“Most people who apply for a job have quite similar-looking résumés, especially when it comes to junior positions. They have generally been to the same kind of school or university, or have taken the same kinds of courses. Their hobbies and activities are the only things that make them stand out,” said Grégoire Gambatto, the chief executive of Germinal, a company that specializes in growth hacking. Our hobbies, like our professional experience, are part and parcel of our professional identity. So mentioning them on your résumé or in a cover letter could strengthen your application and even increase your chances of getting a job interview. Once you get the interview, they are a really good way of revealing another aspect of your character. They can even be used as an icebreaker at any point in the conversation.
Here are a few tips on how to showcase your interests and the things that you are passionate about without sounding like a nutcase.
What a recruiter is really trying to find out
Recruiters invest in human beings––and human beings are more than just a bunch of technical skills or a list of the software they have mastered. When recruiters are interested in your profile, they also want to find out if you are a well-rounded individual who could fit into the company’s culture and into the team you might be joining. So finding out about what you do when you are not at work allows them to figure out who you really are.
Some recruiters are also keen on finding out whether you have a good work-life balance. This is not simply so that they can check to see if your extra-curricular activities might interfere with your job, but also because a staff member who has other interests tends to be less stressed out, more creative and more motivated when part of a team.
Prepare your ‘bucket’ of extracurricular activities
“People sometimes worry about having ‘uninteresting’ hobbies, so they just put down a few vague things––and that’s a shame. A hobby will always seem interesting when you go into detail and tell people why you are so passionate about it,” said Gambatto. So, how do you highlight your interests, without making them sound more important to you than your career and your skills?
1. Start by listing – just for you – all of your favorite hobbies, interests, and passions
It’s quite a big task, but you will use it throughout your career. It doesn’t matter how insignificant they might seem to you, list everything: from volunteering locally to doing the crossword in the Sunday newspaper, or your eight years’ of pottery classes. Any one of them may be of interest one day in relation to a position you are applying for or even to a recruiter who might have the same ones.
2. Then, detail the ‘mad skills’ that each one of these activities has given you
The term “mad skills” refers to all the “out of the ordinary” skills that you get from a hobby. Your volunteering experience might be a good way to show your managerial skills. Completing crosswords demonstrates a good command of the English language and a certain amount of patience. Pottery classes indicate a creative side. The idea is to define the technical skills (know-how) and the soft-skills (social skills) you have gained and make them relevant to the job you want.
Pick the activities that seem the most applicable to the position you want
It is not just a question of coming across as authentic, you also have to demonstrate how these activities make you suitable for the job. So the best thing to do is to leave nothing to chance. Gambatto said: “One day, we created a position in which you had to be incredibly autonomous and resourceful because nothing had been set in stone for the project at hand. We asked a guy to come in for an interview who told us about his road trip on a REALLY old motorbike that lasted for a few months over a few thousand kilometers. I have been traveling too and so I know how much of a fighter and how resourceful you have to be––and even creative sometimes––if you need to earn some money or to repair a burst tyre in the middle of the desert. In short, I knew he was the right person for the job.”
3. Find out about the company’s procedures and culture
Before applying for a position, try to find out about the activities that the company is involved in or the causes that they back. Do they have regular team-building activities? Do they sponsor a certain event every year? These are all things that will help you to decide which interests to talk about the most.
4. Try to use them to make up for any shortcomings you may have based on the job description
Your hobbies may have given you the skills you need for this position. Is the company asking for managerial skills that you don’t have? Use your extra-curricular activities to showcase when you have managed a team, as head of the student union, as founder of a local association, or captain of a sports team, for example.
5. Make a short but specific list
Avoid putting down a long list on your résumé. Try to write an articulate paragraph about the experiences you would like to focus on:“I use my holidays to go hiking as much as I possibly can. My next trip will be to climb Ben Nevis in Scotland. I spend the rest of the year running rather than walking: I have been captain of my rugby team for the past six years and I also coach the junior team. In between my training sessions, I explore my interest in economics by completing online courses and reading magazines on the topic.”
Talk about them with passion and clarity
“At Germinal, we get every applicant to send in their résumé and answer this question: “What experience has left a significant mark on your life?” It draws our attention and stimulates an interest. The candidates come across as more sincere. You must remember that as recruiters we receive dozens of applications for the same job. Coming across someone original is always refreshing. And so, when the actual interview comes up we often end up having a really good time,” said Gambatto. But how do you talk about something you are passionate about and convey your feelings, without getting carried away?
6. Explain why you love you it so much
Passion is a very expansive emotion. After you have answered all the questions about your career so far, with responses that are well-formatted and prepared, talking about what excites you will show another positive side to your personality. It will give the recruiter a better idea about who you really are and what motivates you. To help you to flesh out your answers, ask yourself: What is it about this activity that gives me a buzz? How do I feel while I am doing it? What do I get out of it personally and professionally? What has it provided on a daily basis? Could I give it up? Preparing examples and anecdotes is a good idea. Try to be spontaneous, though, so that you don’t sound like you are giving a well-rehearsed speech.
7. Reveal how much influence these activities have on your life
If your hobbies are demanding, it’s a good idea to reassure the recruiter about how you manage to juggle your interests and your work. Do you do it in the evening or at the weekend? You should try to show the recruiter that you are organized and that your hobbies are a “help” rather than a hindrance when it comes to work.
8. Do not wait for permission to talk about them
“Can you explain how you overcame a difficult situation?” That is the kind of question that you could answer by talking about a past professional experience or by talking about your last basketball game. You can explain that your team was on the brink of defeat until you gave everyone a pep talk and then you went on to win the game. Don’t hesitate to mention your hobbies before you are asked about them and when you think it might be appropriate.
9. And above all, no bullshit
Do you want to impress the recruiter by coming across as passionate and interesting? Great, but don’t get carried away. There is nothing worse than lying about having an interest in golf, for example, and then getting caught by the recruiter when they ask about your handicap. (“Erm, I have got a bit a weak ankle after spraining it a while ago, but calling that a handicap would be exaggerating.”) Be ready to answer any follow-up questions. This means that if you say you enjoy English literature, you should be ready to quote the title of the latest novel that you loved. Or if you like painting on weekends, try to think of the names of a few artists who have inspired you, for example. If you are truly passionate about your hobby, the recruiter will be able to tell.
In the end, your passions and interests are the best way to reveal who you really are. “It provides an escape route from all the pre-prepared, readymade answers the candidates often use. I once had a somewhat ‘dull’ student who completely lit up when he started to talk about his next target, which was to climb Mont Blanc, and the training plan he had drawn up for of it. When people talk about the things that they love doing, you get some remarkable surprises,” said Gambatto. So don’t hold back when it comes to revealing your best side.
Translated by Mildred Dauvin
Photo: Welcome to the Jungle
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