Dear Shawn:

I didn’t get a sales job I really wanted. In the interview, my potential boss said he was looking for people with a fire in their belly. I think in my answer I blew it. How could I have shown him that I have that fire?

Shawn says:

You would have had to find out what he actually means by that statement, first. Does he mean he wants people with a real passion for the work? Does he mean he wants some very competitive people?

Or…maybe he has no idea what it takes to succeed in that sales job, so he’s using a tired euphemism to cover his lack of knowledge.

To illustrate how you can find out what he actually means, magically transport yourself back in time to the point in the interview when he made that statement. In this version of the interview, you calmly ask, “Say more about that,” to encourage him to open up.

As this potential boss responds, listen for clues about what he means by “fire in the belly.”

If it sounds like he wants passion or competitive spirit, you could tell him you do indeed have that, adding in a strong tone of voice, “And how would I demonstrate that to you?”

If he says he’d want to see it in your performance, then your best response is, “So give me a chance to show you. Hire me.”

Now let’s flip this situation over. If, in the magical back-in-time interview, he doesn’t seem to have a real meaning for “fire in the belly,” then he just failed his interview for the job of boss. If a manager can’t specify what it takes to succeed in a job, he’s not a very good manager. You should be careful about taking a job that relies, in part, on this guy’s help.