how do you tell a company that this is truly your dream company/job?

A reader writes:

I have a second interview with a company I have been working towards my entire career. They only hire experienced candidates, and I’m finally at that level. I’ve also freelanced for this company, which was a wonderful experience.

How should I — or should I do this at all? — tell them how serious I am, not only about the specific job, but about working for the institution itself? I don’t want to come off as some deranged fan, but I would like to underscore how much I want the job (and honestly, I would do just about any job I am qualified for at this institution). How much emphasis should I place on this when explaining why I want to work there — I assume saying I’ve spent my entire career wanting to work there is overkill?

By the way, of course I know that “dream jobs” don’t truly exist. But this is close, and the institution has a great track record of how it treats its employees.

The thing about expressing intense enthusiasm — dream job level enthusiasm — is that very few jobs hire people because they’re wildly enthusiastic. They want to see a baseline level of interest, of course. But once that box is checked, having extra high levels of it doesn’t add that much. After all, they’re not going to hire you because you really want to work there; they’re going to hire you because you seem like you would excel at the work (at least at healthy companies, which are the ones you want to work for).

There’s also a point where it can become a negative. If you seem like you have rose-colored glasses on, interviewers will worry about whether you’re being realistic about what working there will really be like and how well you’re able to assess whether it’s really the right fit for you.

So you want to aim for a middle ground — interested and engaged, but grounded about it too. It’s this difference between this:

“This has always been my dream job! I’m so excited to be talking to you. I’ve always wanted to work here.”


“Since the start of my career, I’ve been really interested in X Org’s work because of your focus on ___ and the unusual approach you’ve taken to ___. I’ve always hoped there might be an opportunity to work together and be part of your ___.”

The second one still expresses genuine interest, but it grounds it and adds more nuance (plus you sound informed!). Since you’ve freelanced for them in the past, you could potentially reference something specific from that experience too.

Also! Passion for the work is a different thing — someone who fully nerds out talking about their love of, say, data or customer service or llama grooming (or whatever the job is focused on) is much more exciting than someone who’s really focused on loving the company itself.

{ 130 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon Today*

    That last paragraph — yes! I work in a famous and historic building, doing some really cool stuff. Thinking it’s an amazing building won’t get you hired. But if you adore X data and Y process… you’ve got a chance.

    1. Ama*

      One of my first adult jobs was a summer job in grad school where a different university from the one I attended needed someone to start cataloging their archives for a particular program that had made some significant discoveries in the 1950s (we’re talking changed-the-way-we-understand-the-world discoveries, and their archives from that historic discovery were literally in boxes in an attic). When I interviewed for the job I described myself as a “library geek” who really enjoyed working with old records and catalogs (I could also point to a catalog of less interesting material I had made for a program at my own university). This was apparently one of the primary reasons I was hired — and I found out after starting that it was the first time they’d ever hired not only someone from outside the university but someone who wasn’t related to an employee who already worked in that department.

      1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

        I got an interview at an old private membership library by using the phrase “I have a missionary’s zeal for working with books and matching them to readers.” My qualifications were minimal, but that line piqued their interest enough to get my foot in the door. I wasn’t their first or second choice, but #1 didn’t work out and #2 didn’t show up – so I became a Circulation Librarian (and later, Outreach Coordinator) at a fascinating historical library.

    2. A Person*


      I’ve done interviews in the past for companies that are well known. I’ve done interviews for my current company which is less well known, but in a space where we’re seeing as a “helping” company so we get a lot of people who are interested in the cause.

      When I ask you “why are you interested in the Llama Groomer role”, I mostly don’t care that you’re interested in our mission to give care to sick llamas or appreciate that we are the main llama related company that devotes time in underresourced llama communities. I want to hear that you really enjoy maintaining llama hooves, or that you’ve always been fascinated by the texture of llama fur and are interested in how best to shampoo it. Or that in your last job you used to wash llamas but got to groom them occasionally and realized you really love grooming more than washing.

      It’s certainly nice if you’re into the mission and hopefully you think positively about the company. But trust me, EVERYONE has told me that they appreciate our mission and think positively about the company. I want to know why you want to do *this work specifically*.

      1. Unaccountably*

        I have a different experience with that in my current job. The people at my company are legitimately very mission-focused. We might interview half a dozen candidates who all have more or less the same qualifications, for people inside my area and outside it, and most of them don’t even bring up our mission; but the ones who can tell me why they’re passionate about it are the ones I’m going to recommend hiring.

        Having said that, this is the first company I’ve worked at that’s really mission-focused like that. My last company was also a nonprofit and I couldn’t even give you an elevator pitch about what its mission was.

        1. A Person*

          That’s really interesting! My experience (at least in my field) is that people who are passionate about the work and interested in the mission work the best for my roles vs passionate about the mission and interested in the role. But we also do fairly specialized, mid level work so I wonder if maybe it’s different at lower levels? Or maybe it’s the opposite – once you’re at a high enough level and everyone has great qualifications passion for the mission matters more!

          I also think this conversation is a perfect example of why you may think you did great at an interview, but the exact same person might pass my phone screen and fail yours (or vice versa)!

    3. BigTenProfessor*

      Overenthusiasm, whether for the company or the job or something random like the building, can also weaken your negotiating position. You want to be interested, not obsessed.

  2. Eldritch Office Worker*

    Yes to the last point especially. I can talk about operations management with enough enthusiasm that people think I’m REALLY strange, but when I interviewed with my current company I kept it more in line with “oh I’ve worked with you before in x context and really enjoyed the experience”. The work is the big thing.

    1. D*

      I remember explaining in my interview for my current job as a copyeditor that, “I just really like commas and grammar. I know that makes me sound like a ridiculous nerd, but it’s true.”

