Ms. Frankly My Dear to that part of my life, because that lady is effective.

    2. NW Mossy*

      Interestingly, I was just having this discussion this morning with my boss and a colleague. We help businesses with a specific type of employee benefit, and one of the struggles we face again and again is that while our clients know they need it, actually dealing with it is no one’s top priority. It creates this weird paradox where the very people we are selling to don’t really care how long it takes to get through our onboarding process, so they have no incentive to engage with us promptly. We’re like rutabagas – people know they’re vegetables and probably healthy, but no one’s getting excited about rutabagas for dinner.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      LOL yessssssss.

      I like this industry oddly enough and I gravitate towards it but only because it’s what I know. Also they don’t try to make me try to clean up my rough edges, despite being surrounded by machines specifically made for that.

      I get the job offers for jobs I don’t want usually because they see I’ve “seen some sh*t” and they assume that their sh*t is no different. Nope, still have standards, still don’t want to shovel your crap unless I’m paid and loved appreciated.

    4. Junior Assistant Peon*

      Five interviews – WTF is wrong with companies today, thinking everyone has unlimited PTO and sick days?

    5. Avasarala*

      Yes, and it’s really important for OP to be able to work well with people who are less passionate about the mission than she is. I didn’t hire someone once because my main concern is they wouldn’t be able to relate to people who were less dedicated and passionate than they were.

  18. Jedi Squirrel*

    Warning: Full Frontal Nerdity ahead:

    Comic book shops deal with this all the time. There are lots of fanboys that say they would love to work in a comic book shop, but what they really mean is that they would love to spend the entire day in a comic book shop and get paid for it. At the end of the day, somebody has to take out the trash and scrub the toilets. Definitely focus on how much your skills set aligns with the job description and expectations, be enthusiastic, but don’t be a fanboy/girl.

    1. NW Mossy*

      It shows up in pretty much any retail shop that sells goods related to a hobby or leisure activity. People get starry-eyed thinking that they’re going to live out the plot of Empire Records, but the reality is that it’s still retail. The experience of being a customer or hobbyist doesn’t really set you up for dealing with irate customers or trying to resolve some order snafu.

      The same is also true of people who start what my dad calls “hobby businesses,” which is where the business’s reason for existence is to let the owner live out their hobby fantasies rather than to actually be profitable or run in a functional manner. Run fast and far from those.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        A friend of mine worked for one of these “hobby businesses” in publishing. Wow that place was dysfunction junction.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I once had someone ask me if I’d ever want to work in a certain kind of shop because of my love for stuff. And my response was “Why would I want to be ruined like that? Why would I want to deal with creepers who like this stuff?!” “Uh you like this stuff. Why are you being rude about the fans?” “Yeah because I know my own well. I’m enough to deal with, you think you want to deal with hundreds of me on a regular basis? Nope.”

    3. LLG612*

      Totally valid and likely usually true. I just want to add a counterpoint. My mom is retired and is an avid, AVID quilter. She took a part time job at a quilt shop because she wanted to stay busy, wanted a little extra spending money, and wanted to help other people who either shared her hobby or were looking to get into it. She absolutely loves it, is a hugely dedicated employee, and enjoys the work even when it’s cutting literally 1000 yards of fabric over a 10 hour period. Of course there are days that try her patience, but she is both a fan and a fantastic employee and is genuinely happy to be employed there. I think sometimes it can work out, but it’s the exception, not the norm.

    4. SageMercurius*

      Same with museums as well – and you get the candidates who are applying to a poor fit job as a ‘foot in the door’… it’s always a shame to see that.

    5. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      A friend had to fire one employee who thought his job was to argue Batman vs Spiderman with the customers and then treat the anime fans with disdain. At the end of the day, my friend was in the business to make money.

    6. Elemeno P.*

      I was hired at a game store in college specifically because I was a person who enjoyed the product but not somebody who would spend all day in the store when given the chance. I knew my stuff enough to recommend the product, and I bought stuff from the store for myself (employee discount on video games!), but I also went home when work was over. That was important to my boss.

