In the jobs market where it’s vital to do whatever you can to get an edge on other candidates who want the same job as you, ‘hobbies and interests’ aren’t just a footnote, they’re a great opportunity for working on your personal branding.
Advice on what to include in the hobbies and interests section of your CV usually centres around two clichés. The first is that this section can be an ‘icebreaker’ which will give you something to talk about with your interviewer. The second is that ‘deals are often done on the golf course’, and that providing examples of activities you take part in could potentially provide an environment for winning clients and making sales. While both of these are true to some degree, they’re ignoring the fact that this space on your CV is the one opportunity you have in a document that is usually expected in a fairly rigid format, where you can inject an insight into the kind of person you really are.
Most job seekers that meet the shortlist for a particular role will have similar experience and qualifications, and a recruiter will compare these in a like-for-like way. However they don’t just want someone who can do the job, they’re usually also looking for a good ‘culture-fit’; someone who has the right personality and attitude for that company. And when applicants don’t have much to differentiate them in terms of experience or qualifications, a recruiter will look for something more, and the ‘hobbies and interests’ section of the CV is often where they’ll head.
The perception that hobbies are ‘something to talk to the interviewers about’ has some truth to it, but these interests can also help you get to the interview in the first place. As well as providing an opportunity for you to add personality to your CV, they can also demonstrate transferable skills that you have, which add value to your personal brand.
For example, if you do play golf and want a career in a target-driven environment such as sales, you could mention that you enjoy golf and want to take two shots off your handicap this year. This will mean something to someone who plays golf and might well be an icebreaker, but even if it’s being read by someone who doesn’t understand golf, it still points to something that’s clearly a target, with a deadline, that you intend to achieve. If acting and theatre is your thing, then instead of just mentioning either of these as a single word, how about mentioning some performances you’ve been in? This shows that you’re creative, but also that you’ve got a direction for this creativity and can use it productively.
You might consider that if you enjoy computer games, including this hobby might communicate an outdated, stereotyped view of a gamer which could be unattractive to employers; however, this interest may actually mean that a person has technical and problem solving abilities. A way to turn this into transferable skills would be to mention that you had hosted and set up LAN gaming events, which involved both social media for co-ordination and meeting the technical challenges of optimising the computers and networks involved.
Of course, you shouldn’t overload the hobbies and interest section of your profile, as this may give the impression that extra-curricular activities are all you care about, and you should also be able to talk authoritatively about anything you include, if asked. In the same way that lying about qualifications or previous experience in specific areas is a bad idea, there would be nothing worse than adding something to your CV which you think makes you sound interesting to pad out this section, then coming across an interviewer who is an expert in this field. The key is to be specific about what you’re dedicated to and add a brief piece of colour to it which focuses on something that could be of interest to an employer.
In addition to all of this, the time when the hobbies and interests section of your CV can be of most benefit to you, is actually when you’re not actively looking for a job. ‘Passive candidates’, people who are not necessarily unhappy in their current positions or actively seeking a new role, but who perhaps have half an eye on career advancement, can use this section to help them to find their ideal role. If you’re in this position, then you may as well be really specific about what you like and are dedicated to on your CV, because you never know – it could just be the one thing that a potential employer hones in on that’ll land you your dream job.
Lewis Fraser is Associate Director at recruitment specialist Advantage Professional