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I should hire you to referee when my husband and I get into grammar arguments :D we’re fun people lol

      2. Nynaeve*

        My go to is “I excel at, and find engaging, the kinds of tasks that other people find dull and boring.” It has worked numerous times. I have even put it in my cover letter before and had the interviewer reference it as the kind of attitude they are looking for. And, it’s 100% true. As long as I can have headphones on, I can QA/QC a million data point spreadsheet all day and not get bored or distracted. And other similar tasks.

        1. many bells down*

          Oh this! I like filing things and filling out forms! I think it’s relaxing honestly.

        2. Me!*

          Me too; I loved working on 200+-page reports at Exjob because I could just put on headphones and work down my little checklists. *sigh* I wish someone would hire me to do that again…

    2. My heart is a fish*

      Definitely. Ask me about how you can write a 5,000 page regulatory rulebook and STILL you’ll run into situations that none of the regulations really address. Those are like candy to me.

      1. Corporate Lawyer*

        We are kindred spirits! I’m a securities lawyer who finds the regulatory framework of U.S. securities laws genuinely fascinating. I have literally said in interviews, “No one should love this stuff as much as I do, but I’ve taken a personality flaw and turned it into a career asset” (and have gotten the jobs I was interviewing for).

        1. My heart is a fish*

          Oh hey, securities industry buddies! Definitely the right place to be if you looooooove diving into deep pools of regulation.

    3. Unaccountably*

      Sometimes you can take it for granted that people like the work, since they presumably spent many years of their lives becoming qualified for it and even more doing it. But some of my best job interviews have involved just talking to the hiring manager about the work in our field, and the work in this job specifically, and how it interacts with my interest in that company in particular, because to be honest no one else wants to listen to us.

      This is why I don’t like pre-scripted interview questions. I understand why they’re necessary, but it seems like they’re so often written by people who have no clue what the job entails and they’re either banal or bewildering. Just let me talk about my field to other people in my field, HR!

  3. fwehsd*

    A related question since I’m here early – a relative is applying for jobs just out of college, does anyone have ways to rephrase this (for cover letters or interviews) for a recent grad? Obviously he’s applying for a range of orgs, but a handful that he’s genuinely passionate about – since the advice to new grads is always to express enthusiasm, how can he make it seem genuine when it is? Is the key in citing the reasons?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’ve been following X Org’s work because of your focus on ___ and the unusual approach you’ve taken to ___. I am excited about the prospect of working together and being part of ____.

    2. AnotherSarah*

      IMO it’s similar–I’ve been passionate about x since I interned at/took a class in/realized that…and then something about experience. I’ve been passionate about statistics since I took an introductory course in statistical analysis. I chose to major in math after taking the course, or I spent the next summer working at….I work with college students, and I’d say the same caveats apply. Passion is fine but it can also be a negative; what I want to see is experience, even if it’s in a class, or a very part-time job, or somethine like that.

    3. SofiaDeo*

      Fridays are when Alison opens the site to readers asking work related questions. It isn’t appropriate to derail a specific question thread, even if it’s a similar issue. Please ask your specific tomorrow, I am sure many will have great advice!

      1. Lemon*

        Tbh I think this question is on-topic + general enough to be useful to many readers

        1. Loulou*

          Yes, I understood OP in this thread to be asking how to modify Alison’s script *in this post* for a recent grad.

          1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

            What would be different about a recent grad’s experience that would require modification?

              1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

                I don’t see anything in her script that would require experience.

                “I’ve been following X Org’s work because of your focus on ___ and the unusual approach you’ve taken to ___. I am excited about the prospect of working together and being part of ____.”

    4. Anonymous 5*

      I think coursework and/or extracurricular activities can sometimes fill this in when someone doesn’t have specific work experience in a field, especially if it’s advanced coursework. Being able to say, for example, that a project in one of your courses ended up exposing you to PDQ nuanced aspect of XYZ field is already a big step ahead of just expressing raw enthusiasm.

    5. PollyQ*

      Thing is, none of it is “key.” Enthusiasm is fine, but what the employer is really looking for is skills and achievements. So, maybe one sentence about how passionate he is about the company, and get to the other things he’s bringing to the table.

    6. Nesprin*

      I’d argue the key bits are specific demonstration of knowledge and fit.
      I.e.: Company does A, B and C really well, and I have sought out opportunities to learn about A, and B, including coursework X, and project work Y and demonstrated skills in B and C by thing Z. I’m thrilled about the opportunity to do more A, and it fits perfectly into my long term plans of W.

      Fill in A, B, and C, and X,Y,Z, and W appropriately.

    7. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      Look at the top comment on this post – some really fun and very specific examples and turns of phrase.

  4. suspicious_swan*

    Something else to point out would be that companies/hiring managers that think you’re doing it for the love of the company and are then impressed by this might be at companies with more of a cult-like culture. Not necessarily, but something to consider.

      1. RT*

        To an extent. You should care about the issue that a nonprofit stands for, and hopefully everyone does, but having worked at a few myself, it is easy for them to fall into the dangerous cult-like culture.

        “If you truly care about [public service] you shouldn’t mind being paid a quarter of what your peers in the industry make….”

    1. Formerly in HR*

      Or the ones who then tell you they can’t increase your pay because you should /said to be happy just to be working there.
      On a side, there are managers (and /or employers) who seem to hire more for enthusiasm than for skills. My previous manager made hiring choices that seemed to have more to do with the quiver in the voice and the tearful emotions expressed by candidates than their actual abilities to do the work (in one case the candidate is still in the job but I have yet to see something of value coming out of his hands, in a couple other cases the hires were later offboarded due to not being able to perform the tasks of the job). But this is a manager who also talks about the team as being a big family, so now everytime I hear that I start to mentally count the red flags in the picture.

