Congratulations! You’ve made it to the all-important interview. Fortunately for you, the hiring manager is charming and engaging—or so it seems. But don’t be taken off guard when asked about your hobbies. If you’re flip or don’t think ahead, you could land into a minefield...and not return. This is the first in a series of reading between the lines of interview questions, as there’s often more than meets the eye.
What the interviewer really wants to determine when asking about your hobbies is your people skills and whether you’re a good match with the company’s culture. You’ll want to be prepared with leisure interests that are somewhat congruent with the job’s requirements. In other words, you want to discuss hobbies that demonstrate teamwork, tenacity and people skills.
The question may seem friendly and casual, but when it comes to results, your hiring manager is all about business. So keep this in mind when responding. Here are some attributes that are prized by most interviewers. Of course there are exceptions depending on the industry and position, but in most cases, they do apply.
Plays Well with Others
The hiring manager may be looking to see if you’re a team player or a solo flyer. It’s assumed that if you can manage people challenges outside of the office, you’ll be better equipped to handle day-to-day issues in the workplace.
• Don’t give a flip answer, even though the question may seem off-hand. “You can’t beat Joe’s Tuesday Taco Night,” may be funny, but don’t try it in an interview. And definitely avoid saying you have no hobbies. Most organizations want someone balanced between a super fun person and workaholic.
• Do your homework on the character traits sought before showing up for the interview. If they’re looking for a team player, then explain how you like to coach your son’s Little League. If organization or attention to detail is important, then discuss your experience organizing a community holiday party or volunteering for projects at a local charity. Of course, if the attributes required do not resonate with you, no amount of finesse will benefit you in the long run.
The company may be looking to fill a job that needs strong leadership skills.
• Don’t say you’re not very social and fall to pieces having to meet people at parties.
• Do say you love leading your book club, being the head of your cycling group, or anything that shows initiative.
Can Follow the Leader
Companies rarely want to fill all their positions with alpha types. They often are looking for leaders—as well as people with the skills to reliably support those leaders.
• Don’t suggest that being a bench warmer for your favorite baseball team is a dream for you. Or your pastime is watching at least four games on your super large TV screen all at once.
• Do mention how you admire the local tennis club leader and how great it is to work with her.
By asking about your hobbies, the hiring manager may want to know if you're interested in acquiring new skills.
• Don’t say you like to learn how to do something and then stick with it because it creates a comfort zone...or complain about the new rules at your favorite club.
• Do mention a hobby that helps you move up the learning curve. For example, mention that you are perfecting your jazz piano technique or you enjoy researching the latest news on helicopters or rose gardening.
Not Spread Too Thin
The corporate culture may have found that people with a wide range of interests make the best employees. However…
• Don’t unfurl a long list of outside activities. Too many hobbies can raise a red flag that you are indecisive or can’t commit to one or two activities.
• Do describe a few hobbies that you feel align with the job description. A manageable mix of hobbies shows you’re able to handle a few varied pursuits without becoming overwhelmed. (P.S. You don’t want to push the envelope and suggest that all your hobbies mimic your job, or it will appear that you have no life!)
One final note: If you're overzealous about one particular business-related hobby that could suggest entrepreneurship, tread lightly. It's okay to have a hobby that shows passion, but interviewers get nervous if they feel you're building a passion into a business as they, in effect, fund your efforts.
The topic of hobbies seems pretty innocuous, but they’re worth thinking through in advance to avoid a slip-up. Interviewers are looking for well-rounded candidates who have a good "release valve.” That helps keep work pressures at bay and optimizes strong people skills.
In my next post, I’ll discuss how to best answer another interview question worth preparing for: “What's your biggest weakness?”