should I fake interest in the job during an interview?

A reader writes:

What is your opinion on feigning enthusiasm for a job during an interview?

For a few months now, I’ve been unemployed, like so many others. I’ve been actively applying to jobs that fit my skills and experience, but there aren’t many choices in my industry. It’s rare to find something to apply for, and rarer still to get an interview. So when I do get to that stage, it may be a skills fit, but won’t necessarily be a job I’m super interested in.

For example, I had a recent interview for a position that could be considered a step down, focusing on a niche skill. In the interview they directly asked “We see your experience is X, but this job is only in Subset-of-X. Why are you interested in this job?” I think I handled the question well, talking about the challenges and responsibilities about the position, but I definitely feigned my enthusiasm.

How should I answer “Why are you excited about this job?” when I’m just not really? Are managers looking for a bit of fibbing? I’m probably thinking about this more than I need to, but it’s been something that’s been on my mind for a while.

It’s definitely true that employers want to hire people who are enthusiastic about the work they’ll be doing. There are a few reasons for that: If you’re engaged and invested in the work, you’re more likely to put energy into doing a good job and to take the initiative to solve problems and suggest new ideas. You’re also more likely to stick around for a while, whereas a candidate who takes the job just for the paycheck is apt to continue actively searching for something better. Plus, if you’ve ever worked with someone who clearly felt their job was an albatross weighing them down, you’ll get why hiring managers want to hire people who are interested in the work — they’re usually more pleasant to work with.

So it’s not that interviewers are “looking for a bit of fibbing.” They’re looking for people who are genuinely interested in the role. If that’s not you, they want to know that so they can factor it into their decision-making — which, to be frank, means they’re probably not going to hire you. Not because you didn’t lie! But because you don’t have a key attribute they’re seeking in the person they hire.

Of course, that’s all fine and good if jobs are plentiful and you have other options. But when you just need a paycheck, if you want to stay in the running, you need to show interest in the job. As an interviewer, I don’t want you to fake enthusiasm — but as someone advising you on how to get a job, I know the reality is you may need to.

Most of the time, that doesn’t mean you have to outright lie. You don’t need to say, for example, that data entry is your dream job if that’s not the case or that you can’t think of anything you’d rather do. But spend some time thinking about reasons the work is important or ways someone could find satisfaction in it, and that may lead you to something you can genuinely say. For example, you may end up saying, “I know it’s not the most glamorous work, but it’s crucial because everything the organization does relies on having accurate data. If the data isn’t in good shape, nothing else functions the way it’s supposed to. And I’ve always gotten real satisfaction from making sure that even the smallest details are right.”

There’s a big caveat to all of this, however, which is that if you fake enthusiasm in the interview, you need to be prepared to keep up the act once you’re on the job. If you get hired in part because you seem excited by the work, you’re the person the hiring manager expects to show up for work every day … and if that’s not you, you risk running into problems after you’re hired.

People sometimes struggle in this arena because they’re not particularly demonstrative and don’t really perform enthusiasm in a way that lines up with what hiring managers may expect. One such person wrote this to me a while back, which I thought was brilliant (particularly because she works in nonprofits, where there’s often a special expectation of passion for the work):

I haven’t had much success displaying more “enthusiasm.” Day-to-day, I’m fairly serious and focused, not giddy with excitement over our opportunity to Help People. What actually seems to work … is to get more serious and stern. At the end of an interview, for example, when given the chance to ask questions, I’ll pause, take a deep breath, and ask very seriously if I can talk a little bit about what my work means to me. That usually gets people’s attention. Then I’ll give a little speech about my work — the difference we’ve made in our clients’ lives, how hard and how rewarding it is at the same time, the way I feel called to this work through my life experience and faith tradition — and blow their socks off not with how excited I am about the work but how seriously I take our mission. I’ve developed a reputation for being serious and reserved but in a way where my reserve is just a cover for the intense emotion I must be feeling all the time. I never need to fake “perky” or “bubbly” (shudder), but no one questions my commitment.

So if you have trouble demonstrating notable enthusiasm for the job you’re interviewing for, you might instead try demonstrating intense seriousness about its responsibilities. Ideally, you wouldn’t make this up out of whole cloth, but if you can connect to something about the job and why the work matters, usually you can pull this off.

But if you truly can’t think of anything you’d find satisfying about the job, I’d question whether it’s one you should be applying for. Because if you’re hired, this is how you’ll be spending 40-plus hours a week for months or even years. Obviously, sometimes you just need a paycheck and don’t have the luxury of rejecting jobs that sound mind-numbingly dull, but if you have choices at all in where you do or don’t apply, factor that into your thinking.

Good luck!

Originally published at New York Magazine.

Read an update to this letter

{ 103 comments… read them below }

  1. Sabine the Very Mean*

    I am a very very dry and reserved person. My excitement is most people’s indifference. I really appreciate this question as it is hard to gauge genuine vs contrived seeming interest.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is me, too! Drives one of my kids crazy that I’m not belly laughing at things that I do find funny, and my college friends used to call me Daria (very GenX reference) as a term of endearment.