    2. Me!*

      I interviewed with one company where I think not being a bike person was considered a detriment. The person sounded disappointed when I said I didn’t bike but was very interested in their product and the opportunity to learn it from the ground up (it was a tech editor position). Maybe I didn’t know all the terminology; I could learn it, but I think they wanted someone who lived the life, so to speak.

  5. Coin_Operated*

    Bascially, “how do you tell a company that this is truly your dream company/job?” … You don’t. lol

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Maybe the question shouldn’t be so much how as when…as in wait to confess this to your manager until after your first annual review.

  6. TraceMark*

    I work at one of those places that people often have all sorts of feelings about that are actually not at all related to the job they are going to have to do. I agree with Allison’s point here, you need to have an enthusiasm for the place and the work. But if you aren’t realistic about what the work entails, and how it differs from the warm fuzzy feeling you have in your heart, I know I’m going to be very wary of you.

    For context, I work in a library. And yes, books are wonderful. But it isn’t a quiet place where you get to read all day :)

    1. Anonymous Archivist*

      I’m an archivist who works for a famous archival institution- absolutely agree. Similar to libraries, people also think that archivists get to sit around and read historical documents of major events in history all day. Nope. 90% of my work is typing information into spreadsheets and looking up information online.

      When we interview candidates, it’s made very clear what the job entails and, more especially, that it doesn’t include cool tasks x, y, and z. Even with that, we have a huge amount of turnover in our staff because we are fancy enough to get lots of candidates with MAs, but we hire them to move 40 lb boxes from one location to the other.

      1. Anonymous Archivist*

        So to follow up with actionable advice-
        -Make sure your application materials demonstrate that you understand what the job will actually entail. To use the library example, you should talk about your customer service skills or experience with filing systems; you should not talk about your favorite authors.
        -Focus on the skills and experience you bring to the table. You’ve already freelanced with this company, so you should have a good idea of how to translate that work experience into what is needed for this position.
        -If you want to talk about passion and enthusiasm, frame that enthusiasm around skills- organization, communication, adapting to rapidly changing conditions, etc.

    2. Library_Lady*

      Exactly! I’m currently phone-screening applicants for an entry-level public library position. “I love to read” is a lame answer. “I love helping the public and making my community a better place” is a great answer.

      1. DragoCucina*

        I had to put that on job applications. I put a line that stated, “Do NOT list that you like to read.” We had a spot for “other information” so people could tell us they are an expert in chocolate tea pots. Wow, that would be great for our chocolate tea pot maker space.
        In job ads I did stress the physical demands of the jobs. Can you walk/stand for three hours at a time? We always made appropriate accommodations, but it solved the problem of folks who thought it was a cozy little job.

      2. Felis alwayshungryis*

        Yeah, when I worked in a library I did a lot more helping people with the photocopier and printing documents than I ever did reading! I can’t believe people still think librarians have time just to sit around with a book.

        (Also, they forget that with libraries come customers, and some of them really put the nightmare into a dream job.)

      3. Unaccountably*

        Oh, jeez. My mother was once contemplating a career change and told me she thought she’d like to work in a bookstore.

        She was in her late 50s, which would have been fine except that she was barely mobile and in no way physically able to carry heavy boxes or get up and down off the floor to stock shelves, and she couldn’t stand for very long. Also she hated people, couldn’t get along with them, and would have imploded into a smoking ball of rage within four hours of stepping behind a register to deal with the retail-shopping public.

        I… do not know what she thought working in a bookstore entailed.

    3. Cat Lady in the Mountains*

      Yes, this. I’m in nonprofit management in an issue that tends to speak to people’s passions. In the phone screen I’m ok with a little “this org/field is my dream job,” but only if you ALSO tell me why this admin, data, tech, customer service, etc. job is what you want to do. So many candidates miss that second part.

      I happily hire folks who are ambivalent about (though not actively against) the issue area and have deep experience in the role – and they are usually awesome and stay for much of their careers! – but I can’t hire folks with tons of passion for the issue and limited interest in the role.

      1. Phlox*

        Same. I get a ton of folks who apply because they like ORG and think we’re cool. Often those folks don’t get as far into the candidate process because they fail to make a case about the job we’re hiring for and why they are excited and qualified for it.

    4. Ermintrude*

      And that’s why I am not a librarian! I’d likely get distracted by said books, too!

      1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

        Aim for research or membership libraries in a field you like. I worked in a historical society library and archives, and the library staff spent a lot of time digging for information in old books and maps, the archivists did the same in journals and letters, and the photo and print archivists in the visual material. It was usually a collaborative process with the researchers.

  7. Heidi*

    If the company is really well-known (I’m thinking Pixar or something), there could be a lot of other candidates who have also aspired to work there their whole lives. Telling them that you’re super-enthusiastic won’t really even stand out. I feel like this is similar to college admissions. Just telling them that you’ve always wanted to go to there isn’t going to get you in, and you don’t want to group yourself in with the overly pushy applicants or those who just want to get into a big-name school.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s a really good point. You can still mention your enthusiasm but the focus should definitely be on what YOU bring to them table, not them. If they’re in demand they already know it.

    2. MEH Squared*

      Great point. It’s common for them to hear (presumably), and really only pertinent to the applicant. To put it bluntly, it doesn’t really add anything for the person interviewing (because they’ve heard it a thousand times/take it as a given).

      1. MEH Squared*

        Sorry. My comment did not include actionable steps to take. I agree with others to focus on what about the job makes you enthusiastic as that is something you are adding to their company if they hire you. Because really, that is what they are looking for–why they should hire you in particular for this job (or any other).

