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‘Should I Be Exaggerating Enthusiasm in Job Interviews?’

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Dear Boss,

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 of 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 something that has 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!

Order Alison Green’s book Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work here. Got a question for her? Email Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.

‘Should I Be Exaggerating Enthusiasm in Job Interviews?’