      It’s also why I don’t ask people about being excited about the job but what about interested them enough to apply – is it that they like X work or are hoping to get more experience with Y or what? It’s more of a warm-up question but also an opportunity to see if someone’s interests are not something they’re going to get in the position (because I think they should know that, too, to make an informed decision).

      1. InterestingSchmisteresting*

        I love the idea of open ended questions! It’s a good way to gain insight into both sides of the table – open a line of discussion.

        I think what bothered me the most the implied “Why are you even applying to Subset X, if your doing X already?” They may have genuinely been curious why the focus on subset X, but it put me on the defensive!

      2. InterestingSchmisteresting*

        Also, totally love the Daria reference. Just googled Daria quotes, and this was the first I found: “There’s No Moment In Life That Can’t Be Improved With Pizza.”

    2. Rayray*

      Same here. I especially have a hard time when opening gifts. I could be incredibly happy and enthusiastic about it, but it comes off that I am only feigning my joy to be polite. It’s tough.

    3. CoveredInBees*

      This is me too. It’s partially a cultural difference but also my personality. I’ve tried ramping up enthusiasm when it was needed and the results were not good. I came off as intense and even a bit stupid, rather than enthusiastic.

    4. Sara*

      This is my problem as well – I have gotten feedback from recruiters that they passed on me because I didn’t seem enthusiastic enough. I’ve learned since then to be more animated in interviews to show a level of excitement I don’t really feel!

    5. Bex*

      When I ask this question, I’m more interested in the content of the answer than tone and delivery. I’d rather pick someone with a dry, reserved delivery who can give me specific examples of the things they are interested in and articulate why they care vs someone who is visibly enthusiastic and bubbly but gives completely vague answers with no substance.

    6. alienor*

      I’ll have worked in my field for 23 years this year, and I’ve never once been excited or enthusiastic about it. But, the Venn diagram of “things I’m enthusiastic about” and “things I can earn a living at” consists of two entirely separate circles, so here I am. The worst is when we get surveys and annual review questions about what makes us excited to come to work, and the only thought in my head as I stare at them is I have never been excited to come to work in my life. The struggle is real.

      1. Elenna*

        Same here! Like, my work is fine, I don’t dread it or anything, there are some interesting parts, there’s no other paying careers I want to switch to… but at the end of the day, I’m not here because I’m enthusiastic about it at all, I’m here because I can’t make a living playing Stardew Valley and reading fanfiction 24/7.

        1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

          If I could make my Stardew Valley income magically appear in my bank account, I think I’d be more enthusiastic about a lot of things!

      2. allathian*

        Same here. I’m not in the US, so the expectation of “excitement” or “passion” (shudder) is not on the same level as it seems to be in the US. That said, I’m not completely indifferent to my job, there are lots of things that give me a sense of accomplishment and job satisfaction, and occasionally things that I look forward to with enthusiasm. Maybe you need to reframe “excitement” to a sense of accomplishment or job satisfaction in the next survey?

        I definitely work to live rather than live to work. But even with reasonable working hours (my standard workweek is less than 40 hours), I spend so much time at work that getting some pleasure from it, if only for a job well done, is important. Otherwise, life would be rather dreary.

    7. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      Same here! I once had an employer who regularly gave me a hard time because I was more even-keeled and not flipping out over everything (their idea of “showing passion”). I was more interested in actually solving a problem than freaking out over it. It came from the top. The Big Boss once dramatically told our team “I just to know that you give a sh*t.” Mind you, this was a team of bright, conscientious people who cared very much about our jobs and the company. There was no reason for him to harp on that. It trickled down to his team leads and those of us who were more reserved got accused of not caring enough. Imagine having to deal with that and have your character attacked even though you DO care about your job, work hard, and do everything you’re supposed to do. It was like having an emotionally needy boyfriend. I once got so fed up that during a weekly one-on-one with my team lead, we were talking about a certain project and I made sure to profoundly say “I’m SO worried!” She loved it, but I was totally making fun of her. I wonder if she ever realized that. I’m not saying people shouldn’t care about their jobs. Of course people should at least care about honoring their responsibility to do their job, do it well, and deliver the results they are getting paid to deliver while acting reasonably pleasant and professional. What I’m talking about here is the type of employer that demands that you be overly demonstrative about your “passion” for the job and making monsters of people who are more even-keeled and reserved. Glad I don’t work there anymore.

  2. Katie the Fed*

    If you’re not interested in the job, it is almost certainly going to reflect in your job performance. I would be honest here – not too honest but I wouldn’t pretend you have a lifelong passion for something if you don’t. Focus on the aspects of the job that do appeal to you.

    1. InterestingSchmisteresting*

      I thought Alison had a good perspective I hadn’t thought of! If the job itself isn’t interesting, then if hired it could eventually reflect in attitude and work.

      And to “Sabine the Mean’s” point, I wonder if there’s a balance of an interesting aspects vs interesting on the whole? Like maybe subset x is interesting, but the specific industry isn’t all that interesting.

