Can Your Hobby Get You A Job?

by | March 31, 2009

Do tap dancers make better online editors? Does a breakdancer have an edge in business development?

Tap-dancer-turned-writer Stephanie Portnoy typed "really good tap dancer" at the bottom of her resume because otherwise "it looked so boring." Since then, the subject of tap dancing has surfaced in every job interview she's had.

"I cannot even tell you how much that tap dancing thing has worked for me," says Portnoy, 31, a freelance writer based in Edison, N.J. "[Interviewers] always ask, 'will you do a tap dance for me now'" And I say, "When you hire me, I'll do a tap dance."

Business developer Chris Neal is equally proud to list breakdancing on his resume.

"It's helped break the ice at high-stress interviews," Neal explains, "and helped me gauge whether the company I'm applying to has a sense of humor or takes themselves too seriously."

Moving target
But don't be too quick to brag about your backgammon skills on your CV. Job coaches, recruiters and hiring managers interviewed by Vault are divided over the benefits of listing extracurriculars.

Jessica Shevitz, a Manhattan-based job coach, advises clients against including hobbies on their resumes. However, students, job changers, and those with little professional experience are exempted from this guideline.

"Resume writing is so tricky," says Shevitz, who until recently was a technology recruiter for an executive search firm. "Your audience is a moving target. Within a company, 10 different people can see your resume and it could hit different people in different ways."

From her recruiting days, Shevitz recalls one resume she and other recruiters viewed favorably. The guy had good schooling and five or six years worth of professional job experience. But her client's hiring managers balked at the listing "expert fencer," with references to collegiate titles. They questioned the relevance of listing outdated achievements, she says.

"This is business," Shevitz continues, "it's about getting work done. It's really great that you love Monet paintings and have traveled to museums to see them. [Use that as] the ice breaker in the interview."

Heather Meade, a training and development specialist at National City Mortgage in Miamisburg, Ohio, says experts have overwhelmingly advocated keeping resumes short and relevant in the numerous resume-writing sessions she's attended for business.

"Employers don't have time to read a book," says Meade. "Even though a two-page resume has become more acceptable, hobbies and interests can be considered a filler - possibly indicating that you do not have relevant job experience to list."

She does give a pass, however, to hobbies or interests that clearly demonstrate relevant skills, accomplishments, or a desire for continued education in the field.

"Let's say I train people for a living, and I have a hobby - I love to write," she says. "In fact, I have published numerous books, some of which are training related. I would list that hobby and my associated accomplishments because it is relevant to the job."

Like Shevitz, Meade says leisure-time activities are most appropriately brought up during the actual interview.

"You gain insight to a person's values and personality through awareness of leisure activities," she observes. "The question may be asked as a tool to determine what kind of time the applicant will have available in case overtime is needed."

For example, Meade says, if an applicant is involved in theater, "which involves late nights and travel," an interviewer might wonder if your hobby "will affect your ability to do your day job"

Personal touch or Personal ad?
Carolyn J. Jorgensen, a technical recruiter at Fred Hood & Associates in Calabasas, CA, says she used to shun hobbies and interests used as resume listings because a resume "isn't a personal ad." She changed her mind, however, because of overwhelming evidence of the benefits of personal touches.

"One guy said that a year after he was hired, he asked the boss (who he was now friends with), why he picked him out of all the competition." Says Jorgensen: "It turned out the deciding factor was that he listed golf as a hobby and the boss wanted someone to play golf with."

Another candidate insisted on listing his love for building radio-controlled airplanes for an aerospace job.

"That hiring manager told him that he figured, 'If the guy builds airplanes all day, and then goes home and builds them some more, he must REALLY like it, and would be a go-getter at work,'" she says.

Stand out among the masses
One information technology manager for a major investment firm says she's sometimes so overwhelmed by the sheer number of resumes she receives that the more personalized ones catch her attention - in a good way. Often it gets that person in the door over someone else with comparable skills.

"I look at resumes and they all look the same," she says. "So when I see something unusual, like someone who lists climbing Mount Rainier, I think that's a pretty cool thing."

Then again, there are enough stories of people who got burned by listing personal interests to further cloud the debate. Kevin Fisher, of Boston-based Dartmouth Research and Consulting, says he personally likes seeing them on resumes, but that most of his colleagues don't encourage the listings. And he wouldn't do it himself because of a bad experience 15 years back.

A nationally ranked swimmer, Fisher listed swimming on his resume. During the interview, he says, "I was questioned about my time commitments and interference with work commitments. Go figure!"

Portnoy, the tap dancer, admits she didn't consider any downsides to flaunting her dancing skills. In fact, she hasn't even dusted off her tap shoes since her days in college productions. Portnoy put tap on her resume, she says, to show possible clients and employers that she has a sense of humor. And it's been an incredible ice breaker.

"Anyone who would analyze my tap dancing that much is probably someone I wouldn't want to work for anyway," she says.

Filed Under: Job Search


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