Your Secret Weapon: Hobbies, Interests, and Courses

“Combinatorics? What The Heck Is That?” I smiled and leaned forward, launching into an explanation of a particular branch of mathematics. The ice was broken, the conversation flowed. After an hour, I had an invitation to fly down to Florida to meet the rest of the office. An offer awaited me when I got back to school.

Happy Visions
Yes! I also like long walks and squirrels! You’re Just Like Me!

Hobbies and interests are generally a single line jammed in at the end of a resume, sometimes accompanied with a list of volunteer positions, artistic credits, or independent technical projects. They are your best opportunity to showcase your individuality, to present a personal brand beyond your professional accomplishments. Furthermore, they are a priceless opportunity to connect with readers at an individual level.

I’m not above a little pandering in this section, if you’ve actually got the experience. If you know you’re speaking with an conservative company, be sure to mention your time in college republicans and earning eagle scout. Spotted the pictures from the office retreat to burning man? Perhaps you should present a slightly different set of interests.

Rule 1: Uniqueness Wins

If you ever get the opportunity to browse through a book of resumes for your peer group, I highly recommend it. For those of you coming from college, search the internet for candidate books issued by college career centers. There’s usually at least one or two of them out there. Executive recruiters will also occaisionally publish a list of “eligible candidates”, sharing a high level summary of their resume and experience. Another great source of ‘competitive intelligence’ on resumes written by your peers is’s free resume database. Enter your job description (current or future) and see what pops up. Go read twenty or thirty profiles in a row. We’ll wait.

Ok, so if you actually completed the exercise above, you’re probably feeling a little blurry eyed. And wondering if there’s a secret copier located in the back of the student union where this stuff is mass produced. Speaking as a hiring manager, many candidates – particularly junior ones – start to sound disturbingly alike.

Sadly, this translates to their interests and clubs as well. Apparently everyone runs, hikes, or does yoga. Stock marketing investing and chess is apparently very popular as well, although I see few chess boards around the office these days. Ah – and everyone is part of the consulting, venture capital, and private equity clubs. As an officer. Please appreciate the degree to which all of this is a massive wasted space.

Want a connection with me?

  • Do something unusual – or at least, to a degree beyond casual dabbling
  • Tell me about it

Hiking? How was the Appalachian trail this past summer, it’s been a few years since I’ve been there. Chess? Cool, what’s your rating? Stocks? Art History? Sweet, do you blog or post on social media about it? Charity? Awesome, tell me a one line description about a major project or event you helped lead. To be honest, I don’t really care what you did – but the fact you were committed enough to accomplish something makes you memorable.

The goal is for the audience to find some common ground with me and pull me out of the generic candidate bucket.

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