Not all questions you get asked in an interview pertain to the job. Sometimes a recruiter or hiring manager wants to get to know what you’re interested in outside of a work environment, in order to get a feel for what you’re like as a person (and not just a potential employee). The answer to the question “What do you do in your spare time?” is meant to shed light on your personality, and provide a little insight into how you might gel with others in an office.
When you’re asked this question in a job interview, the interviewer is not usually looking for a specific “right answer” (although many wrong do answers exist; more about that below). Your goal when answering should be to share information that provides the employer an accurate sense of who you are without disclosing something that might disqualify you for the job. Remember that you may need to “live with” the answer you provide if you receive and accept a job offer. So, keep in mind the expectations you are creating of yourself as a potential employee when formulating your response.
Points to Emphasize
When you answer this question, you want to talk about hobbies or activities that will cast you in a positive light. Answer in a way that demonstrates your personality, intelligence, and range of interests.
- Talk about hobbies that keep you physically active—it shows that you take your health seriously, which is always a good thing.
- Bring up any volunteer work that you do. This shows that you have concern for others besides yourself, and says a lot about your integrity and character.
- Mention activities that better you for the job, like attending seminars or conferences, reading fiction or non-fiction, or learning new languages. This shows you have a desire to learn new things and stay on top of your game.
Don’t disqualify yourself by making one of the following mistakes:
Make sure your answer isn’t too long. Provide some details, but don’t put people to sleep by droning on and on. For example, don’t describe in great detail your last camping trip. Note that you enjoy camping, and maybe note the last camping trip you took, or something along those lines. In addition, sharing too much information increases the probability that you will share something that will end the opportunity for you!
Making an Inappropriate “True Confession”
This question is not an invitation to confess your biggest personal problem, or a tragic situation from your past. Think of it this way—don’t say anything you wouldn’t be happy to share with an interviewer on a smash hit prime-time network TV show.
Offering an Inappropriate Answer
Different spare time topics are inappropriate in different situations. So before you answer this question, keep mind who is interviewing you. For example, don’t share your love of wine and your relentless search for local wine tasting events in an interview for a job at a substance abuse center. But do question if the employer is a good fit for you if an important personal hobby would be an inappropriate topic to share.
This question is not an invitation to spend 15 minutes telling your life story, particularly anything that is controversial or, potentially, that would disqualify you for the job. On the other hand, don’t say that you spend hours watching TV, shopping online, or taking naps—none of those activities are particularly interesting, and they won’t make an interviewer break down a door to hire you!
In general, avoid sharing anything related to politics or religion unless you are interviewing for a job in one of those fields. Don’t share your interest in anything unsavory or controversial, which can range from your love of the Red Sox when you are interviewing in NYC (home of the Yankees and Mets) to sharing the names of your favorite adult and/or gambling websites (unless you are interviewing in those industries).
This question is not an invitation to ask the interviewer out for drinks, lunch, or dinner. You likely don’t know the interviewer’s relationship status, or their sexual orientation. Being flirtatious in an interview is an absolute no-no—it is unprofessional and unsavory. Don’t do it.
Don’t make something up to be entertaining or cool. The follow-up questions could “out” you, and then disqualify you for the job (because no one wants to hire someone who’s a liar). So, share something that you really do in your spare time.
Focus on the question—what do you do in your spare time that you can share with a stranger who is judging you? Answer honestly, briefly, and, hopefully, clearly. Great answers to this question may look something like one of these:
- In my spare time I enjoy playing tennis and going hiking with my husband. I also love reading, doing crossword puzzles, and studying languages. And I love playing Scrabble to relax at the end of a long day.
- In my spare time I enjoy riding horses. Horses have always been a part of my life, and right now I’m learning dressage, which is very challenging. I also lead a trail riding group for other horse lovers once a month.
- In my spare time I teach basic accounting and bookkeeping classes, twice a month, at the local women’s shelter. I was an accounting major in college and did bookkeeping for businesses part-time then to help pay my tuition. Teaching these classes keeps me sharp, and allows me to help women learn new, marketable skills, which will hopefully lead them to finding good jobs.
- In my spare time I love to cook. I wouldn’t call myself a master, but Julia Child has taught me a thing or two. I’m always looking for new recipes and new techniques to try out, which is so easy to do these days thanks to the Internet. I really like keeping my family guessing what the next masterpiece—or disaster—will be.
Always remember to share something that you actually do, and that’s interesting, and that stands no chance of offending anyone. And remember that you don’t need to go on and on forever about what it is you like doing in your spare time—keep your answer brief and to-the-point!