When two candidates are equally experienced, equally credentialed, and equally capable, who gets the job?
Well, when two companies have similar products, with similar ratings, and similar prices, which do you pick?
If you think about it, you might say: "the one that wants my business more." The saleswoman made an extra effort, or the people at the store went out of their way to be kind, or it's as simple as they just smiled back and said "we'd like your business."
It's no surprise: we prefer to buy from companies that make us feel like we're a welcome part of their community.
And who gets the job if the applicants are equals?
The candidate with a passion for the business. A zeal for the industry. An excitement, an enthusiasm, a zest for the art, and the craft, and the science, of what makes a company in the field succeed.
In today's economy - a sophisticated economy increasingly based on design, thinking work, proprietary creativity, and the ability to grasp and apply complex intellectual abstractions - the need is greater than ever for those who can... think.
And thinking work is different from the typical jobs of even a generation or two past. A steel mill manager, a radio set salesman, or a train operator could measure their success in physical quantities: how much steel poured, sets sold, or tons shipped.
In an information economy, on the other hand, the measures of success are increasingly intangible. The iPod was better than other MP3 players not because it had more, but because it had fewer buttons and features - the right buttons and features for music on the go. A restaurant chain displaces a competitor because it feels more (or less) like home. A shoe company thrives because it gives away half the pairs that you buy. Even vacuum cleaners, cars, and backyard grills are made, marketed and sold in ways that were inconceivable in the last century.
Producing these products and services, consequently, is less a function of the volume of resources that are put in. In generations past, more raw materials, capital equipment, or men punching your time clock meant more finished products or services coming out the other side. Today, it's often more important how little you put in, or how artfully you arrange the features.
Finding people who can make those decisions well, and then execute on those decisions, is difficult for bosses.
They have to figure out who is going to understand the customer better, the manufacturing process better, the marketing better, the interface better, and so on.
What's more, bosses need to determine who's going to stick with it - there are a lot more forks in the road, and bumps along the way, in this intangible world. Perseverance through the inevitable fumbles and fiascos is needed because without perseverance there are no victories.
And what bosses have discovered is that somebody who is passionate about the business tends to be a better employee and a better professional to work with.
Because somebody who is passionate is inherently motivated, and internally driven to succeed, they try harder to find answers. They think up clever stuff on their own. They enjoy the business, and the customers, and the industry so much that they're always discovering new things or perceiving additional ways that the business could succeed.
In short, passionate people are better employees because they care more than dispassionate people. Passionate people care more than the average employee, they care more than the average applicant, and they care more than you.
And that's why you didn't get the job. It's why you got passed over, turned down, or put in the "nice to have" pile.
If you truly want success in this business climate, you need to do what you're actually passionate about. Otherwise, you're just unfairly stacking the deck in some other applicant's favor.
I'm rooting for you!
Marc Cenedella is the Chairman of TheLadders, the premier online job-matching service for career-driven professionals, which has transformed the way job candidates and employers connect online. Follow Marc on Twitter here @cenedella.