    2. YouwantmetodoWHAT?! *

      I think that it depends, honestly. I’ve had jobs that bored the heck out of me, but I did that job well – even ‘exceeded expectations’. I was very happy to have a job and to get that paycheck.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Same here. I once had a job at a restaurant answering the phones for reservations. The place was only open Thurs-Sat, but I was there Mon-Fri from 12pm-5pm. A completely-empty restaurant is a boring place to be! But the upside was that I got to do homework for all my college classes while I was on the clock. Was I bored to tears? Yes. Was it still good for me? Yes. I got a paycheck and quiet time for studying.

        There’s always a silver lining.

        1. Willis*

          Yeah, I think there’s a difference between “boring job I’m taking for a paycheck but will keep looking for more interesting work” and “boring job that I would be happy to have cause it works for me.” I’ve had admin jobs with a lot of typing and filing…I wasn’t excited(!!!) about them but the people were nice enough, they paid well enough, and I got some satisfaction out of keeping things organized. I think for a lot of typically ‘boring’ jobs, interviewers are still looking to know what interests you about it and that you’re not going to be looking to leave on day 1. You don’t need to being doing cartwheels about it, but if you really have zero interest in staying, you wouldn’t really be a very good hire.

      2. Mr. Cajun2core*

        I am currently in a job that bores the heck out of me. It is not challenging at all. However, I also get “exceeds expectations” on my reviews.

        Disclaimer: I could not read Alison’s response because I reached my “monthly limit” at the site.

      3. Kimmy Schmidt*

        I think this also shows that there’s so many ways to spin a job, and so many possible interpretations of why you care about it. One person’s boring is another person’s stable, and one person’s hectic is another person’s challenging.

      4. Cat Tree*

        I think some (most?) people get satisfaction out of doing a good job even if it’s not their dream job. I think it’s so common that it’s actually more noteworthy when someone doesn’t try very hard at their job.

        In the Before Times, we all interacted regularly with people who probably aren’t doing their dream job. But there’s often a very good waiter, fast food drive-thru clerk, or department store employee who goes above and beyond to help me, the customer. Of course there are bad employees too, but I’ve encountered them less than the really good ones.

    3. Let's Just Say*

      It might also help to think about the approach you bring to the work, whether it’s interesting or not. For example, if you’re a highly conscientious person who finds satisfaction in even small and unglamorous tasks being done well, that’s something to highlight that isn’t a lie and still fits the question.

  3. Bob*

    I like Alison’s answer.
    Also bear in mind that people can usually tell when your feigning interest and that makes you look worse.

  4. Perfectly Particular*

    Allison’s answer is so good, and would work well for many roles that support a big business.

  5. Cordoba*

    I’ve previously address this question by pointing out several aspects of the job/company/mission/whatever that I am genuinely excited about and looking forward to. If you can’t find *anything* that fits this description beyond “I’ll get paid” then it’s probably not a good idea to take the job.

    Even if pizza isn’t my very favorite food, if somebody asked me “what do you like about this specific pizza you’re eating right now?” I could likely come up with some completely accurate positive answers.

    Maybe it has the perfect amount of cheese; maybe banana peppers are IMO the best topping, maybe I like the fact that it’s cut in triangles instead of little squares. Even the worst gas station pizza I ever had still had a few redeeming features.

    1. JSPA*

      As I learned the hard way, both with jobs and gas station pizza (the latter being a short but dramatic lesson)…if you can’t come up with a single redeeming feature, don’t bite. There actually are worse things than literally hungry (and I’ll leave it there).

    2. InterestingSchmisteresting*

      I could definitely come up with many positive answers about pizza :)

      That’s kinda what I thinking too – but it’s that fine line! I mean, I can find anything interesting about anything. (Except pineapple on pizza. Sorry, but I can’t do it).

      So I guess there really isn’t a good answer other than know thyself? Like if your really struggling to find positives or not be blasé in an interview, it’s not a good idea to take the job.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Hey! You’re conflating “interesting” and “desireable”. I think it’s really very interesting indeed how strongly people feel about pineapple on pizza. (There’s clearly something going on there. Maybe pineapple is a symptom of “too many toppings is wrong”? Maybe it’s about combining sweet with meat? So many possibilities!)

        1. Elenna*

          I think it’s often about sweet with meat? But I can’t say for sure because pineapple is one of my favourite pizza toppings lol.

          Maybe worth noting that my parents are Chinese and in Chinese cooking it’s common to put a spoonful or two of sugar into meat dishes. It doesn’t make the dish sugary, per se, it’s just a touch closer to the sweet end (e.g. sweet and sour sauce). Then again there are Western foods like that too, like honey garlic chicken wings, so idk.

    3. allathian*

      I also think that it can be a matter of semantics. I’m not an excitable person at all. If I didn’t get excited about my own wedding when I married the love of my life, I sure as hell am not going to get excited about a job. Don’t get me wrong, I was as happy as I’ve ever been when I got married, but not excited. If I’m asked about what excites me about something, I’ll reframe it in my head into something else, like what makes me happy or gives me a sense of accomplishment. My job provides lots of opportunities for both, even if it’s not exciting.

