There’s no question about it: the passions we pursue outside of work hours are important both to our personal fulfillment and to our employable skillsets. Playing on part of a sports team shows that the individual can work with others. Volunteerism proves he or she is community-minded and responsible. Independent pursuits, such as running a marathon or writing a book, demonstrates a person’s self-discipline and ability to self-motivate. I will always be of the opinion that such information associated with personal hobbies can provide compelling information on one’s resume. That said, the information must be added with great thought in order to be effective.
Here are a few questions to ask oneself before listing personal interests on a resume:
- Is the information relevant?
Ask yourself why it’s important to list this piece of personal information. Are you listing your role as Team Captain of a recreational hockey team because it shows you have leadership potential? Awesome! But then, what kind of job are you applying for? Will leadership (or team cooperation) be part of the position? If you’re applying for the position of a Long Haul Trucker, for example, probably not. In fact, letting a hiring manager know of your personal commitments at home might actually work against you.
2. Can the information fill employment gaps?
In an earlier blog post, Resume Tip: How to Own Big Gaps in Employment, I gave the example of someone having a large employment gap in their resume due to backpacking through Southeast Asia. Ideally, the job-seeker wants to account for missing years of employment on their resume. I find it very effective to list volunteer history or personal interest adventures on one’s resume when they can account for missing time — so long as the candidate can share the learned skills they developed. For example, if a resume has a gap between 2012 and 2014 because the candidate was traveling, I suggest listing that time in the work history section — so long as he or she can also share some achievements enjoyed during that trip. Perhaps our hypothetical candidate spent the yearlong excursion volunteering on an organic farm, learning to speak a second language while immersed in the culture, or developed an app to help other backpackers find hospitable lodging — these are totally things worth listing in the achievements section! That said, if the year off was spent ordering cervesa from a beachfront Mexica pub, probably better not to list.
3. Has the point already been made?
Let’s go back to the example of the Team Captain of a recreational hockey team. Let’s say this Team Captain is applying for a leadership position. He wants to be hired as the manager of a communications department. Great, his hobby sure shows how he can motivate others! However, let’s say his resume already makes that point: he has over 15 years of professional experience in leadership positions, and he routinely puts extra hours into promoting company morale: he’s acted as team captain in community corporate challenges and he annually spearheads event planning for the office Christmas party. In fact, this guy’s skills, work history, education, and achievements are so abundant that the words are slipping off the page. The file is starting to look a little crowded, actually. In that case, I’d make the argument that white space is every bit as important as his amateur experience. While it might be worth slipping the additional hobby role into interview small talk, best to submit a document that is strong and uncluttered.
The take-away advice: communicating personal interests and achievements can really add character and strength to a resume, but ought to be included with careful discretion and thought.
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