By Joe Stein
In the continuation of the series focused on “frequently asked interview questions”, today we break down a question that may (on the surface) be seen as non-work related. In the decades prior to today, asking questions of this nature was much more common. Today’s societal focus on legal proceedings has caused some interviewers to focus solely on very scripted work behavior questions.
There are still many, however, that will ask a question such as this one or something very similar, such as “What are your hobbies?” I don’t have any specific research to back this theory, but I would think it would be asked much more frequently in smaller, non-corporate types of companies. This type of prospective employer tends to have a more relaxed, casual, and non-scripted interview.
You may wonder why an interviewer would ask such a question, since it could not be possibly relevant to the job. Some people will ask it quite simply as an ice breaker early in the discussion, giving little importance to your actual answer. The idea simply being to get you to feel comfortable in speaking during the interview. Many people feel much more at ease talking about something that is not focused purely on work and what they are interviewing for.
In other situations, the question does have significant meaning to the person asking it. This is particularly true in organizations where cultural fit may be very important. Although I am personally I am a huge advocate of overall diversity, even in thought process and skill set, many Interviewers want to feel a personal connection with the candidate. Other Hiring Managers may go so far as wanting to see a little (or a lot) of themselves in the applicant in order to feel comfortable enough to hire him or her.
If you are a long-time reader of these pages, you know that I always stress preparation prior to an interview. So, how does one go about preparing for this particular question? In all honesty, it is a challenge. The reality is that it will be almost impossible to modify your answer to meet exactly what the interviewer is seeking, particularly if the person is looking for a personal type of connection.
A strategy would be to tailor your answer, the best you can, to the position that you are seeking. Try to make the connection between what you enjoy doing outside of work to the requirements of the position. Of course, I encourage everyone to be completely truthful in answering this question. In other words, if you don’t do it (or mean it), then don’t say it! Below are some suggested answers when asked this question.
· If you commit time outside of work to volunteerism and charitable causes, this is a good place to start for your answer. This is especially true if you are seeking a position within a company with a history of social responsibility. Even better, if you commit time to a not-for-profit that receives support from this company.
· If you serve in any type of leadership role, then this may be a place to share this information. This may mean everything from leading a Boy or Girl Scout Troop, to serving on a school board. This will provide another example to the interviewer of your natural desire to lead, especially important if that is part of the position. You may want to be cautious, however (in this situation), that you do not communicate a message that this type of role is a significant time commitment. The prospective company may become worried regarding how you will juggle this responsibility with your “day” job.
· If the position is one that requires creativity, such as in Marketing or Graphic Arts, you may want to express this side of you in your answer. If you like to paint, draw, or play an instrument outside of work, this can serve to further reinforce this characteristic.
· If, outside of work, you are involved in any team functions, that may also be wise to note. Companies are always seeking people that they feel will work well with the existing staff. This could be something for your local school or town, or even a softball team. So, by mentioning your involvement with a team outside of work, this would show that you could adapt to the employees of the company.
You will want to have something in response to this question. Just as you don’t want to project an image that you are “all hobbies and no work”, you also don’t want to come across like you are a “workaholic” without a life outside of work. You probably will also want to refrain from communicating any interests that you have that which you receiving compensation for. An interviewer may wonder where your real interests or loyalties will lie. For example, it would be one thing to say you like to play guitar, but another to state you are in a band and play in clubs 4-5 nights a week.
While this “personal interest” question is not as common as it once was, no job seeker should be surprised if it is asked. This is a great opportunity to talk about something that is important to you, and allows you to exude some passion and let your personality shine through to the interviewer.
As always, best of luck in your job search!