International Students: How to Handle the Passion Question? (Part 2)

interEDGE-how to handle passion question in an interview

Passion is a word with rich cultural meaning embedded. As a conversation topic, it can bring confusion, frustration and even discomfort to international students. Previously I wrote about how international students overcome the mental stress during a conversation about passion.

Imagine you are asked the question “what is your passion?” in the following three different scenarios, there are a couple of perspectives from which you can speak and facilitate the conversation.

Each scenario and approach are followed with some example languages.

Scenario #1: In an internship/job interview

Your primary goal is to establish yourself and prove your competence and character. You may decide to talk about something related to work or outside of work, depending on what you perceive might be the purpose of this question from the interviewer.

  • Connect it with a social cause related to the profession. 

    • I am passionate about connecting people with new ideas that will help them to reach their new potential. (profession: education, writing, content marketing, etc.)
    • I am passionate about making new things possible through technology (profession: IT, programming, etc.)
  • Relate to an essential competence required by the position

    • I am passionate about learning new things.
    • I am passionate about cultures.
  • Connect it with something outside of work to show personal characters such as dedication

    • I am passionate about cooking fusion food.
    • I am passionate about

Since the interviewer will most certainly want to know more, don’t fake it. There is an unspoken follow-up question: what did you about your passion. Be sure to know what to say next. Compare the two answers below:

    • I am passionate about cooking fusion food. (followed by silence meaning “I didn’t do anything about it. Next question please.”)
    • I am passionate about cooking fusion food. I started collecting recipes two years ago and made the commitment to cooking one fusion meal per week. Now I also have my YouTube channel with over 5,000 followers.

Scenario #2: In an informational interview

Your primary objective is to learn about the industry or profession and establish yourself as an aspiring young professional. It is an excellent opportunity for you to share what your interest is and what you want to learn during the conversation.

  • Speak of your professional interest and follow up with a question

    • I am passionate about connecting people with new ideas that will help them to reach their new potential, and I want to hear what you think are the best ways to achieve this?
  • Ask a reciprocal question, because the primary purpose of an informational interview is to learn and let the other person speak

    • I am passionate about X, and I have done Y. May I ask when you started in the industry 20 years ago, what were you most passionate about?
  • Be specific to leverage this great learning opportunity

    • I am passionate about fraud detection using data analysis, and I have been learning about it in my graduate school courses, but I am curious to learn from you who is doing it daily at work.

Scenario #3: In a conversation with a career counselor or a professor

The purpose of the conversation is to collect information, learn about different career options and decide what you should do next to develop your career edge. Neither counselors nor professors will judge you on whether you have a passion or how well-rounded your passion is. Use this opportunity to help them to understand you and the culture you are coming from, so that they can support you to explore feasible options and understand factors for consideration.

  • Be upfront about the culture difference

    • This is an interesting question. I want to share something with you. In (your home country) we don’t talk about passion while we choose a profession. Instead, we …
    • I understand why you ask this question, but I don’t have an answer. Can I share with you a few other considerations I have made?
  • Instead of talking about passion, tell your strength

    • I don’t know what my passion is, but I am very good at …
    • Instead of looking for my passion, I want to do something I am good at. My strengths are…
  • Ask for advice

    • What other factors do you advise I consider?
    • Given my strengths, what career path do you recommend I pursue?

Understanding American culture and mastering intercultural communication skills is the key to your career success. Oftentimes, it can turn a moment of discomfort and confusion into an opportunity to establish yourself and effectively engage a conversation.

About Di Hu

Co-founder and principal coach at interEDGE.org, an initiative of DrEducation, to offer online training solutions to institutions to support academic and career success of international students. Follow her on @CoachDiHu

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