The 3 Things to Keep in Mind When Adding Interests to Your Resume

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Pooja Shah10
Lawyer by day, freelance writer by night.
Many job seekers often question what personal interests they should include on their resume to effectively and professionally convey their experience and personality. Some even question whether they should add them at all.
Depending on where you are in your career, including a section on your interests can be a great way to diversify your resume and show the employer why you're a good fit for the role. All resumes should include educational background, work experience and career objectives, but interests can be a way to distinguish candidates from those who shine and those who don't.  Remember, an employer only takes about six seconds to scan your resume, so each word should be valuable and relevant.  
Here are some ways to present your interests on a resume in a strategic and intentional way and examples of to do (and what not to do). 

How and why to present your interests.

1. Make sure you distinguish between your hobbies and your interests. 

There is often a fine line between one's hobbies and interests. The key difference is that hobbies are activities that you do on a regular basis, usually for enjoyment and during your free time (e.g. singing, dancing, pilates and wine tasting). Interests, however, are topics, activities or issues that you are intrigued by and want to learn more about. While it's true that hobbies and interests can sometimes overlap, ask yourself whether you are adding something that's a recreational pursuit or genuinely relevant to your job responsibilities. 

2. Ensure that the interests give insight into your personality but are professionally aligned.

Before applying to a company, make sure you research it thoroughly to better understand the company culture, the demographic/company make-up, objectives and work-life balance. Websites like Fairygodboss and Glassdoor are an excellent resource to get feedback from current (or former) employees' experiences and how the company functions from an insider perspective.
Once you've conducted your research, think about tailoring your resume to include interests that align with the company's personality.  Maybe you're interested in a sales or consulting role that requires interpersonal skills and an extroverted personality. Mentioning that you're interested in intramural sports or public speaking would suggest to the employer that you're a team player who thrives in a collegiate environment or that you're not afraid of speaking in front of large crowds. Or, suppose you're applying for a legal job at a law firm or nonprofit organization. Stating on your resume that you're interested in affinity groups or social justice issues could positively reflect on your commitment to pro-bono work. 
If your research reveals that the company culture is traditional, then feel free to remove your interests from your resume. Use LinkedIn or other networking efforts to speak to current or former employees to better understand what is and isn't appropriate to include. Each company is different, but your interests should be serve as an advantageous edge, not a risk to your candidacy.

3. Include interests on your resume to strategically fill any gaps or white space.

Let's say you're coming back from leave or a sabbatical or are looking for an entry-level role and don't have enough experience yet. Interests are a good way to fill any white space on your resume and to "bulk it up" without being excessively wordy or redundant in other areas. Make sure the interests you're including are those that show initiative, willingness to work, dedication, curiosity or flexibility. These types of interests could potentially address questions prospective employers may have about your work history if you are able to convince them that you are the best candidate.
Create an interest section on your resume at the bottom of the page after your educational background and work experience. Group your interests together, be as specific as possible, quantify when necessary, avoid repetitive terms and provide an explanation where justifiable. Double-check that your interests are showcasing skills that are relevant to the role and illustrate  how you'll add value to the company.

Good (and bad) examples of interests to include.

  ✔  Volunteer work: Interest in volunteer work is a good way to show your commitment to civic engagement and serving others. Volunteering can also exemplify time-management skills (because you can your work duties and volunteering in your free time), as well as social responsibility.  Discuss any current volunteer work you're doing or future organizations you want to join.
 ✔ Endurance sports or team sports: A membership in a team or endurance sport (whether professionally or recreationally) can demonstrate teamwork abilities, socialization skills and athleticism, as well as leadership skills.
✔ Foreign language skills/travel: Interests in acquiring new language skills and traveling to new locations can show your open-mindedness, communication skills, cultural curiosity and initiative. Learning a new language also takes a lot of practice and repetition, which would suggest you're dedicated to exploring outside of your comfort zone.
✔  Any other interest that makes you personable, is relevant to the job description, shows discipline and reflects positively on you as a candidate and individual. 
Do not include interests that may touch upon the following topics, as employers may find them controversial and or uncomfortable to discuss during an interview:
 ✖  Political affiliations: Despite your research attempts, you may not know what the political affiliation of your employer or interviewer is.  Avoid revealing any sensitive information that people may or may not agree with you on.
 ✖  Personal stances on controversial issues: Suppose you are anti-gun violence or pro-choice and feel strongly about these issues. Although these beliefs may be relevant to who you are as an individual, you shouldn't include personal stances on your resume that may stir controversy in an office environment. Your job should be a neutral work zone.
 ✖  Dangerous or illegal activities: Even if you are an avid hunter or enjoy high-adrenaline sports like car racing or skydiving, these are not interests you should include on your resume because the behavior can be misconstrued as high-risk or unreliable. Of course, anything that is illegal should definitely not be on your resume.
 ✖  Anything that would seem random, unthoughtful or reflect negatively on you. After all, the goal is to get this job!
Drafting your resume is an art and can be tricky. If you are unsure about what to include and not include, how to keep your resume concise and clear or just want another set of eyes to review, feel free to seek the professional advice of a resume coach.

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 Pooja Shah is a freelance writer living and working in NYC. Please visit her webpage for more of her work.