Personal interests: 10 CV dos and don’ts

There is always much conflicting advice from career experts on what to include on CVs. One of the areas  that has an opinion divide of Grand Canyon proportions, is whether to mention your personal interests and hobbies on your resume and if they can actually make a difference to the selection process.

Hannah Morgan, Career Sherpa says “No one really cares that you enjoy knitting, wine tasting and training for marathons. That is, unless, you are applying for a job in one of those areas. Save the space for more meaningful, work-related information. Have you included professional memberships or volunteer activities?

Stand out with your hobbies on your job search by  exhorts candidates to share their personal interests on their CVs. Why? “ because who you are transfers over to how you work.”


Personal interests:  10 CV dos and don’ts

Do:  Remember that what is relevant will depend on the company culture and nature of the open position. Not all company cultures or teams look for, welcome or need, the person who does a fitness boot camp at  5.00 am every day before work.

Do:  include some personal interests especially if they can showcase or endorse your professional skills and particularly if  you have achieved some level of excellence or expertise.

Do:  give a range of personal interests which showcase your personality. I think Hannah’s example of a wine tasting,  knitter, who runs marathons could be a potentially interesting character.

Do:  be strategic and highlight those personal interests which could be professionally relevant, but with a balance: team and leadership roles, as well as introverted and extroverted, competitive and non competitive. Depending on the nature of the opening, I would certainly pay attention to someone whose interests were exclusively solitary or exclusively competitive.  Generally personality traits will be identified via any type of testing or assessment process anyway.

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Do:  include if you played a sport to a high  or professional level or represented your country in any activity, even if it was some years previously. It demonstrates focus, discipline and energy. Plus skills!

Don’t:  include if you claim to be an international athlete light years before and it looks as if it was 50 pounds ago and walking from the desk to the door will induce a coronary.

Do: be sensitive with regard to any of your interests which might be “hot” issues for others:  certain causes, or political or religious activities fall into that category. It’s impossible to know the personal biases and perceptions of  the reader and interviewer unless they are in the public domain.

Do: share if you are using that skill currently via coaching,  mentoring or volunteering.

Do: if you think your personal interests will be a social ice-breaker and professionally relevant. It is becoming increasingly easy to research interviewers and companies. If the hiring company sponsor an activity which genuinely interests you – include it. I was participating in a search recently where the company sponsored the fine arts and one of the candidates was a serious opera buff. The panel Chair and candidate had a brief aside on Liudmyla Monastyrska‘s  role as Aida.  It was  a clear differentiator in that particular hiring process with a number of equal candidates. Confirmation bias exists.

Don’t: claim to have interests which are not real. If the last book you read was the Spark Notes from a university course, or the last movie you saw was Ghost or your idea of haute cuisine is opening a takeaway carton,  best not to mention them as interests. You could be asked.

I interviewed someone who said they were a “huge tennis fan“, but couldn’t comment on the last Wimbledon final.  As John McEnroe would say “You can’t be serious.

So like any other part of your CV the personal interest section is an opportunity to be strategic.  So I say use it – but wisely!

13 thoughts on “Personal interests: 10 CV dos and don’ts

  1. Hannah Morgan (@careersherpa)

    You cited many interesting arguments for including interests! I may change my position on this one day, but for now, my suggested compromise is to include those interests on your LinkedIn profile where space is unlimited and many potential hiring entities might go to learn more about you…

    You definitely got me thinking and thanks for the reference!

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Hannah – As you know I value your input very highly and used your post as an illustration of the divide that exists on the topic. Interests are generally at the end of a LinkedIn profile and I wonder how many actually scroll down. As always for me to include interests on a CV goes back to ” it depends!” Thanks for your comment.

  2. Dorothy Dalton

    Thanks Anne. My observation is that many interviewers particularly senior ones will not research a candidate on Twitter or Facebook – or even LinkedIn. So it could depend on who is involved in the process.

  3. Jill

    Thanks for posting this, I enjoyed reading it. I think with the growing area of social responsibility listing volunteer activities is also a good way to showcase other sides of your personality.

  4. Meg McCormick (@megster67)

    The type of interest you share can convey information about you that you may or may not want to feature. If you like to read, crochet, and swim – those are all individual activities. If you play in a band and lead a girl scout troop – those are all group activities. As well, the more the unusual the activity or interest, the more likely you’re an interesting character… and the opposite may be true as well. And even if it isn’t true, whoever’s screening your resume may draw conclusions based on what you list. That said – I like to see interests listed, if there’s room, and if they’re something unique.

  5. jose

    Every resume advice site I consult says you have to be concise and efficient because HR people review hundreds of resumes every day and will spend 10 seconds looking at yours.

    I doubt 10 seconds are enough for someone to read all the way down to the last item and wait to ponder what it means that you like this and that and infer a trend that reveals a personality flaw – unless you mention your proud adherence to the KKK or something equally moronic. Is this really that much of a factor?

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Thanks Jose – possibly the personal interests may not be read in an initial viewing. Professional skills carry highest weighting. Further on in the process they could well be. It’s not a question of demonstrating a “personality flaw” but personal preferences in the way spare time is spent which can add to an individuals story.

  6. Spike _/\_

    Enjoyed the advice, but one nitpick: “light years” is a measure of distance, not time. Despite the name 😉
    No prob with a general audience, but a definite faux pas in front of techies.

  7. Asia

    This was very helpful! I am working on applying for real estate investment analyst jobs and have been trying to figure out how to incorporate the experience that I gained through analyzing deals for the purchase of my first 4 unit apartment building.

    Just need to think about what I can mix with it in the personal interest section so I won’t “over do it”. Maybe volunteer work… eh decisions, decisions!

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