      1. CatMintCat*

        I like eating and living indoors, and you will give me money to do that.

        Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could actually say this?

  6. Amber Rose*

    Someone shared a link to a Candyologist position today. It’s a job where you eat candy and then rate it. For a ridiculously high wage.

    I’m just saying, if you find the right job you won’t need to fake enthusiasm.

    1. Firecat*

      I think it’s way more common that people are – ok but not in love – with their jobs then that any meaningful # of folks find the ‘right job’ for them.

      But hey maybes that’s a decade of watching my friends be underemployed or (and sometimes and) worked to the bone talking. When I look at the graduates of 2020 I see a similar future for them and my Gen X friends insist graduating in 90s wasn’t easy either None of us are really in an ideal job for us despite hard work, networking, soul searching, etc. Frankly I think a lot of it is chance and chances are best to those born into good connections.

      1. Jennifer*

        I agree, I think most people are just ok with their jobs, not overly excited, not miserable, just meh. “Dream jobs” are hard to come by.

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      I once met someone whose first job had been in a candy factory as a teenager, and they were told they could eat as much candy as they wanted. After the first couple days no one wanted to eat it anymore!

      1. The Original K.*

        I have a few friends who served and ate a particular food too much and now won’t eat it. An ex of mine lived next to a fast food place and after he moved, the smell of that fast food made him sick.

      2. InterestingSchmisteresting*

        That sounds like a Greek tragedy… all the candy you could ever want…but you don’t want it anymore. My nightmare!

    3. Cat Tree*

      I should apply for that job. I love all candy except green apple flavored (and Mary Janes because what even are those?) I even like conversation hearts, candy corn, and those weird assorted hard candies that your grandma finds around Christmas.

      But with my luck and the way the trend is going, I’d probably be assigned 100 new green apple variants to try. Also, maybe I’m not the most qualified for the job if my stance is “everything is great”.

    4. Environmental Compliance*

      True, but the right job may require a significant move, or be so competitive that it’s near impossible to get, or not be on a commute route, or so many other variables.

      The “right” job doesn’t mean “dream” job. It means a job that is in line with your important “needs” from a position – whether that means it’s a paycheck and you have tolerable coworkers, or you feel that you are Changing The World (TM). You don’t need to be Over The Moon Excited about your job, and it’s okay to be Interested instead.

      But you do need to convey *some* sort of enthusiasm/seriousness/interest in the job, in whatever way that may be.

    5. Me*

      Not everyone has the luxury to wait for the “perfect” job.

      There’s nothing wrong with taking a job that fits what you need even if you aren’t enthusuastic about it.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, that old tale about finding a job that you love is such a disservice to so many people. You’re not a failure even if you don’t love your job, even if it’s obviously better if you can find something in the job that gives you a sense of accomplishment if nothing else.

    6. allathian*

      Was the position part-time? I doubt anybody could eat candy 8 hours a day 5 days a week and still write great reviews about it. Too much of a good thing is still too much.

      It’s like when I worked in a fast food place as a student; we got a huge discount on the stuff and sometimes were allowed to eat stuff that was too stale to be sold but not unfit to eat and that would have gone in the trash otherwise. After I left that job, it took maybe 5 years before I ate a hamburger again.

  7. Rey is my bae*

    Honestly I can completely relate to the LW. I’ve been trying to break into my field for years and it usually meant applying for jobs that I under no circumstances truly wanted to do but desperately needed because I was stuck in a vicious cycle (most jobs I wanted required a masters degree + professional registration… but I couldn’t get the masters + professional registration without some serious experience, so I had to consider jobs that I didn’t want in order to make do). And hey, guess who didn’t get many of those jobs? I had much better luck with contract roles where the funding was time limited as I could speak to my interest in learning in this role, and how I could contribute, without feeling the pressure to fake interest in having this job long term.

    1. Rey is my bae*

      Note: I’ve since gotten into a masters program but it required shifting to a different program which still valued some experience but didn’t emphasize so much of having 3+ years of experience etc etc and it is honestly a way better fit for my goals any how.

      Point is contracts can be a way in, from my experience, because I think sometimes managers ask different questions and that way you don’t have to pretend you want this job for the next 5 years if you know you’ll likely only stick it out for a year, or maybe 2 tops. Obviously it comes with drawbacks (eg I’ve never had a job for over 18 months, but if you only do it the 1 time and not repeatedly for 5 years like I did then it should be ok…)

  8. Lee*

    It’s definitely a tough position to be in, LW. I once had to feign interest in a job solely because I desperately needed the paycheck and insurance. (And by “desperately” I mean I was literally on the verge of losing my apartment). Although I had steady interviews coming in, the hiring process in general is so slow that I couldn’t wait any longer for better prospects to come up – if they did at all. So I took the job, put in my best efforts, and ended up leaving for something much better after about a year & a half – as Alison says can happen. It wasn’t a great job nor the best path but it financially saved me, and that’s what I needed most at the time. Alison’s advice here is solid – go with that, consider your own situation, and trust your gut. Good luck!