  19. LadyCop*

    This is another interviewing is like dating example. You want to be engaging and interested but you don’t want them to think you’re planning the wedding in your diary before the first date…

  20. Yes Anastasia*

    Recently I got a bit too enthusiastic in a job interview and used the phrase “dream job.” I regretted it as soon as the words came out of my mouth. I got the job, but ended up turning it down and accepting a different offer.

    This job really was a dream job for me, but it wasn’t my only dream job—I was in a transitional moment in my career and had a few different ideas of where I wanted to go next. I definitely wish I’d played it cooler in the interview. The employer seemed blindsided when I turned them down, and the conversation felt a lot more awkward than it needed to be.

  21. Lilysparrow*

    Echoing others about making sure you demonstrate understanding of the role, and the org’s place in the community, not just the general idea of the mission.

    My nonprofit client asked me to help interview another freelancer who had approached them very energetically about doing some PR work. The freelancer was just bubbling over with !Fantastic! !Ideas! about how the org could radically expand their next big fundraising event – all of which involved creating massive amounts of new work for the overextended staff and volunteers. None of which involved actually taking any of the existing must-do’s off the staff or volunteers’ plates.

    And some of which involved courting donations from local politicians and allowing them in exchange to do meet-and-greets with voters while the event was going on. Thereby jeopardizing our very careful non-political positioning.

    That person was all heart, and no head. And so hyped up to work with the org, you couldn’t even get a word in edgewise. Nope, nope, nope, nope.

  22. Anon for This*

    I work at a place that is often considered a “dream job” for many, many people. It’s what I hear all the time when I tell people where I work. It’s what I hear often when I interview people. The issue is: when you work at a high profile place that has “fans”, we already know that people view this as a dream job. But, as Alison pointed out, it has very many non-dream like qualities. There’s tedious work, long hours, expectations of being available on weekends. And I do get concerned that people who go on and on about how much they’ve always wanted to work here are going to burn out quickly. I get concerned that they’re not going to consider work-life balance (because “OMG I’m working at [company]! I’m going to be available 24/7”) no matter how much we tell them to, they’re going to be overly concerned about missteps to the point of sabotaging themselves, and that they’re going to act like fans in the office – which is a real problem. I have hired people that said this was a “dream job” in their interview, but never because of it. You can be enthusiastic and talk about why you love the company – but I want to know what kind of work you want to do, not why you want to work here at all costs.

  23. Not Today Satan*

    Man, the comments here are pretty cynical about “fans”! I work for a nonprofit, and I wish we had more passion for the mission here. We have a lot of types generically want to “help people.” Which is great, but I’d love if I had a few more colleagues keeping an eye out for mission-related news, etc. If I interviewed someone who could demonstrate enthusiasm for the cause it would absolutely give them some points in my book.

    Only caveat is if someone seems so idealistic as to not work well with authority, and that kind of thing. But I view that as a separate issue than passion for the mission.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think it’s the warped idea of what “fan” means. And also background in dealing with interviewing the few enthusiasts that make it that far.

      I think that if you frame in a way that says you’re passionate and supportive of their mission, it’s a whole different world.

      But things like “Dream job” and “dream organization” leaves so much room for disappointment and discontent when they’re pushed into the trenches of paperwork, fundraisers, shoestring budgets and constantly trying to keep those doors open to keep taking care of those that are utilizing the organization.

      1. Jamie*

        Yep. It’s like dating when someone tells you you’re the perfect woman or exactly what they’ve always wanted.

        Idk what ideal you have in your head but the reality, awesome as it may be, it going to be a hard hit.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          When I hear “fan” I think of boybands and the mad rush to touch their hands and make them your husband. So I’m like “NO NO NO NO NO NO!!!!” And I was a fanatic myself and those people scared the heck out of me.

    2. Anon for This*

      I think it totally depends on what the mission is. I could see the positives in someone being passionate in a nonprofit and their goals! With my job, it’s just people who really, really like the company – which is good, but isn’t a qualifier in and of itself, and often can lead to disappointment.