      2. Allonge*

        Yes. Frankly, these are the lines in a cover letter / parts of the interview that the hiring manager may well not read or hear as ‘blah blah’.

        Act your enthusiasm by all means – even when someone is really a calm person, the drive to get the job can shine through – and use the precious time and word count for more specific info than ‘I find you cool’.

    3. Sara without an H*

      I don’t know where I first saw this, but: No manager will hire you just because getting the job will make your life wonderful. She will hire you if you can convince her that hiring you will make HER life wonderful.

    4. another Hero*

      I do think there’s room to mention that you’ve had a positive experience with the company in your freelance work and know it’s a culture you’d like to work in! To me that conveys the opposite of rose-colored glasses – that you know what you’re getting into and have a decent chance of staying awhile.

      1. DragoCucina*

        That’s a good point. I had a recent interview with an organization that I was with right out of high school. My husband retired from this organization and both my sons were affiliated as well. I mentioned these connections because I’m well versed in the organizational culture.

    5. NYWeasel*

      I’ve had the good fortune to work for more than one “dream employer”, and this is so so so very true. Even being able to say “I worked for (dream job 1) and now would like to bring my knowledge to (dream job 2)” isn’t enough bc dream employers in related fields have TONS of cross pollination as employees move around to improve their titles and strengthen their resumes.

      I actually downplayed my zeal in my last Dream Interview, bc I realized that keeping cool and professional would be more of a differentiator than sharing how excited I was about the opportunity. Sure enough, that was one of the factors that helped me get that job, bc part of the role was working with upcoming Dream Releases, and being too enthusiastic was a red flag for the potential risk of leaking info on social media.

  8. SansaStark*

    I’m finally working at a company that I’ve had my eye on for years. Several people in the department are Big Names in the field. I knew of them way before any of them knew me. I brought it up casually and organically once or twice in the interview when talking about something I had done in a “in my research on how to improve our llama grooming practice, I actually referred to your online policy manual since your org is well-known as an expert in the field.” So really just demonstrating that I respect their org but in a focused way on the work and expertise they have in the field. The point was to let them know that I am aware of the work they do, their leadership in the field, and then I worked to show how I’d be an asset here.

    1. All The Words*

      This is a great approach. The applicant comes of as professional and knowledgeable about the prospective company.

      Expressing deep emotions about a company would actually make me wary if I was hiring. I’d be much more interested in a person’s experience, ability to do the job and get along with their co-workers, etc. An applicant’s emotions are their private business.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. I fear that the companies where hiring managers are influenced by how much passion the candidates show for the company itself, rather than what they’d bring to the job, are the ones I’d steer clear of because I don’t want to work for a cult.

  9. Gnome*

    Yes! Agree with Alison!

    I love making pretty graphs and squishing data around until it makes sense. I get a weird joy from it. When I say this socially, it is super weird. But in an interview, people seem to resonate with it. And I do mean that I literally say, “I get a weird joy from making pretty graphs and really interacting with data. I like to metaphorically squish it between my toes.”

    Obviously, this is great for some kinds of work and terrible for others, but it is pretty clear if a job includes that sort of thing or not.

    1. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

      I can totally get away with saying that I utterly enjoy wrestling with dogs and being hip deep in cleaning minutiae as an animal care person and not be looked at askance — because on some level, most of us do. There’s a very zen feeling about getting things together, about getting the shy dogs to like you — in fact, today an owner of a somewhat shy puppy was super happy to see his pup pull right to me and try to tackle me in order to lick me to death – weirdly, I have no idea WHAT I did for this puppy that is any different than for any other puppy (I am fairly stern with the dogs, as a rule; I do not play much, and I enforce good behavior. So well I can get them to stop jumping on other handlers with a word), but she apparently thinks I’m the bee’s knees!

  10. Lacey*

    Yes, I’ve gotten at least a couple – but maybe all – of my jobs because of how enthusiastic I am about the work itself.
    That’s probably the best way to make it clear how excited you are about the job.

    Especially if it’s a company where people can be really intense fans of the product itself.
    If it’s more niche, I think you can be a little more enthusiastic about the company without making them worry.

    And in the OP’s case I think it’s fair to say something about being enthusiastic from her experience working with them as a freelancer.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Very true. Given that I live in Connecticut, I know people who worked for years at ESPN. But their niches did not involve sports nor broadcast TV. One tech guy said it was a plus to NOT be a sports fan working there. He could focus on the new tech when co-workers were wishing they could watch the big game they were supporting.

  11. goducks*

    Having worked for a company that made a product that everyone raved over, and that had a bunch of die-hard fans, I can absolutely attest that what a company looks like from the outside, and what it looks like from the inside can be miles apart. Whenever someone was a superfan and mentioned that in their cover letter I knew that they’d be a poor match once they saw how the sausage was made.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*


      Going in thinking it’s going to be your dream job, and then seeing the sausage-making process, will make people crash much harder than if they had a non-fan attitude in the first place.

    2. AnonMom*

      Same. Applicants who fanned over our company or gushed about our household-name board members have, without fail, been such troublesome employees that I see it as a red flag now and do not move candidates like that forward.

    3. The New Wanderer*

      Passion about the end product is definitely not the same as passion for the work that goes into making that product! The flip side is also a problem: if a hiring manager is only looking for super-fans, they’re not going to get objective eyes on the product. I was once rejected within 5 minutes in a interview for a position working on a gaming console design because I’m not a gamer myself. That was the interviewer’s first question and apparently the only one that mattered, not my actual experience and skillset in product R&D. It’s been years and I get a small amount of schadenfreude whenever I hear people complain about the lousy interface/interaction of that gaming console.