  9. Mr Ed*

    I have now got to a point in my life where I can’t be bothered coming up with fake answers to these super generic interview questions.

    Back in September, I was asked the question “how do you like your feedback”, and I said “universally positive.” Which is the only truthful answer for anyone.

    Interviews are so routinely pointless.

    1. Marsupilami*

      Disagree about the feedback. Entirely positive feedback without any suggestions is frustrating in its own away for me. Just had to explain that to my newish boss – it helps my ego, but does not help me improving at all! Give me something to think about at least please.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. Sure, positive feedback is great, but what I really want is *actionable* feedback. If I’m doing something wrong or something that could be improved, I want to know before it becomes a serious issue. Vague “you’re doing great, keep it up” feedback is better than no feedback at all, but pretty useless. Even with positive feedback, I want to know what prompted it, like “thanks for your contribution to the X project, I just gave a presentation on it to our board and they were really interested and asked pertinent questions that your work helped me answer.”

  10. Littorally*

    Another thing you can think about is if you can’t summon up much enthusiasm for the job itself, see if you can summon up enthusiasm for something involved in it.

    When I interviewed for my current job, the hiring manager talked with me about how there is a lot of focus on process improvement in this role. The role itself was one I felt a little lukewarm about, but I’m really into process improvement and my resume and coversheet reflect that. So I could go all in with my enthusiasm (real!) for learning a process and discovering how it can be done better and for finding that sweet balance between a process that is user-friendly and simple but also compliant with the (significant!) bureaucracy and red tape our industry involves.

  11. employment lawyah*

    They are trying to screen out people just like you. I mean: Who wants to hire a disinterested person who is just gap-filling, when you COULD be hiring someone who actually wants the job, likes the niche, etc?

    So if you want the job and if you’re OK lying, then you should feign interest.

    Obviously this won’t necessarily benefit you in the long run, and obviously it will start the job on a bad note, and obviously you’ll have to either maintain the lie or get caught out, and you’ll have to live with the fact that you may have gotten hired over someone due to lying, but it is your call.

    As you can see I think it’s generally a bad idea, though.

    1. Rayray*

      Is it really that serious though?

      I think one problem is that there’s so much talk your whole life about finding a job you love and are passionate about. The truth is, most of us won’t be passionate about our jobs but are fully skilled for them. We might even like our jobs, but passionate is a huge stretch for most people when describing their jobs. Interview advice always tells us to show our passion, so i think many people are duped into believing they must be passionate about any job. Personally, I like my job and I like my company. By no means am I passionate about it, but it pays the bills and I don’t hate my life every day and I e come to realize that this is all I really want for any job. I’m just not passionate about any one job, but it’s become an expectation for work for whatever reason.

      1. The Original K.*

        +1. “Find your passion” often comes from a privileged place – someone upthread said they needed a job because they were at risk of losing their home. When I was doing admin temp work in the last Great Recession, I was sometimes asked about passion and I would think, “you’re asking a lot of someone who is going to work here for two weeks.”

      2. InterestingSchmisteresting*

        I totally agree with this sentiment! I see so many articles about “Get your dream job!” “Don’t settle!” It’s setting unrealistic standards.

        Is it a job that you don’t feel like driving straight past the office everyday? Then you’re doing better than most people.

      3. allathian*

        Same here. I’m not passionate about my job, but it pays the bills and gives me a sense of accomplishment from time to time. I don’t hate going to work and I don’t hate Mondays.

    2. Rey is my bae*

      Honestly there is SO MUCH privilege in never having to pretend you want a job. If you’ve been unemployed for a while, you might have to take a job you do not want, or if you’re a single parent feeding your kids might be higher priority than whether you actually like your job, or if you’re new in the field and don’t have many prospects to get your foot in the door. I could go on. And it’s easy to say just wait for a job you like, find your passion, etc, but that assumes everyone has that access or the resources. I also don’t think not loving your Job is inherently bad if you have other reasons to motivate you to do well (eg you’ll do well to make sure your child can eat) and if that’s a problem for a manager who wants their employees to just looooooove every moment, well, that’s unrealistic. I know someone who’s had the same job for 10 years because it provides stable hours, insurance, vacation time etc, she doesn’t especially love the work cause it’s boring AF but it works for her family situation and she’s really good at what she does so it’s not a problem for management. So assuming that one must love the job is a bit naive.

      1. MCMonkeybean*

        Seriously! It is ridiculous to act like this is some sort of terrible deceit that should haunt people with guilt for the rest of their lives. Most people put on a best-version-of-themselves front for an interview that they aren’t necessarily going to bring to work every day for the rest of their lives. Looking at things like that as “I guess you’re okay lying” is just not realistic.

    3. AlwaysAnon*

      I get that not everyone is going to be passionate about their work. But as a hiring manager, I need someone who can muster up enough give a darn to come in and do solid work with a reasonably pleasant attitude. I don’t need you to love it but I do need you to get it done.

