“What are your hobbies?” sounds like a pretty straightforward question.
The interviewer is just trying to get a sense of your interests and passions, right?
Well… kind of.
Here’s what the interviewer is hoping to gauge when they ask you about your hobbies:
1. That you’re team oriented
Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your Job,” says:
“Since most jobs involve a certain level of group interaction and support — and cross functional work teams continue to thrive — any kind of activity that you do in your spare time that demonstrates your ability to be a team player, such as playing a team sport or working with a group on a volunteer project, would be well perceived by your prospective boss.”
2. That you possess strong leadership skills
“If you lead a group in a leisure activity, such as anything from a book or hiking club to a charitable effort or community activity, that speaks well to your ability to lead on the job,” Taylor says.
Not all jobs require leadership or management talent, but those kinds of activities project the desire to make a difference.
3. That you actively work on honing your skills
If you stay with a particular leisure pursuit and try to better yourself — which could relate to anything from artistic or musical talents to bettering your communication, writing, or research skills — you will likely be viewed as having perseverance.
“And that would certainly be viewed as a plus in the position at hand,” says Taylor.
4. That you’re well-rounded
Hiring managers like to know that you have an array of interests and are not just focused on the type of work you do 24/7.
“It’s assumed that if you engage in a diverse assortment of hobbies, you may be better equipped to manage a broader array of experiences and people on the job,” Taylor says.
But be careful not to list too many hobbies. This can imply that you’re indecisive, you don’t commit adequate time to each hobby, and you’re stretched too thin.
5. That you’re able to set and stick to goals
Hiring managers like to see applicants who set goals in their leisure pursuits.
“For example, they want to see that you enjoy completing a project and have the desire to reach certain milestones in your leisure activities,” says Taylor. “Goal-setting is essential in any job, as managers like to see that you have a sense of purpose and determination to reach goals that you’ve mutually established.”
So, if you’re training for a 5K run or taking a class in an area in which you wish to excel, then this is the time to talk about it.
6. That you’re passionate…
If you’re excited about your leisure pursuits, it can show a side of you that interviewers typically appreciate and value.
“You’re demonstrating that you are capable of enjoying what you do and being passionate about it, whether inside or outside of the office,” Taylor says.
7. … But not too passionate
“If you talk about how passionate you are about a particular hobby to the point where it sounds as if you want to make that your primary career, that may send up a red flag,” Taylor says.
For example, if you’re interviewing for a sales position at a software company, it’s fine to mention your interest in fashion.
8. That you won’t be distracted at work
You may have a few entrepreneurial interests on the side.
“Even if you claim that such endeavours have nothing to do with the job at hand, you are still raising a red flag,” Taylor says. “No interviewer wants to feel as if you’re just trying to gain a salary or work experience until you’re ready to launch your own business.”
“But if you wax on about how invigorating it is to keep up on fashion trends and pursue fashion-related activities on the weekends, you could do yourself a disservice at the job interview,” she says. “It might be perceived that you would be happier in that industry.”
9. That you actually have interests outside of work
Here’s a terrible response to this question: “I have no real specific outside interests. I’m just too busy.”
This tells the employer that you’re a workaholic — which isn’t a good thing — and that you don’t take time outside of work to refuel and recharge by doing the things you enjoy.
“Overall, the best policy is to bring up leisure pursuits that speak to your team orientation, good people skills, tenacity, and thirst for knowledge in the areas in which you are passionate,” Taylor says.
Also, try not to emphasise hobbies that can be construed as vices, such as wine tastings, craft-beer making, or cigar clubs, says president of the job board Talent Zoo Amy Hoover: “And finally, please do not say ‘Facebook’ or ‘social media.’ Those aren’t hobbies; they’re distractions — especially at work.”
10. That you’ve got an entrepreneurial streak
Has your hobby turned into a bit of a side business, where you’re actually selling products or services? That could be a mark in your favour, as far as any hiring manager is concerned. Certain hobbies require some serious hustle.
Just look at printer Sara Charles. As Tanza Loudenback previously reported for Business Insider, the 31-year-old transformed her hobby into the printing company SimkaSol, which makes 16,000 sales on Etsy a year.
If you’re interviewing for a full-time job, your hobby probably hasn’t taken off in such a big way. Nonetheless, if you have any experience selling items or services, bring that up in the interview. It’s a great way to highlight your natural entrepreneurial, go-getting spirit.
Jacquelyn Smith contributed to a previous version of this post.
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