Listing Personal Interests on a Resume

June 5, 2009

 The experiences that I had as a student-athlete really helped shape my character and had a positive effect on my life as a professional.   To this day, I can think of many times in my business career, where I referenced past experiences on a baseball diamond to help me solve problems in the work place.   To this day, I remain a fan of college baseball, and more specifically my alma mater East Carolina University.   

This upcoming weekend is special to me.  East Carolina University is playing their arch rival,  University of North Carolina in the NCAA Super Regional Baseball tournament.  The winner will advance to the College World Series.   I will be glued to the TV set, and if ECU emerges victorious I will be off to Omaha, Nebraska next weekend for the College World Series.   ECU is a big underdog, but stranger things have happened in the history of sports.

It led me to think, which of my personal interests would I list on my resume and what value would they have to me in the job search process.  I began to ask myself the following questions.   Would it make sense for me to state that I am a big fan of college baseball? What would be the best way to express my experiences as a student-athlete?  Could any of this help me get noticed by an employer?  Maybe it would be better for me to leave this off entirely?

As I read many resumes, I often see people list their personal interests somewhere down at the bottom.  I am amazed by some of the things that I learn about people from this information.  Some of it is fascinating.  I have had ball room dance champions, auctioneers, race car drivers, professional wrestlers and hypnotists.  I have also seen the mundane.  People have listed that they enjoy leisure travel (who does not like a vacation), reading (should that go without saying), and fine dining (watch out corporate Amex).   

Remember, that anything that you put down on paper will be dissected and scrutinized by many different reviewers.  It is just as easy to inspire a negative reaction as it is to evoke a positive response. 

Regarding my example, it is quite possible that the interviewer could have a negative opinion of “jocks,” may not like baseball, or be a fan of a rival school.  These items could negatively impact their opinion of me.   On the other hand, the interviewer could have a strong respect for athletics and the commitment necessary to achieve and compete at a high level.  They may also draw the correlation that  involvement in team sports would translate well to their corporate environment.  At the simplest level, they may be a baseball fan or even better an ex-ballplayer themselves.   All of the above could lead to an inspired discussion, that could transcend the actual interview itself.

Unfortunately, you may never know the reaction until you have a chance to observe it in person, it is a calculated risk.    I believe that you can use these guidelines to help you make a good decision:

1-Anything that you list should not be too polarizing.   Whatever you list, should not ilicit an emotional response from the reviewer.   In my example, baseball is relatively harmless, it is still considered the National Pastime.   Listing my political beliefs would alienate approximately 50% of the population. 

2- List items that enforce the qualities necessary for success.   Anything that you list, should be able to help you demonstrate a skill or skills that can translate well in the position.   For example, if one of your hobbies were chess, and you had a high ranking, I would list it.  I believe that would convey traits that include  dedication, strategic thinking, concentration and intelligence.    

3-Make sure your items do not carry a negative connotation.  For example, one could argue that a skilled poker player would have the same characteristics of a chess player.  However, when people think of poker, they immediately think of gambling.  It is possible that this could be an activity that would turn someone off.

4- List a skill or interest that is easy for others to relate to.  A good example of this would be the ability to play a musicalinstrument.   Everyone can relate to music.  There is a natural correlation between music al proficiency and an aptitude for technology.   Just make sure that if they ask you to play something at the holiday party, you are able to do so!

5-Show leadership.  Leaders traditionally can not help leading – even in their non work activities.  If you are listing a group or organization, show that you are not afraid to gravitate toward responsibility.  This could be something as simple as being a Troop Leader for Boy/Girl Scouts, or the Secretary of a Community Organization.

6-Avoid average interests.  An interest should make you appear to be more interesting and different. It should help  set you apart from the others.  Listing that you enjoy concerts, movies and sporting events -is great for a dating site – but lousy for the purpose of getting a job. 

7-You can almost never go wrong with charitable causes.   Avoid listing charitable causes that can also be construed as political.

8-Make sure that your interest is not too time consuming.  Your employer should not be able to even remotely  infer that your interest will interfere with your work responsibilities.  

In closing, listing a personal interest can break down barriers during an interview process and create a more relaxed environment for discussion.  It can help create a common bond between interviewer and interviewee in an accelerated time period.  In the extreme, it could also be the ”tie-breaker” in comparing two similar candidates for a position.

Use your best judgement when deciding on what interests to list, and how to list them.  When in doubt, choosing not to list anything is also a suitable option.

For the record, I chose not to list my interest in college baseball, but have chose to disclose my experience as a Student-Athlete.  I have placed this under my education activities on my LinkedIN  profile, as follows:  Varsity Baseball, Scholarship Athlete, Academic All-America.

Posted by lee | Filed Under Advice, Personal, Resume 

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