      1. Lana Kane*

        Another hiring manager here – and I second this. I, too, need a job to live, and I’m not under any illusions I’m offering people a dream job. But I’m also responsible for hiring people who will “do solid work with a reasonably pleasant attitude”. So, I’d say have that reasonably pleasant attitude and come prepared to the interview with one thing that you think you’d like about the job – either based on the job posting or what you have learned in the interview.

      2. Claire*

        Exactly. I don’t care about “passion” so much as finding someone who won’t quit or think they should be promoted right away. Or worse, stay in the role forever while whining about how it’s beneath them/not interesting enough. Even tasks that might seem small or boring are still important to have done correctly and contribute to the overall functionality of the group as a whole.

      3. MCMonkeybean*

        Needing enough money to live on is enough motivation for most people to show up and do solid work with a reasonably pleasant attitude. And I’m sure there are plenty of people who are passionate about their jobs in theory but in practice are unreliable and unpleasant. Those things aren’t that highly correlated…

  12. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    Unfortunately I couldn’t read Alison’s response to this one, but I’m going to share my view – there are different reasons you might feel enthusiastic about this job.

    The “interview friendly” reason is that because the job utilises part of your skillset (unless it’s your least favourite part), it’s an opportunity to focus on those skills and develop them (hopefully this is relevant in your work).

    Perhaps also you’d be working with a great team working on interesting projects, or your future manager is someone who might mentor you?

    Things you can use to fuel your enthusiasm without sharing them in the interview:
    – A job in your field rather than something unrelated, so that you have some opportunity to develop relevant skills or knowledge
    – Working at a company that hires in your field, where you could potentially move into a more senior role in the future
    – Making contacts in your field which could lead to other opportunities

    I don’t have the full context, but in a field where it’s “rare to find something to apply for, and rarer still to get an interview” this role might be a good opportunity if you can just reframe it for yourself.

    Good luck with your job hunt!

  13. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

    I was thinking more that the interviewer keyed in on the fact that OP has a stronger skillset than needed for the job, thus they are gauging not really the ‘excitement’ or ‘interest’ in the job, but more whether or not OP is going to stay for a long enough time to consider hiring them. Like OP is qualified in llama grooming but is taking a position that is just llama nail clipping. The interviewer is probably trying to see if a job in llama grooming opens up will OP immediately leave for that job?

    So my take would be, yes, you need to fake some enthusiasm because otherwise they’ll go for someone they think will stay longer.

    1. InterestingSchmisteresting*

      I think that hit the nail on the head!
      They’re already distrustful as to why a llama groomer would take a llama nail clipping position, so they’re trying to suss out any hidden motives. (i.e. Better sell yourself real good)

    2. DataSci*

      Yeah, exactly. If you seem overqualified for a job, the interviewers will be concerned you’ll have one foot out the door. If possible (i.e. you can do so without lying), you can talk about some aspects not directly related to the work itself – maybe there’s a really short commute (I took a pay cut when taking my current job, but it also reduced my commute from an hour to fifteen minutes), maybe the work-life balance is great, whatever.

  14. Smithy*

    I think when folks talk about interview prep – a lot of time is often spent thinking of the more technical aspects and work to highlight, but I’ve often been best helped by getting out of my head on an area where I’m finding myself either stuck or self conscious.

    I work in nonprofit fundraising, which is likely its own niche in interviewing that looks to both interest/enthusiasm in the mission as well as the actual job functions. The last time I was interviewing, they were for a few jobs that were somewhat lateral moves – but came with a better title and more money. And the reason I was interviewing is I was fed up with my current employer. All three not likely to be viewed as competitive explanations or reasons to hire me. Therefore, because I knew my dry aggressive response was “I need a change and more money, you seem fine” – I spent the time talking through other reasons why the job was appealing.

  15. DivineMissL*

    During my interview for my current job, I was asked why I would take a job that I was overqualified for (true) and I would probably find boring (sometimes true) and I would no longer be the boss (true). I truthfully explained that I wanted a job where I could make a difference (true) but still be able to turn off my computer at the end of the day and forget about it (sometimes true) and be able to have a personal and family life (very true). I pointed out that the CEO was there interviewing me at 7 pm when everyone else was home watching TV and having dinner, and I wanted to be able to be home having dinner too, instead of being the boss. He liked that answer, and I’m still here 16 years later.

    1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      Well done, you. I also suggest to OP:
      think of one reason that you applied to the job. What caught your eye? You must have seen many for everyone you apply for. What made you stop? Build on that.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Then you’re probably going to lose out on the job to someone else, as I discussed in the article. It’s in your best interests to find a way to seem enthusiastic.

        2. MCMonkeybean*

          Dig more. Why are you qualified? Is there something about your education or previous work experience that makes that the case? If so, what made you pursue those things in the past? Is the job at least tangentially related to things you are more interested in? If so, use that as a starting point and then branch it out.

          Like if you’ve always been interested in and worked on teapot lids in the past but right now you can only find job postings for teapot handles, talk briefly about what brought you to teapots in general and how you feel like you’ve learned so much about lids that you decided it was time to branch out and learn about the handle side of things so that you could have a better understanding of teapots as a whole.

