When work meets play: How to talk about your hobbies during a job interview

No one should be defined solely by their profession or career ambitions. Each person on this planet, to borrow an analogy from Shrek, is a bit like an onion. We all have an outer shell on display for the world, but as proverbial layer after layer is peeled back it becomes apparent we’re so much more than the titles displayed prominently on our business cards and LinkedIn profiles. The lawyer with an affinity for writing poetry. The construction worker that can play a mean bass guitar solo. The marketing account manager who conquers a new hiking trail every weekend. 

What you do after clocking out each day is entirely your own business. That being said, every job candidate should be prepared to at least touch on their personal interests and hobbies during a job interview. Now, for stressed out applicants who have spent hours preparing to answer intricate industry-specific questions about their prior positions and professional skills, the notion that personal hobbies are somehow relevant to their job chances may be confounding. After all, what does it matter how you spend your Saturdays and Sundays?

Why employers ask about outside interests

Just like one wrong ingredient can turn a fantastic dinner into a tasteless mess, organizations are wary of adding new team members who may potentially clash with company culture or interrupt the workflow of their colleagues. In other words, your resume may be absolutely undeniable and filled with incredible achievements making you a great fit for the open position on paper, but HR departments the world over have learned by now that a great hire is characterized by far more than just a stellar skillset.

Besides determining if the candidate can excel on a performance basis, organizations also want to ensure they’re hiring a well-rounded individual that will have a positive impression on the company and gel nicely with the rest of the team. Even the slightest peek into a candidate’s personal life usually affords interviewers a different perspective on the prospective employee that old jobs and prior accomplishments just can’t provide. How well a candidate can balance their professional and personal lives, for example.

The many sides of you

While it’s key to remember you’re always under scrutiny while attending a job interview, many  hiring managers consider questions related to hobbies or outside interests to be ice-breakers that help candidates relax and open up more. In other words, there’s no reason to stress or think too much about how to speak to your personal interests. Aside from a few notable exceptions we’ll touch on later, honesty is the best policy. Remember, if you get the job you’ll be seeing these people day in and day out. Lying about being a master guitarist or basketball player is bound to catch up to you eventually. 

We all have numerous interests, hobbies, and activities close to our hearts, so how should you choose which hobby to speak on during a job interview? While the only person who can truly answer that question is you, as it’s always advisable to go with a topic you’re particularly passionate about, it’s a good idea to consider how a hobby or interest may compliment your professional skills and ambitions.

For instance, it’s worth mentioning it if you play any team sports. Team-based, collaborative hobbies show you work well with others and can form a cohesive unit with other like-minded individuals. Same goes for playing music in a band or acting with a local theater or improv group. Volunteering, meanwhile, is a fantastic hobby to mention if you want to convey that you’re both altruistic and sociable. 

Of course, all the lone wolves out there shouldn’t fret. There are plenty of solitary hobbies and interests that reflect well on interviewees. Anything creative like writing, painting, drawing, or photography is sure to spark the interest of any listeners. Even the most mundane business problems require innovative thinkers capable of crafting creative solutions. An affinity for travel is another hobby worthy of articulation. Openness to new experiences and adventures tells employers you won’t be afraid to learn new skills and tackle unexpected problems, not to mention the careful planning and preparation that comes with extensive travel itineraries. 

Some interests aren’t very interesting 

While honesty is always the best policy, there are a few activities you should probably choose to keep to yourself during job interviews:

  • Social media: As much as we all indulge in the occasional doom scroll from time to time, avoid calling a social media habit a hobby. Unless you’re interviewing for a role that directly involves social media branding or marketing, bragging about how much time you spend on TikTok or your followers on Instagram isn’t going to be a good look among hiring managers.
  • Streaming services: Another example of a habit masquerading as a hobby, binge watching TV shows and movies may be highly relatable nowadays, but that doesn’t make it an activity you should mention during job interviews.
  • Partying: Everyone should have a healthy social life, but no hiring manager wants to hear that their star candidate is out on the town five or six nights per week. It’s best to stay away from mentioning any hobbies that include bars, clubs, and alcohol in general.
  • Gambling: There’s no faster way to derail an otherwise stellar interview than by mentioning a betting or gambling hobby. Besides the potential legal implications of whatever you’re wagering on, you run the risk of appearing both irresponsible and undependable.