Personal Interests

Though questions about personal interests are becoming less and less common (some can—inadvertently—lead to illegal information), you still may be asked about personal interests and hobbies. Why would an employer want to know how you spend your weekends? Finding out what you do in your leisure time is a good and quick way to get to know you as a person, not just a job applicant. Make sure not to drone on too long about your outside activities. Find the balance between describing outside passions and sounding like a fanatic.

Some questions that may go through an interviewer's mind while she asks you about your outside interests are whether you have a balanced lifestyle, whether your personality is reflected in the type of job you choose, and whether your personal and professional interests seem compatible.

Q: Other than work, tell me about an activity you've remained interested in over several years.

YES: I've been involved in fundraising efforts for cancer research ever since my grandmother died from breast cancer. I'm hoping that the research can save the lives of others.

NO: I have varied interests and have taken part in many activities over the years. Unfortunately, I haven't found anything that holds my interest for too long.

The interviewer is questioning whether you are fickle. Do you take a strong interest in things and stick to them, or do you seem to have a problem with commitment? Prove to the interviewer that you are a solid person who doesn't just jump into something to jump right back out. Talk about your hobbies and favorite activities. Think about the other questions that the interviewer is considering: Are your interests compatible with the job you are applying for? Would they be of value in any way to the company?

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

YES: I am a real sports fan. Whether watching or playing, I enjoy the excitement that sports such as baseball, basketball, and tennis have to offer. I especially enjoy team sports. Knowing that a group of people is working so closely together to achieve a specific goal is inspiring to me in many ways. I know that many of your clients are high-profile sports clubs and companies, and I think that because of my dedication to sports of all kinds, I could definitely bring a unique perspective and insight to the company.

NO: I'm a big TV fan, some might even say couch potato. Based on my viewing habits, I could be a great asset to your advertising team and can certainly keep you informed of the kinds of commercials that are popping up.

The interviewer wants evidence that you're well-rounded, not one dimensional. He is looking for shared interests or common ground. Make sure that the personal life you describe is active and fulfilling. Though the interviewer wants to know that you will be dedicated to your job, he does not want to think that this is the only creative outlet you will have. You should always, in some way, relate your answer to the job description.

Q: Tell me about a time when you were in a recreational setting and got an idea that helped in your work.

YES: I was on vacation in Mexico and saw a woman with a homemade seesaw she was using to lift her laundry basket when she needed something out of it. It gave me an idea for a new type of scaffolding that I designed when I got back to work. Now our brick masons have a rotating bench that keeps their materials at waist level, which reduces back fatigue.

NO: I had been given the chance to brainstorm some new ideas for an innovative book series. During a weekend trip to a local bookstore, I noticed that our nearest competitor had just launched a great new series that targeted young men and women—exactly the group that we wanted to target. I bought a bunch of the books and the next day we began working on the same type of series.

The interviewer wants to know that even when you're not working—you are able to synthesize information and apply what you see to your profession. You want to be sure that you are portraying yourself as an innovative and creative person. While you want to show you can be competitive in business, talking about a great idea that you saw another business doing and chose to copy won't showcase your own creative thinking. Show that your work is something you are naturally inquisitive about rather than something you have to do. Are you able to think outside of the box to come up with fresh ideas? Be sure to give specific examples.

Q: How is your personality reflected in the kinds of activities you enjoy?

YES: I love to cook and entertain. That's the salesman coming out in me. I love sharing experiences with people, and I'm very outgoing.

NO: I love to play sports. I think that this shows my fiercely competitive nature. I am not satisfied until I can say I devastated my competition.

Talk about the way your natural skills, values, and ethics are reflected in things you do in your spare time. What do your hobbies and passions outside of work say about your personality? Remember, everything we do says something about us as a person. Think about your words so that the image you portray of yourself is always to your advantage.

Q: What are some of the things you do to relax?

YES: The main thing that helps me to relax is my family. For me, my weekends are like a vacation. I make the most of all the time I have to spend with my family. When I'm at work, I focus on what is going on in my professional life, but when I am at home, it's all about my family. When I began working at my present job, my husband and I decided to buy a home about twenty miles outside of the city. It was really one of the best things we ever did; now, even the drive home is relaxing.

NO: The only way I know of to relax is to sleep!

The interviewer wants to be reassured that you do not spend all of your time—physically or mentally—in the office. Describe at least one part of your life or activity that you engage in that you find to be relaxing. Talking about what you do in your free time is a great way to give the interviewer an insight into who you are as a person.

Q: Have you ever found yourself really burned-out from a job, and if so, what did you do about it?