  16. Dandy it is*

    I have been on the interviewer side the last few years. If someone is currently unemployed, I ask how the job fits with their future goals and make certain they understand what the roll is. If it is a step back, I make certain they understand it. Since Covid, I don’t even ask how it fits with their goals. I just make certain they understand the requirements of the job. It is disingenuous to think that a need for a steady paycheck and insurance isn’t driving them for the job. Most people don’t live to work but work to live.

    1. Rayray*

      Definitely. I took a job during the pandemic that I normally wouldn’t have just because it’s so similar to something I did before and hated and it’s also a somewhat further commute than I am used to. However, I am doing very well at this job and I actually kinda like it. It is by far the least toxic place I have ever worked and the benefits/perks/overall treatment of employees is so, so, so much better than what I’ve ever had before so it did work out for me. But yeah, I absolutely was only applying in the first place because my UI was going to run out in a couple months and I absolutely couldn’t afford to be choosey about my work.

    2. RC Rascal*

      Thank you for taking a sensible approach.

      I was out of full time work for 4 years in the Great Recession. I was fortunate enough to have part time professional work and I was also volunteering in leadership roles with a non profit. No one would hire me for paid work and it was a way to stay relevant and build my skills , as well as keep me occupied.

      A large number of interviewers gave me a hard time about it.I even had one question if I wanted full time work! Unfortunately the decorum requirement of interviewing prohibits a person from exclaiming “ I am about to default on my student loans and my parents give me grocery money. I will absolutely take anything and can’t be that picky “.

  17. C.*

    I think anyone can more or less fake positivity for a role that they’re indifferent to (or unsure about). I’m not necessarily looking for someone who literally says “I’m so excited to do X, Y, and Z” in job conversations. True enthusiasm is harder to fake, though, I think. It really only comes through when a person is being their authentic selves and have clearly taken the time to think about why their background/experience is a genuine fit for the role.

  18. And I'm Out*

    I’m sort of in this position right now. My current role ends in a few months so I’ve applied to about 15 positions in my niche field. Of those 15 positions, 5-7 are super-exciting and would use a lot of my skills/licenses/certifications and offer a great trajectory for growth, 2-3 are basically “plan Z” roles if nothing else works out where I’d only be using a tiny bit of my skill set and not really have room to grow, and the others are somewhere in between.

    Unfortunately I’ve only heard back from 3 places so far (I applied at most places 5-6 weeks ago), including one “plan Z” role. I really appreciate the organization’s mission, but when I had my initial interview for the role where I was able to learn more about what the role entailed (since I wasn’t clear with the terminology used on the job description), my fears were confirmed. Basically, I’m a Certified Senior Underwater Basketweaver but in this role I’d be acting (and most probably getting paid like) an Assistant Basketweaver, which is a role I could have done 8 years ago without going through the rigorous and expensive certification and additional training process. The pay difference between the two is very significant…from salary websites and talking to more senior people in my field, I’d probably be making 50% of what the average salary is for a Certified Senior Underwater Basketweaver in that region if I took this role as an Assistant Basketweaver. There’s basically no way to transition to a Certified Senior Underwater Basketweaver in this organization based on how they’re structured, and to make matters worse, I’m pretty sure I’d hate living in that location.

    I’ve got a final round interview for this organization next week, though, so my options are either to continue feigning enthusiasm (in case no other roles work out) or to ask directly about the salary range and job growth potential and to explain I’d need a higher salary/a more dynamic role if I were to consider this role (this is the option I’m leaning toward). I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting at least one better offer for a better role at a different organization between now and when my current role wraps up…but nothing is certain.

  19. Bookworm*

    Thanks for asking this question. I’m someone who has gotten feedback that I’m “too quiet” or “not enthusiastic enough” for the job which is super irritating. I’m exhausted already from trying preparing for this interview, don’t expect me to be super perky!

  20. Mel_05*

    I studied graphic design and it’s what I’ve been doing for quite some time now. But, right out of college there weren’t a lot of jobs and I interviewed for a data entry position.

    The manager was confused that I would want to do something mind numbing when I was obviously a creative person.
    But, I explained, truthfully, that I actually find data entry soothing and I am oddly obsessive about making data orderly. That was enough. I didn’t have to say it was my dream job or pretend it was exciting.

  21. Nacho*

    “Why are you interested in this job?”

    “Because you’re willing to pay me money to be interested in it.”

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Yeah. I don’t know when a job had to become your life’s mission or something.
      I hate places that want or expect you to “drink the Kool-aid” as though work is some kind of LaLa Land.

  22. Pescadero*

    I fake it.

    Because it isn’t *A* job I’m unenthusiastic about… it’s having to have a job (ANY job) that I’m unenthusiastic about.

  23. Washi*

    If you’re really struggling, I’ve found that if I instead answer the question “why would you be good at this job,” no one knows the difference if you say your answers cheerfully.

