I'm actively job-hunting while I'm working full-time, because the grant that funds my position did not get renewed and I'm going to be unemployed by the first of April.
I've been sending out Pain Letters and getting responses so I am optimistic, but today I heard something that sent a chill down my spine.
My co-worker Anita is also job-hunting (her position and mine were supported by the same grant) and she had a job interview yesterday. Anita told me the interviewer asked her "How badly do you want the job?"
  
If I got that question on a job interview, I wouldn't  know what to say. I don't want to grovel and beg for the job but I don't necessarily want to get up and leave the interview, either.

 If I said something snarky like "Who said I want the job? This is only the first interview" they'd probably hire somebody else.
What do you recommend?
Thanks for everything, Liz! You are my job-search secret weapon!
Yours,
Carson

Dear Carson,
There are old, well-established frames -- mental models -- that many of us learned as kids and have never been able to shake off.
One of those old frames is the idea that the best person to hire for a job opportunity is the person who wants the job the most. In some settings, this logic makes sense.
If you're a high school baseball coach choosing a kid to manage the baseball team, you're going to choose a kid who loves baseball and doesn't mind doing all the non-glamorous things a high school baseball team manager has to do. You're looking for a kid who is both reliable and super-excited about baseball.
You're not going to choose a kid who says "Baseball is okay -- it's not my favorite sport, but it doesn't bother me."
We can give Anita's interviewer the benefit of the doubt and assume that he asked Anita "How badly do you want the job?" not to make her beg for the job but to understand her motivations for coming to the interview in the first place.
We can forgive him for asking a question that many people would interpret as insulting, and re-frame the impolite question "How badly do you want the job?" as "What made you interested in this job, and our company?"
If you consider the question that way, it will be easy to answer.
"How badly do you want the job?" (re-framed in your mind as "What made you interested in this job, and our company?")
• My friend Eric Smith worked for you and he had great things to say about the company. When I got your recruiter's call I was excited to learn more. It's very exciting to see a local firm growing the way you are doing.
• I worked for Peachtree Design which bid projects against your firm several times last year, and I wanted to learn more about you. Your work on the Downtown Macaroni Fest was outstanding.
• I applied for a job here last year and had a great conversation with Maggie Vaughn in National Accounts, but that was not the right job for me because I'm more interested in project management -- so I was delighted to come back and talk with you again today.
The good thing about answering the question "How badly do you want the job?" with an answer to a slightly different, more appropriate question ("What got you interested in us?") is that if your interviewer was hoping you would dance and prance and beg for the job, you will be able to tell that from his or her reaction to your answer.
Sad to say, a lot of fearful people end up in recruiting and management roles that put them in contact with job-seekers. If someone is really insecure, they will get a charge out of wielding their puny power over job applicants, especially in job interviews.
You'll be able to tell in an instant whether your interviewer was trying to ask an appropriate question like "What interested you in our firm?" but got waylaid, or whether they were hoping you'd say
"How badly do I want the job? I've never wanted anything so badly in my life! I'll do anything to get this job -- just tell me, and I'll do it!"
Run away from anybody who sends you vibes that they are planning to hire not the smartest, most capable, most experienced or most talented candidate but the person who rolls over and plays the submissive dog role most convincingly. That person isn't you!
In that case, let the submissive dog take the job and keep marching down your path to find a manager who deserves your talents!
All the best,