    4. Zaeobi*

      I’m going to start using “once you see how the sausage is made” as part of my daily vernacular now!

  12. V*

    I am in an environmental field that attracts a lot of “this is my dream” passionate applicants. As a hiring manager, I completely co-sign Alison’s advice. Please don’t waste your application space on your passion; tell me what you can do for our organization in this role.

    I can confirm from having once been the dreamy young person that a lot of the employers out there who do lean heavily on “we’re the dream job and you have to be passionate” are also exploitative, encourage employees to lose the line between their home and professional selves, and have less investment in quality of life, benefits and compensation.

  13. Velawciraptor*

    I think there’s also something you can say about your experience freelancing with the company and what aspects of the company you appreciated in that experience and how it led to you wanting to work there. Showing you understand company culture and how you would fit into that culture could be useful.

    1. another_scientist*

      I was thinking something similar. If you can point to specifics “In previous freelancing projects, I liked X aspect of the company culture/mission/way of doing things”, you can signal that you understand how the company sees itself, or how it operates and that you are applying with that full knowledge.
      It could give you a similar edge to an internal hire, in the sense that you still need to be qualified for the work, but if there are multiple qualified candidates, you might be one that needs less orientation, and can onboard and get to work more quickly.
      If it’s an industry that has a lot of turnover, or competition for skilled workers, you can also signal that you are sure that you’ll be happy with the institutional culture, and less at risk for being poached soon.

  14. another Hero*

    I do think there’s room to mention that you’ve had a positive experience with the company in your freelance work and know it’s a culture you’d like to work in! To me that conveys the opposite of rose-colored glasses – that you know what you’re getting into and have a decent chance of staying awhile.

    1. Allonge*

      Maybe? But it should be more specific still in the direction of what’s in this for the company, so more about the experience showing OP can contribute really well in this environment and not about what OP likes.

      1. another Hero*

        Yeah, I mean that as part of an answer to a question like “Why do you want this job?” or “What do you know about Company?’ In my field it’s pretty common to ask what you know about the org, and something like “I’ve done work x at site y, and I really enjoyed working in that collaborative environment” or something would go over fine as part of an answer to that. Nothing wrong with expanding it to how that fits with your skills and experience and benefits the company, but if it’s an org with a bunch of superfans, showing your enthusiasm is grounded in reality seems useful on its own.

  15. JSPA*

    I think it’s OK to lean in a bit more on how positive the experience was, and why. And employee doesn’t need to love the company to be a good employee. But having close to a guarantee that they will feel like they are thriving, even as they work through issues (like any new hire)? That’s got some worth.

    “My long-time positive impression of [company X] was cemented by [how much I enjoyed coming in to the office / turning on my computer and digging in every morning / getting some insight into how your departments work together] when I freelanced on the ABC project.”

  16. knope knope knope*

    I work at a large entertainment company and it does help if someone is a fan of our company’s work. It doesn’t replace being good at the job, but we work for our fans, so it can be selling point if you are a genuine fan and that comes through. That’s true at every entertainment company I have been at. I could also see fangirlling for a company being appropriate if you’re applying somewhere like Patagonia where the company basically aims to build fans of its culture.

    1. BubbleTea*

      But presumably being a fan is a minimum requirement, not adequate in itself? You also need candidates to know what the job entails and show how they would be good at it, which requires more specifics than “I’ve watched every single movie” or “I buy all my clothes here” or whatever.

      1. Knope Knope Knope.*

        Not a minimum requirement or adequate itself. Just an extra selling point.

  17. CurrentlyBill*

    Folks doing the hiring are likely to not have the same rosy picture of the organization as an outsider. They’ve been in those mind-numbing meetings, seen great ideas get shoved aside for other initiatives, and seen individuals at not their best.

    The more someone talks about how amazing a company is from the outside, the less credibility they may have in the eyes of an insider. Even the best company will inspire an insider to think, “What the hell is wrong with our execs?!?!” from time to time.

    It’s the nature of being a human surrounded (physically or virtually) by other humans.

  18. CM*

    I think it’s fine to do this, and have done this! (But it’s probably a best practice to take Alison’s advice instead of mine.) For me, I think the key is to mention it as an aside, and definitely not use the phrase “dream job.” I’d say something — AFTER the substantive part of the interview, maybe while you’re wrapping up at the end — like “I was especially excited to see this listing because I’ve appreciated this company’s work for so long in X, Y, and Z.” For my current job at a tech company, I mentioned that not only had I used and appreciated their software, but my parents were in the same field and were excited that I was interviewing there. (Again, I said this in the relaxed “small talk” portion of the interview, NOT as a reason they should hire me.) I do think it helps to be enthusiastic about the organization, not just the job, as long as your focus is on your qualifications and ability to help the org. I’ve interviewed candidates who seemed to barely know what my company did and that’s a minus.

  19. El l*

    A how-to and a warning. The how-to: Besides Alison’s advice to “focus on the work”, a good strategy to show enthusiasm is to talk about the people you know at the company. That’s especially true if you’ve worked with them and if they’re particularly good.

    The warning: Be careful with how much you want this job, or any other job you’re “remotely qualified for at this company.” Genuinely, and not just in terms of how you express it.

    Because even if they have a “great track record of how it treats its employees” doesn’t mean anything here will be a great fit for you. Specifically. Because…the job could be half-baked. Your boss’ way of working could not fit with yours. They could ask hours that you can’t give. You can’t be sure even after your freelance stint that you’ll fit company culture – which is a mix (for better and worse) of particular skills, particular mindsets, and even of particular habits and personal chemistry.