    Last year I got an extra part time job as an apartment building concierge. It was extremely boring, I knew it was going to be boring, and I wanted it so I could basically get paid for sitting and doing my grad school homework. But obviously you can’t say that in an interview, so I answered the “why are you excited about this job” with basically “I’m good with people and very organized.” All true!

  24. a sound engineer*

    I just went through this because of the pandemic. I was applying to all kinds of jobs because I needed *something* – some I was more excited about than others, but really it didn’t matter what I ended up with. In cover letters, interviews, etc I focused more on the what appealed to me about the type of work (e.g. I like fast-paced jobs where you’re not doing the same thing every day, etc) over enthusiasm for the actual organization/company itself. Of course, I’d always throw in something about the organization, but enthusiasm for the organization itself wasn’t the focus of my answer.

  25. AthenaC*

    “What is your opinion on feigning enthusiasm for a job during an interview?”

    Do it. Always. If you can convince them that you are enthusiastic, it helps keep your options open, whether or not you actually decide you want this job or not.

    ’nuff said.

  26. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

    When you apply for a job as a llama groomer, you’re not going to be excited about picking nits out of a llama’s coat. But you know what you are excited about? Eating food and paying your electricity bill.
    Focus on two things: a regular paycheque is a genuine source of joy, and the most interesting thing to you about the job.
    When the interviewer asks “What makes you excited to join our team?” she doesn’t expect you to say “I just love shovelling llama sh!t.”
    Say something real to you like “Your company has a good reputation and I think animal welfare is important.” Put some thought into what makes that particular job not suck and you won’t sound fake.

  27. Jack*

    Alison’s answer contained two turns of phrase that I’ve never seen before! “An albatross weighing you down” and “make it up out of whole cloth”. I’m from the UK which maybe accounts for it, and I love a bit of linguistic diversity. Twice within one article is a rarity!

    1. Eliza*

      The albatross phrase is a reference to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which is by an English poet but is also a bit over 200 years old and thus a bit long in the tooth these days. A little Googling on “made out of whole cloth” suggests that that one does indeed originate from the US and is about the same age.

    2. londonedit*

      I’ve definitely heard people referring to ‘having an albatross around your neck’ in the UK. Maybe it’s a more old-fashioned saying? I’ve also heard of ‘whole cloth’ but I don’t think I’ve heard anyone use it in real life.

  28. Des*

    As an interviewer, I have rejected candidates who demonstrated a lack of interest in the job because I have other candidates of similar skill-set who are excited about the particular challenges of the job.

  29. agnes*

    Look sometimes you just have to fake it till you make it. There’s a reason why they call it work and we insist on being paid $$ to do it–cause the “psychic payoff” isn’t always there. A good attitude and positive approach is often more important in getting promotions and being assigned interesting work than your skill set is. Sad but true. Or you can wait until the perfect job comes along….your choice.

    “I’m happy to be working in my field again. I hope its the start of a long and fruitful career with your organization.”
    “I like your organization and the work you do and this job helps support those efforts. I like knowing what I contributed to our final product/service.”
    ” I like being part of a team and this job involves a lot of team work” OR “I like working independently and this job lets me do that.”
    “I appreciate the opportunity to get back to work in my field and I know all the roles are necessary for what we do. This is a different role for me, sure, but it’s part of what helps us do our business.”
    “I haven’t done much of this aspect of the job before so I look forward to getting deeper into this part of the process.”

  30. Echo*

    One piece of advice I often give people about this is that for 99% of people, it’s not actually true that they would take literally any job that pays. If that’s the case, would you take babysitting? Janitorial work? Operating heavy machinery on a construction site? Cold calling? A line cook job? Be a bouncer? And maybe the answer to some of these is yes; I certainly don’t mean to imply that this kind of largely hands-on work isn’t valuable or desirable! But for a lot of us applying to office jobs, that’s not what we’re interested in. So then you reverse the reason why you DON’T want the other job.

    “I wouldn’t take a cold calling job because the idea of making people feel pressured and put-upon stresses me out.” –> “I’m excited about the data entry job because I care about helping people and making their jobs easier, and that’s exactly what data entry does: make sure people have the right data that’s easy to access, right when they need it.”

    “I wouldn’t take a bouncer job because that’s way too much excitement.” –> “I’m excited about the data entry job because data entry work is routine and frankly, I love routine! I’d be grateful to be in a role where I can learn a process, follow it diligently, and come in every day knowing what the expectations will be.”

    “I wouldn’t take a construction job because I have no idea how to operate a backhoe and frankly don’t have time to learn.” –> “I’m excited about the data entry job because I’ve spent a long time learning the skills involved–organization, attention to detail, fast and accurate typing, computer literacy–and I can’t wait to finally put those into practice every day.”

  31. Rotate Your Owl*

    Wait, does anybody enjoy work? I thought it all sucked. I thought we all lied in interviews.

  32. Jennifer Juniper*

    I’ve handled this one by being extremely grateful to have the job and always agreeing with whatever my employer said and did. The management ate it up with a sticky spoon while my coworkers looked at me like I was insane.

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