  24. Dan*

    Not only that, but at a “dream organization”, most of the time your department (or some other smaller level day-to-day structure of things) makes or breaks your happiness. I work at a rather large org, and some departments truly suck to work in, and others are absolutely great.

  25. pamplemousse*

    I work in media at an organization with its share of fans, and we do want to hire people who are enthusiastic about our mission, coverage, and approach. What I look for is, for lack of a better term, critical thinking. Are they able to articulate what they like about us? Can they connect those qualities to work they have done? Do they seem enthused not just to work at Big Well-Known Organization, but to do Boring Entry-Level Job? Do they admire our most prominent bylines/voices, or are they actual fans/hero worshippers? (The last one is super important; it’s one thing to say “I’ve been reading/listening to/watching X for a long time, and they’ve really helped shape my thinking on [issue]” and another to say “I dressed up as X for Halloween last year and I want to be just like them!”)

    Most of all: don’t forget that a job interview is about what you can do for them. It’s good to show a little knowledge of and enthusiasm about the organization, but it’s about why they should hire you, not how much you want to work there.

  26. Anonnonaanon*

    Having been lowballed salary-range-wise in an interview situation because of a mistake I made in early communication, I strongly recommend that you not say “I would happily do this kind of work for free.”

    1. Avasarala*

      Yes. Makes it hard for your coworkers to advocate for themselves when you’re there next to them saying that.

  27. Bookworm*

    OP: Thank you for asking this question. I sometimes have gotten feedback that I’m “quiet” with a couple of instances of interviewers or grapevine info that I wasn’t “enthusiastic” enough about the job. Sometimes I really wasn’t but my personality tends to lean more towards “quiet”, straight to point, just the facts, etc.

    I try to amend this at the very end, when I thank them for their time and adding a bit about how informative the conversation was, how it was great to hear from them about their company’s mission, work, goals, etc. It helps if it really was a good conversation but even that is not enough. But I hope that leaves them with the impression that by the end/in sum, I was enthusiastic, etc.

    Good luck to you, OP!

  28. workerbee2*

    My advice would be to make sure you ask good questions that show you’re thinking critically about whether this is the position for you. Ideally, you actually WOULD be thinking critically about whether the job is the right move for you. Don’t go into the interview already sold on the job. You can’t know everything there is to know about it from a job posting.

    The last time my team made a hire, we intentionally chose the candidate who asked us relevant questions and didn’t seem like she was trying to tell us what we wanted to hear in hopes of being chosen. She was the only candidate who didn’t give off “pick me! pick me!” vibes.

  29. not neurotypical*

    Nonprofit hirer here. Our work is deeply meaningful but also hard and heartbreaking — much more so than people realize looking in from the outside. No matter how well we take care of staff (and we do), there’s literally no way around the inherent emotional toll of the work. To withstand that toll, you must be sincerely dedicated to the cause. So, we do need to see a level of enthusiasm that communicates that dedication. At the same time, we want to see that you have soberly reflected on the demands of the job itself, including how you will cope with the difficult aspects of it, and we will feel uneasy if it seems you have been daydreaming about a fantasy job instead.

  30. agnes*

    Please do not ever utter the words “this is my dream job” in an interview. ” “this position is a great fit with my skills and interests” “this organization’s mission aligns with my interests” “I highly respect the work you do here” “I would welcome the opportunity to put my skills to work to support a mission that I feel strongly about.”

    Anything but “dream job.” Please.

  31. Wintermute*

    It’s also important not to over-hype yourself! Our thoughts follow our language and being overly effusive can mean we will talk ourselves out of seeing something that would normally give us pause.

    Remember, when you’re wearing rose-colored glasses, red flags just look like flags.

  32. NS*

    I would also give the advice “no self-actualization”. I often have people contact me looking for jobs similar to mine, and they sometimes say stuff like “if I got this job, I would finally be happy with who I am as a person”. That’s a lot of expectations for a job, and so worry that someone who said that wouldn’t be able to handle setbacks, would be too hard on co-workers, etc. It’s also fairly awkward when someone says this in person, because it’s hard to ignore the implication that they don’t feel fulfilled right now

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