    There are many ways this could go wrong. I’m sure they’re a great fit for some people, but that doesn’t imply they’re a good fit for you. And out of self-protection, you need to keep your eyes open to that.

    1. Anon for this*

      I got caught up in the kind of situation El l is describing. I got a job at a company whose work really impressed me. It was as close to “dream job” territory as I ever expected to get. I hit it off with my supervisor and other interviewers, the work seemed great, and I felt like I could be part of the culture.

      After I took the job, reality showed up. I didn’t fit the culture all that well and my boss wasn’t a great manager. The type of work I was hired for wasn’t actually what they needed (which might be less of an issue in companies that have been around longer than my former employer) and my duties soon morphed into something I didn’t have the skill set to do. I had great intentions, and they did too, but it did not end well.

      My point is to be careful. You might end up in your dream job, or you might find yourself in something looking rather nightmarish. Ask a lot of questions and pay careful attention to any sort of “spidey-sense” or gut feeling you get. I had that with my ex-employer but chalked it up to imposter syndrome. Read between the lines as they answer your questions — body language, tone, facial expressions.

      Good luck. Go for it if things really seem right, but be very thorough in your evaluation.

  20. anonymous73*

    In addition to what everyone has said, I think you really need to ground yourself in reality. The company may look good on paper, and the role may seem like a dream. You could even have great feedback from one or more trusted acquaintances. But that is never a guarantee that this will be a dream job. It’s a great start (obviously much better than hearing it’s a toxic environment with a tyrant for a CEO), but until you start experiencing something yourself, you really can’t say how “dreamy” it is for YOU. That being said, I wish you all the best and hope this works out in your favor.

  21. Sammy*

    I always wonder if “dream job” is just an American thing. Labor is labor. Yes, there are better companies than others. And yes, there are roles you work hard to attain. And of course, some jobs are better than others. But that phrase drives me absolutely nuts. I’ve worked for 4 organizations that people would kill to work for and at the end of day, work is work, and sometimes it’s rewarding and sometimes it’s a nightmare, tasks pile up, stress is there, coworkers are annoying. We need to focus on what we get out of something, like work life balance and good benefits, and not simply call something a dream because they have strong external branding.

      1. The Jobless Wonder*

        Pays OK, doesn’t stress me out, and the BS is of a tolerable variety.

    1. BubbleTea*

      I didn’t know my job would be absolutely ideal for me before I got it, but I can now say with reasonable confidence that it is probably the best job I could have, at this stage in my life and career, and is likely to continue to be ideal for me for several years. “Dream job” status can only be conferred with hindsight, and it is typically temporary because people change even if jobs don’t, and most jobs do.

    2. J.B.*

      The job I have now is as close to a dream job as I can get. The reason it is a dream job is that I have autonomy – my boss trusts me in my field of expertise and doesn’t micromanage – and I have flexibility. The tradeoff is definitely a lower salary, as I could get 50% more elsewhere. And at some point in the future money might weigh more than flexibility.

      1. allathian*

        Same for me. I work for the public sector, and while a similar job in the private sector would probably pay more, higher pay is very low on my list of priorities given that I can pay for necessities and some luxuries, and invest some for the future. Granted, my husband has a much higher salary than I do, and without him my standard of living would plummet, but I would still have a roof over my head, etc.

        But I’m happy at my current job because I feel that my work contributions are valued, and I have lots of flexibility and the ability to WFH almost as much as I want. I go to the office about once a week or twice a month, mainly to hang out with my coworkers face to face and to eat something neither I nor my husband’s had to cook, if I’m completely honest. I do get some work done at the office, obviously, but I’m much more productive at home. I have great coworkers and a manager I both like and respect, and lots of opportunities for professional development if I want them, although many of them are optional if I don’t feel up to it. I’m about as happy in my job now as I can imagine myself ever being in any job, so I have no wish to leave. I can be proactive about change when I see a need for it, but I utterly despise change for its own sake.

    3. Loulou*

      I don’t think it’s particularly an American thing — in any other country there are the best, biggest, most important institutions that people in a specific field might aspire to work in.

      1. Zaeobi*

        I don’t know – that still just sounds like wanting to work for a big name (a company) rather than the work itself (the job)…

        Whilst other countries also have these big names, they may not have this feverish level of commitment to them *unless* their culture emphasises the Calvinist attitude of work for work’s sake (i.e. finding fulfillment in your work to the point where working itself is a ‘dream’).

        That said, there are people the world over who will work for a particular company purely due to the company’s perceived prestige. They don’t tend to last long, though ;)

        1. allathian*

          Maybe they don’t last long, but the prestige of having worked for one of those companies can last several jobs into the future, unless they utterly fail at the job at the prestigious company. But yeah, people who are fans of a particular company tend to accept offers on worse terms than a non-fan would, and when they’re disillusioned and want better terms, it’s probably easier to get them by finding a new job than by attempting to negotiate better terms at the prestigious one.

  22. MI Dawn*

    I like Alison’s approach, and the approaches mentioned by others.

    In my case, I was at the company I already worked for, just a very different division. I had done occasional work with members of the team, in various roles. I simply used the words: “I have always enjoyed working on projects with X department and when I was able to do Y with them, it only strengthened my desire to become part of the team. I learned so much working with them and would be proud and excited to become part of the team.”

    I got the job…and still have it, 8 years later. Some of the team has changed, but it’s still a great team to work with.

  23. Catwoman*

    Totally agree with this advice. Be ethisiastic and specific about why this work and culture are a good fit for you.

    I worked for a famous fruit-based tech company’s retail store in grad school. The first people they weeded out of the group interview process were the mega-fans with no people skills. You got to the interview by showing enthusiasm. The actual interview process was focused on how well you can provide customer service.

