The “Personal Interests” section in a CV: What does it reveal?

Is it really relevant to pay some attention to a candidate’s hobbies and personal interests when screening a candidate’s CV? Some Hiring Managers will say that it’s a waste of time, while others see it as an opportunity to get some more information about a candidate’s personality. At Google, for example, they started with a bottom-up approach when looking at candidates’ CVs. They didn’t focus on academic achievements but on a candidate’s interests first.

 A recruiter will face candidates who might try to impress them with their personal interests on paper but the real test comes at the interview stage. How knowledgeable is the candidate really about the hobbies and interests mentioned on his CV? Often candidates fake it in order to appear “more interesting”, without thinking that the recruiter might be an expert in the same subject too. Talking about hobbies might be a good conversational topic at the beginning of an interview and at the same time it tells you instantly something about the credibility and trustworthiness of a person. If the hobbies turn out to be lies, you might wonder what else on the CV might be fake.

Now let’s have a closer look as to how you can interpret the “Interest section” of other candidates’ CVs.

  • Many hobbies are being listed:

There are professionals who would think that a candidate who lists a range of different hobbies might have lots of skills, on the other hand it might tell someone that the person has so many hobbies and might therefore not be fully committed to the future job. Someone else could also think that this candidate could be a great mentor to a young person and whose interests could be transferred into an advisory role.

  • Few hobbies are being listed, but explained in more detail:

The person who adds few interests but provides more interesting details about it, shows that the person thinks creatively and knows how to sell themselves effectively. It also makes these interests/hobbies more credible to the reader.

  • Sportive Activities:

Here we need to differentiate between those sports that are individual sports such as tennis, athletics, car or motorbike racing, swimming, golf, cycling, etc. and those that are team sports such as football, ice hockey, cricket, baseball, etc. If a candidate is participating in a team sport you assume that the person is used to play in a team and that that skill can easily be transferred to a corporate environment too. The demand for employees with team working skills are increasing in this competitive corporate world.

No matter whether it is an individual or a team sport that the candidate loves doing, all sports have something in common. It shows that a candidate keeps himself fit (which is good for his work-life balance), is ambitious by nature, focused, determined, energetic, disciplined, resilient and goal-oriented. In a sales environment this can be very helpful because the person is familiar with achieving targets.

If you notice a candidate who loves engaging in risky and adventurous sports be cautious. I remember my first job interview in 1992 when I applied for a job as a secretary. I mentioned in my CV that I do some off-road racing. I was highly surprised about the Hiring Manager’s reaction. While I thought the recruiter would be impressed about a lady engaging in racing, he was sceptical because he feared that if I get injured in competitions someone else would have to take over my job for certain periods. For his business this would have meant finding another person and paying an additional salary. Thus, mentioning my passion for off road-racing didn’t help me at all, on the contrary it actually backfired. I learnt an important lesson from this experience: If a hobby is not positively related to the job and adds value to my job performance it should not be mentioned.

Then there are those sports that are considered as “elite sport” such as golf, sailing, tennis etc. Here a recruiter can really find out whether the applicant is an insider or just wants to impress.

Someone who instead prefers coaching and training others in their sportive endeavours demonstrates to have leadership and motivational skills, a trait that would be welcomed for executive positions.

  • Intellectual Activities:

Someone who likes drama and acting proofs to have confidence, no stage fright and creativity. If a candidate is required to give public speeches or presentations it would surely be a skill that would come naturally to the candidate. “Reading” is a favourite hobby for many people but unless someone specifies what genre he likes it is often considered as boring.

  • Games:

Someone who likes playing chess will be perceived as a strategic thinker with analytical skills. A person who loves playing computer games might be perceived as “less social” unless other qualities can be added to it. If a candidate would also mention that he organised gaming events (involving marketing and technical tasks) a recruiter would be more impressed.

  • Community or charitable work:

Engaging in various community or charitable work is something that definitely catches a recruiter’s attention and is perceived as very positive. A candidate will be perceived as committed, responsible, proactive and motivated who knows how to use his skills on and outside his job.

Even if you are one of those recruiters who don’t believe in the usefulness of knowing a person’s hobbies, it still provides you with the opportunity to test a person’s honesty. Surely a character trait that should not be underestimated.

Karin Schroeck-Singh
Karin Schroeck-Singh is a passionate Public Speaker, eBook Author, and a freelancing Online Content Producer. She has an MBA from the University of Leicester (UK) and gained 18 years of international work experience in Italy, the UK and India.