As soon as I came across this study about how upper-class hobbies like playing polo or sailing can improve a man’s chances of landing a job, I immediately started doing my Thurston Howell III impression in my office. “Lovey, dahhling! Shall we use the Dom Perignon or the Boërl & Kroff Brut Rose to christen the new sloop?” “Well of course I don’t play water polo. Who’s going to dry off Sir Edmund Hillary, my prize thoroughbred?”
In case you don’t remember, or if you’re a little too young to know, Thurston Howell III was “The Millionaire” on the 1960s TV show Gilligan’s Island. So now that you’re probably looking at this article the same way my dog was looking at me while I did my impression, let’s get back on track and talk about the aforementioned study before getting into the nitty gritty of how hobbies can affect our resumes.
What’s the cut of your jib?
Researchers at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management sent similar resumes of fictitious students to 316 top law firms in 14 different cities. The resumes only variances were that they listed different hobbies and interests; some of them listed what would be considered higher-class hobbies like sailing, polo, or going to the opera, others listed more typical hobbies like hunting or playing softball. The male applicants with the higher-class hobbies received significantly more callbacks than the female applicants with the higher-class hobbies at a rate of 13 to 3 respectively, while men with the more typical hobbies only got one callback. The results found that, at least as far as job applicants at law firms were concerned, listing high-class hobbies made the candidate more appealing, but only if he were a man.
As we have done numerous times in the past, whenever we need to crack open the old brain box to see what makes us act the way we do, we call in our local expert Dr. Natosha K. Monroe. Her specialty is psychological therapy and consulting and she works with clients seeking career development. She also offers workshops that focus on personality assessment in career, resume writing, and personalized job searches. “The reality of personal bias still exists and yes, even in the minds of hiring personnel. Sadly, these may indeed include judgmental or even sexist overtones. Much of biased-centric thinking takes place on a subconscious level where the person may read something and feel less drawn to a job candidate without even being consciously aware of why. This being the case, it is wise for the job applicant to be interesting yet conservative regarding sharing of personal interests on resumes and in interviews,” Monroe said.
Laura DeCarlo, President of Career Directors International, is not only a business success coach for career and resume professionals but has also written several books on writing resumes and jobs searches including Resumes for Dummies and Job Search Bloopers. DeCarlo offered ways to combat possible biases that may influence how hobbies on our resumes are read. “Resumes should never be a “list” of things someone does or has done and rather are a complex marketing document to sell ones unique self for a position,” DeCarlo said. “Here’s what I have to say about the examples given: Unless you are applying to a country music radio station, or some kind of music entity that values country music, or KNOW with certainty that the boss listens to country music, such a hobby as enjoying country music doesn’t belong. That doesn’t sell the candidate for the position and it is just wasting space. Softball spells teamwork and is a plus, but just listing it can be boring. Consider emphasizing “Enhanced teamwork skills, health, agility, and leadership as 3-time winner of the XYZ annual games.” In other words connect the value of softball to the needs of the position! Don’t just list it and expect someone to spend the time connecting the dots.”
It’s all about the fit
Whether they are ritzy or more ordinary, including hobbies on a resume has had a rebirth, said Nancy Schuman, CSP, chief marketing officer at Lloyd Staffing and author of numerous career development books including The Job Interview Phrase Book: The Things to Say to Get You the Job You Want and The Everything Resume Book: Create a winning resume that stands out from the crowd. “For many years hobbies stopped appearing on resumes and most baby boomer candidates would never even consider including them. However, more and more interviewers look for hobbies because culture fit has become critical in hiring and retaining people who are a good match for an organization,” Schuman said. “Inclusion of hobbies works best when the hobby shows some relationship to the industry or position, something that showcases an interesting aspect of the candidate’s background and could spark an interest in the prospective employer or demonstrate a connection with their workforce or the skills they attribute to successful employees (patience, attention to detail, and competitiveness). But use judgment and don’t attempt to be funny – that usually falls flat.”
While we’re discussing resumes here, Schuman reminds us not to forget that hobbies can also be highlighted on our social media platforms as well. “A LinkedIn banner photo behind the headshot is a good place to highlight that hobby connection. I saw a great one recently where the candidate had a picture of himself skydiving. Beyond the resume, the employer will look at the LinkedIn profile and that can be a good way to draw some attention to a detail that will be a differentiator when it comes to candidates,” Schuman said. While posting a banner photo is a great idea, DeCarlo offers a potential red flag on using a high-risk activity as said photo. “You don’t want to pose an insurance cost risk to a nervous employer,” DeCarlo said. “Obviously, we can argue that there will be situations where dangerous hobbies will rather show leadership and confidence. It is all relative to the position targeted, the person you report to in the job and the culture of the company. So what you include can vary from resume to resume.”
Hobbies that definitely help
Certain hobbies have positive traits and, by highlighting those hobbies on our resumes, hiring managers often assess that we have those traits as well. We again look to Dr. Natosha K. Monroe to get her take on some of these hobbies can be interpreted:
1. Team sports – “Participation in team sports indicates at least some level of ability to interact socially and in groups, competitiveness, and physical fitness.”
2. Volunteering – “A person’s interest in volunteer work indicates a likelihood of getting along well with others due to his or her ability to see a social need or higher purpose.”
3. Learning to play a musical instrument – “The ability to play a musical instrument indicates creativity and talent as well as demonstrates that traits such as commitment and dedication due to the person taking the necessary time and effort to obtain the skill.”
4. Joining an acting/improv comedy group – “Who doesn’t like some entertainment and comic relief in the office? But be careful here—while it’s great to show personality and social ability, a person should not imply that he/she can’t take work seriously.”
The takeaway? “Personal interests can convey many things about a person,” said Monroe. “Compatibility of personal interests and traits leading to success is vital. For professional purposes, an employer wants to be sure to find the right fit for the job.”