  24. OyHiOh*

    In college, I worked for a niche toy company, taking catalog phone orders (they shut down their call centers a few years later as online purchasing habits took over). In my community, getting a job there was pretty much a “dream job” for people with low education and/or students because they paid very well, paid for training, and had flexible scheduling.

    I was not a particular fan/consumer of their toy products. Like many little girls, I’d once lusted over the glossy catalogs, and I’d ready many of the books, but I hadn’t been the kind of child who actively played with those toys so working there, for me, wasn’t so much a dream job as a means to an end (flexible employment during college). But the job *became* a dream job once I started working there because that call center was managed very well, we were very well trained, and we were paid well for our skills and knowledge. Pre 2001, midwest US, making $12/13 an hour to enter orders into a computer, in a community where fast food and big box retailers were paying $7.25 – $8/hr. The path to promotion was also clear and ability to train into those positions was straight forward and accessible. Also, there were pretty nifty give aways during holiday season.

    People were hired because they could pass a wpm typing test and could articulate the basics of customer service in an interview. Thinking back, very few people in my training class “loved” the company or it’s products. We were hired because we could type, and because we could help Grandma X figure out which product and accessories to buy for granddaughter Z. We gained passion for the company because we were treated well. And honestly, the customer service training I got there continues to stand me in good stead decades later.

  25. Casey*

    Echoing the comment about the work! My job is under the umbrella of “rocket science”, so the cool factor is pretty high. We get a ton of candidates who start off their cover letter by waxing poetic about the Space Shuttle or wanting to be an astronaut or their love of sci-fi, and it always sort of falls flat. Your everyday work isn’t just like, admiring the rocket — it’s technical and can, like any other job, be mundane and frustrating. When candidates tell us about their passion for organizing confusing data into a coherent story, or looking beneath the surface to track the root cause of a manufacturing defect, that’s significantly better because it shows us that they’re actually excited about the day to day.

    1. Gnome*

      Ha! See my comment earlier aboutt squishing data between my toes! I totally get what you are saying. I also enjoy debugging code :)

    2. Elim Geary*

      I work for a small startup in a niche government-related field, and we have absolutely been super excited to hire someone based on an enthusiastic cover letter. I think that, in addition to his qualifications, he nerded out about something relevant going on in Taiwan, and talked about how he [used the product of that field] for [something silly, but great]. That’s not the only reason why we hired him, but it did help. We have rejected excited, but unqualified applicants in the past.

      So, in this sense, my advice is also to show and not to tell. If this is a dream job because of something unique and specific to your history (it is a job in teapot preservation and you have a collection of 100 year old teapots already), definitely mention that. It won’t change the outcome if you are not qualified, but it will make the interviewers a lot more excited.

      Like everyone else said, if your excitement isn’t unique — everyone wants to work for NASA/Google/whatever — I wouldn’t mention that it is your dream job or expect that comment to carry a lot of weight.

    3. Connie-Lynne*

      Heh. My dad is a retired rocket scientist, and after he retired the first time, he worked for a popular modern spacerace startup. This combo meant that -so- many people over the years have hit me up to hit my dad up for referrals. I would always vet them to ensure that, in addition to loving space and satellites and reusable human/cargo capsules, they also had a solid set of skills in whatever they were looking to do.

  26. moonstone*

    Yeah – enthusiasm for a company/organization is different from liking the job itself. I think you can demonstrate how much you understand and would like the *actual job*, you can sell yourself pretty well. Bonus points if you happen to like the parts most people tend to not like or find challenging (like pouring through tedious financial statements or something), but only if the enthusiasm is genuine.

    Love for a company can only go so far, and I personally would be creeped out by a hiring manager who overemphasized company loyalty during the interview stage.

  27. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    I’m typically not a fan of turning a noun into a verb, but I love your phrase totally nerds out.

    1. NeedRain47*

      I was just saying elsewhere how much I love to quote one of my linguistics professors from my undergrad degree: “You can verbize anything!”

  28. lizzbert*

    My two cents: I worked in a very competitive and pop culture-related industry for years that had a LOT of very enthusiastic fans. My company learned to avoid hiring anyone who seemed like more of a “fan” than, say, someone excited about marketing–the former category of candidates definitely had rose-colored glasses and didn’t seem to grasp that every job has busywork and pain points, and generally took things way too personally. I always counseled people to focus on the work during the interview, not the product/producers!

  29. Decidedly Me*

    I once had someone who wanted to work for us so badly that he offered to work for free to prove his worth…it did not endear us to him. He wasn’t qualified and did nothing to explain why he was right for the role.

    It’s fine to mention that you want to work somewhere (I love it when people know us!), but I want to know why I should hire you for my open position :)

    Best of luck!

  30. McS*

    I hire for a company that is developing a new product in the clean energy space. We get candidates who are just so excited about using their skills to do something meaningful! That is great and some amount is good for retention, but of course the actual job is an actual job with plenty of downsides. When someone is too sure they’re going to love the company, I get concerned they will not stay long when the day to day really doesn’t feel like saving the world all the time.

  31. SereneScientist*

    I actually really like the advice Allison shares in one of the “You may also like these” posts. In it, she challenges the notion of “dream job” because often many factors involved in how suitable a job is rather opaque to an outside observer. It might be a dream company or dream job, but what if the manager sucks? Or there is little support/infrastructure? All things worth keeping in mind, imo.

    1. Loulou*

      Absolutely agree and I have read and loved those posts too. There are so many factors that go into being satisfied in your work. I also think there are different reasons someone might think a job is their dream job. Is it because they have a certain image of what their day-to-day will be like at that job? If so, they may be disappointed by the things you mention. If it’s feeling strongly about an organization and its mission or significance, that may be more durable, but often can’t compensate for difficult working conditions etc.

