Jason/Flickr When you're in the hot seat interviewing for a job, you're answering questions such as "What's your greatest weakness?" and "Why should we hire you?" — so a query like "What are your hobbies?" will probably seem like a piece of cake.
But before you start babbling about your lifelong obsession with horses or your newfound passion for baking, consider this: The hiring manager wants to get a better sense of who you are, so it's important to think about which hobbies best showcase your strengths, passions, and skills — and then only discuss those in the interview.
"The employer is trying to determine whether you'd be a good fit, and getting insight into your interests, hobbies, and personality all help in evaluating that," says Amy Hoover, president of the job board TalentZoo.
Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of "Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job," agrees. "By learning more about your outside interests, they can glean more about your personality, and even draw some conclusions about how you may thrive in the organization."
For example, if you like to paint in your spare time, and you're interviewing for an account executive position with an advertising agency, your creative flair might be viewed as an asset when working with your creative counterparts, Taylor explains.
Or, if you're involved in orchestrating community events, where organizational skills are critical, that would translate well into a promotional or event-planning type of position.
"That said, they are also looking for well-rounded individuals, so you don't want to limit your pursuits to only those that relate directly to your career," Taylor says.
While there are no wrong answers per se, there are some smart choices you can make when answering this question in an interview, Hoover explains.
Here's what interviewers are really looking for when they ask about your hobbies:
1. That you're team-oriented.
"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," Taylor says.
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 explains. 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 communications, 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. However, be careful not to list out 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 that you wish to excel, 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. That you're 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 explains. For example, if you're interviewing for a sales position at a software company, it's fine to mention your interest in fashion. "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."
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 endeavors 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."
9. That you do, in fact, 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 emphasize hobbies that can be construed as vices, such as wine tastings, craft beer making, or cigar clubs, says Hoover. "And finally, please do not say 'Facebook' or 'social media.' Those aren't hobbies; they're distractions — especially at work."
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