When you’re deep in job interview mode, a seemingly unrelated question like, “What are your hobbies?” might throw you for a loop.
“Job candidates often fear that interviewers will ask them ‘trick’ questions or expect a ‘right’ answer to a question,” says Muse career coach Jennifer Fink, founder of Fink Development. Personal questions can spark this anxiety even more than other common interview questions. But it’s not a trick. Interviewers asking about what you do for fun actually want to hear you talk about your hobbies.
When companies interview people, they’re looking to answer two key questions: Can you do the job? And what will you bring to the company as a coworker? You’re not just getting hired to do a specific job, you’re getting hired to join a team and contribute to the business and its culture. So interviewers want to get a sense of who you are as an individual and as a teammate.
In asking this question, the interviewer may even be trying to help you. “Many interviewers understand the stress of the interview process and may want to ask questions to create a friendly dialogue to ease the candidate’s nerves,” Fink says. “Asking about someone’s outside interests is meant to be a low-stakes question that most candidates can respond to off the cuff.” By giving you the chance to talk about something you love and are passionate about, this question can allow you to relax and let your personality shine through.
But just because the question is lower stakes doesn’t mean the interviewer doesn’t care what you say—or that it’s an easy question to answer! Read on to find out how to choose a hobby to talk about, what to include in your answer, and what an answer to, “What are your hobbies?”—or, “What do you like to do for fun?” or, “What do you like to do outside of work?”—might look like.
How Do I Choose a Hobby to Talk About?
On your job hunt, you might have been encouraged to tailor everything—whether that be your cover letter, resume, or interview responses—to the specific position you’re applying to. But with this question, that’s less important. You should certainly keep the job in mind as you’re selecting a hobby to talk about, but that’s not nearly as high a priority as choosing one that’s truly important to you.
If you have more than one major hobby, that’s when you can start taking the specific job into account. “Ask yourself: Is this something that would add to my profile?” says Muse career coach Lynn Berger, founder of Lynn Berger Career Coaching.
For instance, if you have a hobby that ties into the job you’re applying for or emphasizes transferable skills that might not be clear from your other work experience, by all means mention it. If you’re applying to a job that requires creativity, you might mention that you write short stories. “Or if it is a job that requires teamwork and you played and competed in team sports you [may] want to mention it,” Berger says.
You might also think beyond job skills when selecting a hobby and instead choose one that shows how you would add to the company’s work environment. While you’re researching a company before interviews, you’ll see that some companies or teams will publicize the more social aspects of working there on their website, social media, or Muse profile. So take note of any group activities you come across that align with the hobbies you already have. For example, if they highlight their karaoke nights and you love to sing, mentioning that might help interviewers picture you as part of the team.
But don’t fall into a trap of elevating or inventing a hobby just because you think it’s the “right” hobby. “I use what I call the two-minute rule here with my clients. If you can talk about whatever it is for two minutes passionately, it’s worth mentioning,” Fink says. If you can’t, then choose something else. You’ll come across as more genuine than trying to force it. And definitely don’t try to pad out your answer by talking more about the job: “Answering in a way that ties directly to the job description may end up coming across as disingenuous or inauthentic,” Fink says.
As far as hobbies to avoid mentioning, there are a few guidelines. In general, your answer should stay away from:
- Anything political, according to Muse career coach Heidi Ravis, unless it’s directly relevant to the job or you know from your research that the company culture is welcoming to folks airing their political views. That said, if not being able to express your views or affiliations freely is a dealbreaker for you, you might consider sharing something political anyway, as a kind of test.
- Anything that’s potentially illegal, like cultivating marijuana or sports betting in states where it’s not permitted.
- Anything indicating you might not be a reliable employee. For example, saying that your hobby is “partying with friends” would give an interviewer doubts about your ability to show up on time and on schedule. (It also doesn’t really tell them what you’re passionate about or why.)
- Saying you have no hobbies. Not only are you not making an effort to answer the question, but you’re also throwing away an opportunity for your interviewer to get to know you better.