  32. wine dude*

    I have but one caveat. For our business where we produce something fun that people want, a prospective employee who expresses a little fan love for our product – and of course has the necessary skills – often ends up being a better fit overall. Industry dependent.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      Yeah, I think if the company creates a consumer-facing product, being an enthusiast about the product can be very helpful because it often means you come in with a lot of product/brand knowledge already. But like you indicated, that’s more likely to only matter *after* someone has demonstrated the necessary skills.

  33. Curiouser and Curiouser*

    So I work in a place that is legitimately a “Dream Job” and a “Dream Company” for a lot of people (think media). I also sit on a lot of hiring committees and have been a hiring manager for a few jobs as well. It’s not a negative, of course, if someone mentions it’s their dream to work for our company…but I’m also hearing it from a lot of people. We’ve hired people where this was their Dream Job, and they were disillusioned and ended up leaving. I’ve also hired people who would not have listed this as their Dream Company and they were fantastic employees who are still here to this day. It’s so much more about the work. I’m glad they love our company – but a much better indicator, as many people have said, of whether people will do well is how passionate they are about the work, not just about saying they “work at Company”.

  34. June*

    Don’t do it. Just have a normal, regular amount of enthusiasm. Too much will make you look desperate and weird. Good luck.

  35. Pomegranate*

    It is interesting that this Dream Company only hires experiences candidates and does not invest in training junior/entry level people within their organization. They might do it through other means, but still.

  36. FormerLibrarian*

    People do this in library interviews a LOT. “I LOVE TO READ!” Cool. That’s… not super relevant and definitely isn’t what you’ll be doing all day.

  37. Quickbeam*

    I just retired from a company that is a “dream” employer in my region. Hugely better benefits, great health insurance, magnificent corporate center. Good competitive pay. Their #1 HR problem is trying to pick great candidates for the work that aren’t just trying to get a toe in the door. They have gotten really good at ferreting that out. The work needs to be a bigger draw than the company, in my opinion.

    1. toolittletoolate*

      us too. We are an employer a lot of people want to work for, but often they haven’t really thought through whether they want to do the work we are offering.

  38. Zaeobi*

    This good advice echoes the general cover letter & CV advice of ‘show, don’t tell’.

    To add another analogy, it’s like dating – telling someone you’re REALLY into them isn’t going to guarantee a second date, especially if you push that at the expense of what the other person is putting down/ how the other person feels.

  39. Xaraja*

    I had an awkward experience with this recently. My boss and grand boss came to me and told me that they wanted to create a new position in our department and move me into it. They made a lot of comments like “you’re not running away (from the room where we were having the conversation) yet so that’s a good sign”, basically saying and implying that this new position was something they thought was… Intimidating? Work that would be annoying? I’m honestly not sure. But they had picked me for it because they knew my work and knew I would be good at it and it’s an area I’m interested in, and it’s a really hot job field that’s difficult to break into so it’s also a great opportunity. So while they were asking and checking back again to make sure I was really willing to take on the new role, I was very excited about it. It all worked out and I started on it about 8 months ago.

  40. Jasmi*

    It might also be worth emphasising how much you enjoyed freelancing for them before and tie that in to why you want to work for the company, as well as demonstrating passion for the work itself. That way you’re basing your enthusiasm for working with them on an actual experience and something more solid rather than just that you think they’d be great to work for.

  41. toolittletoolate*

    Please don’t use the phrase “dream job” or gush too much about the company. Until you’ve actually worked at a company you have no empirical knowledge of what it’s like to work for them. And whether something is a dream job depends at least in part on the company you do it with; so saying this particular job is your “dream job” is also jumping the gun a bit.

    Instead, talk about your interest and skills with the work, how much you like doing this type of work. You can also share that based on what you have heard about the company, it sounds like the type of place you want to work. It’s always better to emphasize what you can do for them, rather than focus on what you think they can do for you.

  42. Meow*

    I used to work for a FAANG company where interviewing and hiring was a big portion of my role A LOT of candidates gushed about having always wanted to work there so on top of all the other points raised, it may not even be much of a differentiator, just another thing to consider.

  43. Connie-Lynne*

    Here to echo all the folks saying passion for the actual work is a key thing!

    I have often had to confine incident management and response to “when I have the time for it or maybe work a little extra time” due to other, more pressing, responsibilities. Six years ago, I saw that the company I currently work for was hiring a dedicated Director of Incident Management role. This was a groundbreaking move in the industry, TBH, and other companies have followed suit since.

    I applied for the role, with a cover letter talking about how much I enjoyed incident management and linking to several conference talks I had given about it. I was positive the role would disappear before I could tone my enthusiasm down enough to simply write a HUGELY ENTHUSIASTIC letter instead of an incomprehensibly-excited-about-even-the-possibility-of-doing-this-full-time. Later, I found out the role had been open for a year because they couldn’t find the right candidates!

    Now, as they say, I don’t dream positively about capitalism, so this wasn’t a dream job, but it certainly was one that suited me incredibly well, and also happens to be a very specialized field with a small candidate pool (why, I don’t know, it’s SO AWESOME AND FASCINATING AND I LOVE IT). I did the role for about 3.5 years before moving to another role in the same company. I still consult with my original team when they need help and advice. So, yeah. Absolutely communicate your enthusiasm for the work, if that’s how you feel.

  44. Chili*

    My team is interviewing (and probably making an offer to) someone who REALLY wants to work at our company and has definitely let it be known. It hasn’t really deterred the hiring manager because they are the strongest candidate, but they do kind of come off as a little naive and I do wonder if they are going to be disappointed when they realize it’s just like any other job in the industry.

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