There’s much to learn when candidates include hobbies in a resume

hobbies in resume

When you see a candidate include hobbies in a resume, your first thought as a recruiter or hiring manager might be: “That’s cute, but a waste of space.” But don’t jump to conclusions just yet: if a candidate knows how to craft their resume, interests aren’t an afterthought nor should you consider them to be. A candidate’s ability to create a narrative around their interests can boost their candidacy and help you hire a top applicant.

Brushing off interests as simple intangibles risks reducing the candidate to a flat piece of paper. There is a lot you can learn from looking at their interests – and if you know how to approach them, it can bring a list of checkboxes to life. Here’s a five-step method for how to assess hobbies and interests in a resume.

1. Look at the intent and deeper meaning

Resume writing is a practice in self-reflection. Often, a candidate first writes everything they can about all of their accomplishments over several pages. After substantial editing, in many cases, a candidate will then condense that to just a single page.

A smart-thinking candidate caters a resume to the job they’re applying for, and their interests fit into that formula as well. In the same way that their past job descriptions should have relevant statements for the job they’re applying for, a candidate should include interests that they can speak to. If they can’t market their interests effectively to you, that’s when those interests shouldn’t be included.

As the interviewer, it’s your job to ask pointed questions that get at the underlying value of the words on the resume. According to Harvard Business Review, the resume is a selective piece, and writing it well, whether professionally edited or not, is like “working with a personal trainer.” Someone who knows how to write a resume purposely includes interests.

Resumes are the first touchpoint a company has with an applicant, and interests give candidates the chance to set themselves as individuals apart from the crowd. Some interests may initially seem irrelevant, but can indicate something deeper about the candidate that you otherwise wouldn’t learn by looking at the standard categories. In short: when interests are included, consider the deeper reasons for what’s been included and why.

2. Consider it a helpful differentiator

Hobbies and interests alone probably won’t be what gets someone in the door for the interview. But if you, the interviewer, know how to ask or to read about interests, this might help you determine what makes a candidate stand out and makes them memorable. Former President of Harvard College Drew Gilpin Faust said in 2014: “We could fill our class twice over with valedictorians,” highlighting the importance of intangibles to set yourself apart.

So, in order to differentiate themselves, candidates need to focus on what makes them interesting. Those initial checkmarks – the requisite number of years of experience, a degree, etc. – are great and on point, but oftentimes lack the opportunity to show spark. Interests’ main purpose is spark, and that spark means diverse personalities and diverse thoughts; those highlights in a new hire can make a company shine.

Assessing candidates isn’t just about looking at formal qualifications. Looking at hobbies and interests in a resume also gives you purview into the relationship between the outside self and the work self by bringing personality into the mix. When you’re looking for a good culture fit in your candidates, or hiring for potential, it can be a huge differentiator when candidates include hobbies in a resume.

3. Assume they’re deliberately included

What a candidate chooses to include as interests isn’t necessarily a random act. Every part of a well-crafted resume should count, and if asked about it, the candidate should be able to speak to why they do X thing, what they’ve learned/achieved, and the relationship between that and the job they’re interviewing for.

It doesn’t necessarily matter what the specific hobby or interest is, and the candidate doesn’t have to be a champion at it. Don’t look for or expect a marathon runner, a world traveler or a chess star – although those can indicate very strong relevant traits that candidate can bring to the position you’re hiring for.

The candidate, likewise, doesn’t have to have an obscure interest like horology (the study of time). Interests could read as simply as running, traveling and chess – but the applicant needs to be able to speak to each one with insight and relevance to the position they’re applying for. Your job will be to give them that opportunity when interviewing them.

4. Consider their direct relevance to the job

Each interest should connect to a skill you’re looking for, and with that skill the candidate should be able to tell you how it’d help in the job they’re interviewing for. Interests demonstrate their ability to tell a story. For instance, just because someone lists ‘running’ as a hobby doesn’t necessarily mean they simply like to run. It can give you some great insights into the kind of person they might be (planner because they set courses, determined because they set goals) and how they might contribute to the position you’re trying to fill. Then it’s on them to build that into a relevant narrative.

For example, when you’re interviewing someone and asking them about a specific interest on their resume, look for them to frame their answer in an equation like this one:

“I’m interested in X thing; I’ve achieved Y accomplishment; and it’s taught me Z skill. That skill would help me at the potential job because…”

For example, I’m interested in hiking; I’ve achieved winter hiking and it’s taught me that substantial planning makes me comfortable when I’m forced to think quickly on my feet in a stressful situation. I could continue with this general theme and say that it would help me at product marketing because I work across business disciplines and need to be ready to field a whole host of questions, that may be out of left field even with lots of prep beforehand.

I could go deeper in my answer and explain that my hobby of winter hiking has taught me four skills: scheduling, meal preparation, delayering and basic first aid. These four skills translate to my candidacy for the product marketing role as: I need to plan well with room for change; understand different variables that roll into the final product and the environment it’s in; sometimes you start with a big project and realize that to be most effective you need to cut back; and that in order to do a good job I need to make sure my team and I have the tools to thrive.

This is the story you’re looking for when you ask an applicant about their interests, because those seemingly intangible skills then become tangible and relevant to the position you’re looking to fill.

5. Leave room for the ‘flair’

Interests give the candidate the time to show off their flair. Take a few minutes in an interview and see where the conversation takes you.

You could look at a resume and find they have interests that may initially seem irrelevant. For example, “movie watching”. You can ask them specifically about this: “I see here that you list movie watching as a hobby of yours. Tell me more about how that relates to the position you’ve applied for.”

A disappointing answer would be something like; “Uh… it’s just that, I saw Avengers last week and it was awesome!” That wouldn’t necessarily disqualify the candidate, but the fact they’ve missed on a very special opportunity to impress you with a thoughtful answer can indicate something about them. On the flip side, the candidate might tell you about a weekly film club that they’ve been running for the last two years focusing on locally made films – a huge indicator of their intangible attributes.

Remember, you’re not looking for the candidate to squirm, but rather, you want to see what kind of amazing answer they can come up with. It’s an opportunity for them to show their creativity and ability to carry an interesting conversation about things outside of work.

Don’t dismiss those hobbies and interests

For employers, this flair is what creates a great company – a company full of individuals who come together to solve a problem with unique perspectives and multi-faceted personalities. This diversity in thought is what sets your company apart from your competitors. When candidates include hobbies in a resume, you have a huge opportunity to get to know candidates at a deeper level. Don’t overlook it.

Postnote: My own resume’s hobbies and interests section includes Hiking, Knitting, Pie Baking, Expressionist Oil Painting, Broadway Music, and Vinyasa Yoga.

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