The Role of Passion in Recruitment

by | May 26, 2024

Imagine entering a job interview, tense and filled with anticipation. The founder of the company stands before you, slowly unveiling a prototype glowing under the lights. They watch your reaction closely. At that moment, your response could determine whether you win or lose the job. This scenario, unusual as it might seem, encapsulates Steve Jobs’ unique approach to recruitment for the Mac team. Jobs believed that genuine enthusiasm and passion for the product were more critical than technical skills, setting the stage for a different hiring philosophy.

Passion vs. Skills: The Steve Jobs Approach

Since developing the Mac was a challenging endeavor, Jobs wanted to ensure that the people being selected had more than just skills. “If their eyes lit up, if they went right for the mouse and started pointing and clicking, Steve would smile and hire them. He wanted them to say, ‘Wow!’” recalled Andrea Cunningham, who worked at Regis McKenna on public relations for the MAC project. This approach highlights Jobs’s belief that true innovation requires a real passion for the challenge.

“One of the things that made Apple great was that in the early days it was built from the heart.”

he said in “Entrepreneurs” – a 1986 documentary.

Later in the film, he echoed this sentiment: “One of my largest wishes is that we build NeXT from the heart [it’s 1986, and he just started]… that people thinking about coming to work for us or buying our products or who want to sell us things feel that we’re doing this because we have a passion about it… not because we want to make a buck.”

Like Jobs, other industry leaders, such as Ed Catmull or Steve Stoute, have also prioritized passion in their recruitment strategies, crediting their companies’ creative cultures to this approach. If you struggle with the same question—passion vs. skills—I am with you here. Skeptics might argue, “Of course, Steve Jobs could talk about passion. He was one of the most successful people in the world.” But what does this mean for every one of us?

For the skeptics, Deloitte’s Passion at Work research highlights passion’s importance. According to their findings, up to 87.7 percent of America’s workforce is not able to contribute to their full potential because they don’t have passion for their work. Less than 12.3 percent of America’s workforce possesses the attributes of worker passion. This “passion gap” is significant because passionate workers are committed to continually achieving higher levels of performance, which is crucial, especially when you choose hard problems to solve.

Another story illustrating this philosophy is the recruitment of a young staffer from Sun Studio for iTunes in 2009. The studios are famous as the birthplace where Elvis, Johnny Cash, B.B. King, and many other rock-and-roll pioneers recorded

During a private tour, Jobs was impressed by a young staffer’s enthusiastic lecture on music history. Despite Jobs’ fame, the staffer did not recognize him(how crazy is that?!), as he was in a frail state following his liver transplant. Jobs saw the staffer’s intrinsic motivation and deep knowledge as invaluable assets for iTunes. Inspired by the staffer’s passion and expertise, Jobs facilitated their hiring to enrich iTunes’ R&B and rock-and-roll content.

This decision underscored the importance Jobs placed on passion and potential rather than conventional qualifications.

Balancing Passion and Skills

When reflecting on these examples (and trust me, there are so many where he demonstrated this way of thinking and acting), it’s clear that passion, in addition to skills and talent, can drive individuals to extraordinary achievements. For recruiters, this means designing interview processes that reveal candidates’ passions. For job seekers, it means showcasing not just what you can do, but what you love to do (check our conversation with ex-director Culture at Pixar for some tips).

I am going to be cliche here, but by prioritizing passion, companies can build teams that are capable and deeply invested in their work, leading to truly remarkable achievements.

As competition for talent increases, Steve Jobs’s emphasis on passion is a timeless lesson for any organization. Skills can be taught, but passion is innate. When people love what they do, they are more likely to go above and beyond, fostering an environment of creativity and dedication.

In summary, passion is as essential as skill and talent when choosing which problems to solve. Passion fuels perseverance and patience, driving you to overcome challenges and go the extra mile. This is especially important when aiming to challenge the status quo, do something different, or introduce something new to the world.



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