YES: Because I know how damaging it can be to begin experiencing those sort of feelings, I don't allow myself to get locked into an unchanging routine. I am the type of person who will continually ask for new assignments and tasks so that I can keep motivated and challenged.

NO: Burned-out is exactly what I am feeling right now in my current job. That is why I'm sending out resumes and interviewing for new positions.

The interviewer is trying to figure out a few different things here. Are you smart and disciplined enough to avoid burnout? When you are not being productive, do you recognize it? What do you do to cope with stress? The interviewer wants to be sure that in a few months, you will not be running from this job and company.

Q: Our company believes that employees should give time back to the community. How do you feel about that?

YES: I completely agree. In my last job as a manager, I allowed employees to spend one day a month, as long as the entire staff wasn't gone on one day, giving back to the community as a volunteer. I myself spend one Friday a month working with an adult literacy program.

NO: As long as it is not a requirement of the job, I don't see a problem with it.

If you have spent time giving back to your community in some way, this is a great time to talk about it. Even if you have not, this is a good opportunity for you to discuss the issues, charities, and world problems that concern you. If you were given the time to participate in community outreach, what would you do? Showing a lack of excitement at the prospect of helping others is probably not the type of spirit a company is looking for. Do you use your skills productively? Are you unselfish and a real team player? Demonstrate how your personal interests make you productive even when you aren't being paid. What incentives other than a paycheck inspire you?

Essential

Following the interview, it is important to keep your candidacy fresh in the interviewer's mind. Beyond a strong thank-you letter, you might send samples of work that intrigued the interviewer. If you discovered that you share common interests, such as sailing or rock climbing, consider sending the person a great article you just found on the topic.

Q: Are there any community projects that have benefited from your professional experience?

YES: As a marketing professional, I have been able to help out at our local high school in drumming up publicity and awareness for its fundraisers.

NO: I don't know that any local organizations would need a professional writer.

This question gives the interviewer a sense of your values and lets her know whether you will be a good corporate citizen. Showing that you like to apply your professional expertise to situations in which the only reward is goodwill impresses an interviewer. Don't get sidetracked describing a cause that doesn't demonstrate job-related skills. Avoid discussing any charity or organization that may be considered controversial; the last thing you want to do is offend the interviewer.

Q: Describe how a sport or hobby taught you a lesson in teamwork or discipline.

YES: I used to play football, and our coach always taught us that the most important part of the game was watching out for the other guy; that if you do that job well, you'll always have someone watching out for you as well. It is exactly this strategy that I have tried to apply in my professional life. Help out when and where you can, and you'll always have others to rely on as well.

NO: My football coach's philosophy was a sort of “take no prisoners” attitude. I'm a team player, but I understand I need to watch out for myself to keep playing the game.

Remember that the key to this question is teamwork! Rather than focus on how you have applied a certain strategy to work to your advantage, talk about how you have used lessons learned to help your entire department or work group or a time when you had to use teamwork to get a desired result. Tell a specific story, then describe how the same skill or lesson has been used in your work.

Q: When you aren't at work, do you prefer to stick to a schedule or do you prefer to be spontaneous? Why?

YES: My work day is very structured because I am generally in four or five meetings a day. On the weekends, I like to have a plan, but not necessarily a set schedule. That in itself is a relaxing change of pace for me, but I feel I'd be wasting my time with no plan at all.

NO: I never keep a schedule outside the office. Having to do it at work is difficult enough for a spontaneous person like me.

Be careful that whichever answer you choose, it's consistent with the job you're interviewing for. For example, since accounting is a profession that requires discipline and precision, your answer should reflect your natural inclination toward agendas, schedules, and precision. However, for a sales job, you'd probably want to show that you're prepared to wing it. This question is essentially about your personality and your compatibility with the job.

Q: Tell me about an interest that you outgrew.

YES: Early on, I wanted to be a research physician. Then I spent time in a chemistry lab and realized that I wasn't looking forward to the next two years of lab work. That's why I've chosen marketing for medical equipment instead. It combines my respect for the medical profession with a job that's more suited to my personality.

NO: As a child, I always thought I would grow up to be a chemist. I loved playing with my chemistry set and thought that I would be well suited to the profession. When I got to high school and college, I realized that math was such a big component to the job. It was then that I decided a job that didn't require such good figure aptitude would be a better fit.

Describe a former interest or hobby that you no longer pursue, making sure that the interest isn't related in some way to the job you're interviewing for. You also don't want to expose a weak skill that the interviewer had never even considered. Talk about why you outgrew that interest and why it's not compatible with your current interests. Be sure to discuss how your current interests are related to your career.

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