Other than these categories, “interviewers want to get a sense of what makes you tick, what makes your eyes light up, so any hobby that you can talk about with enthusiasm and insight is probably acceptable,” Ravis says.
What If I Don’t Have Any Hobbies?
Don’t panic! There’s most likely something in your life that you care about and do frequently, even if you wouldn’t call it a hobby. In fact, this question is sometimes phrased as, “What do you do for fun?” or “What do you do outside of work?” without using the word “hobby” at all.
Remember that you don’t have to do something as part of a formal class or group for it to count as a hobby. And you definitely don’t have to spend money on it. Hobbies can be as simple as reading, exercising, taking walks to explore new places, or cooking new foods.
If your hobby is more of an interest, that’s fine, too. Maybe you’re fascinated by fashion and read and watch everything you can about current trends, or maybe you’re a history buff who loves books about little-known historical events and spends part of every vacation at a museum.
If you don’t have much free time right now, it’s perfectly OK to use something you’ve done in the past that you hope to do more of in the future. Or maybe you just love to try new things. Going out to experience something new whenever you can is also an interest you talk about, and curiosity is a valued quality for an employee, Berger says.
What Should I Tell My Interviewer About My Hobby?
Regardless of which hobby, interest, or activity you choose to talk about, you don’t want to just state what it is and then stop speaking. And you don’t want to just tie it back to the job description. So what do you say?
Start by giving a bit of detail about what your hobby looks like for you and perhaps how you got into it if there’s a compelling backstory or anecdote you can share. You should also tell your interviewer why you do it and what you get out of it. “Two different people can have the same hobby for two very different reasons, so it's important to let the interviewer know why you care about your hobbies or activities,” Fink says.
Your explanation can reveal a great deal about your interests, motivations, strengths, and values. For example, if you volunteer at an animal shelter you can talk about how good you feel knowing that the cats and dogs feel safe and cared for. Or if you run marathons, you might talk about how you value discipline and the satisfaction you get from achieving the goals you’ve laid out for yourself, Ravis says.
At the end of the day, “conveying genuine enthusiasm and a sense of what role it serves in your life is more important than the specific activity you choose to talk about,” Ravis says.
What Would a Good Answer Sound Like?
So how would an answer to this question sound? Check out these sample answers.
“One of my big interests has always been soccer. I played throughout school, and in college when I studied abroad in Spain, my passion for the sport was reawakened because of how enthusiastic the people around me were. I still follow European teams and I play with a local rec team. I even help arrange the schedule for the whole league including times and locations. Last year, I coached my daughter’s soccer team for the first time. They’re only four, but getting to pass on something I love is so rewarding and there’s a lot of satisfaction in figuring out the best way to teach each of the kids a new skill.”
This answer focuses on soccer but reflects a few of the candidate’s strengths and values. Arranging a schedule for an entire league shows that they’re organized. Coaching their daughter’s team shows that they value family, passing on knowledge, and making sure that each person on a team is able to thrive. Plus, working with a group of four year olds implies a lot of patience and understanding!
“I’m a huge foodie. My friends and I love trying new restaurants in town as soon as they open—the more unusual the better! I love discovering new foods and cuisines, and it’s also a great activity to share with friends. I try to go out with the same group at least once a week and it’s a fun way to make sure we keep in touch and share experiences even when we’re busy with other things. We even took a trip to New York City and spent each day in a different neighborhood, buying something to share from a few restaurants.”
This answer shows an interviewer that the candidate is open minded and values friendship and new experiences. They also love food and going out to eat and maybe that’s an activity they can share with their future coworkers!
The interview question “What are your hobbies?” is a great chance to show your interviewer who you are outside of work and make a connection on a less formal level, Ravis says. “You never know—a common interest in yoga could help you to forge a strong connection that leads to a second interview!”
But don’t obsess over finding the “perfect” hobby. Instead the emphasis here is on you and what you care about. “As humans, we’re drawn to others who have a passion for something, regardless of what it is,” Fink says. So don’t be afraid of this more personal interview question and, above all, just be yourself.