When we sit down for a job interview, most of us, I think, are expecting to talk about the following things, ranked in order of importance: 1) Our work history, 2) Our education, and then somewhere way down the line, if there’s time, maybe something interesting about our personal life, like our hobbies. For me, this has been a difficult question in the past, because I have gone in expecting to present a very specific picture of myself to my interviewer. I am presenting a person who wears a jacket, slacks, and button up shirts, and who is singularly committed to my work life: someone who’s “biggest weakness” is that I neglect my personal life because I am so singularly committed to achieving excellence in the office….
Okay, maybe that’s a bit exaggerated, but I certainly don’t walk into an interview hoping to make a first impression by talking about a healthy work-life balance. The truth, though, is that talking about our hobbies is not a minefield, and it is not an opportunity to once again reinforce that we are perfect employees all the time who only incidentally think about things that take place outside of the office. It is an opportunity to talk about yourself a little more, and to paint a brighter picture of who you are as a person, and not just an employee.
It is important to understand that interviewers spend a lot of time talking to candidates about their work history and education. It is also important to understand that not only do interviewers spend a lot of time talking to candidates about these subjects, they also often have HR screening procedures and technologies in place that narrow candidates down in a lot of ways that previous generations of recruiters weren’t able to do. So, by the time they get to the interview stage, they are talking to a lot of qualified candidates with incredibly similar, if not literally identical, educational and professional background. They may even find themselves talking to candidates who have cycled through the same or similar positions at the same companies before, so there’s little insight gained from asking you about your performance in a given position if you’ve already been verified by screening software and vouched for by a credible reference—they know you can do the job At the interview stage, recruiters want to see if you fit into the overall culture of their workplace rather than to verify whether you have the skillset to fill the position: probably you do if you’re in an interview for a competitive position.
So, talk about your hobbies! Talk about them enthusiastically and unapologetically. The “first date” analogy is often used to describe one’s demeanor in an interview, and here it may be even more literal than it used to be. Present the most interesting version of yourself possible: the one who loves to go rock climbing on weekends, or who is in love with drone photography, or whatever else it is that you do purely for fun or to better yourself outside the workplace. It just might land you inside the workplace!