When an interviewer asks a question like “What do you do in your free time?” (or something similar to it) they are trying to get a handle on your personality type and to see if you will mesh well with the company culture. The best candidate will fulfill the demands of the position, and they will communicate and work well with others (of course). But ideally, they will also complement and contribute in improving the employer’s workplace and culture. In other words, they’ll fit in well.
Why is cultural fit so important? The December 2012 edition of the American Sociological Review cited a study by Northwestern University Management and Organizations professor Lauren Rivera where more than 50 percent of the study’s participants agreed that “fit” was the most important hiring criteria.
On top of that, if you look back on your own work experience, there’s a good chance that the companies where you fit in well were the happiest jobs you’ve had. A good fit is win-win. So how do you reply to the question “What do you do in your free time?” and show that you’ll be a good fit?
Pre-interview Research is Key
As part of your pre-job interview company research, and your research into devising an answer to the “What do you do in your free time” question, pay attention to the kinds of events and extracurricular activities that the company—or the department you’re aiming to join—highlight on social media, on their official website, and in national or local media.
Take it one step further by checking out the LinkedIn profiles of potential colleagues to look for any common interests there as well (or better yet, scout for superiors—perhaps the person who’s in charge of the department you’ll work in; this same person could very well be the hiring manager). If those activities and interests appeal to you—or better yet, actually coincide with what you normally do in your spare time—these are great signs, ones that should very clearly tell you what to focus on when answering “What do you do in your free time?”
You should also consider the industry you work in. For example, if you’re in the gaming industry, mentioning some of your favorite RPGs in a game industry job interview when asked about what you do in your free time probably won’t cost you any interview points.
What to Emphasize
Though no two answers will be the same, there are a few things you’ll want to focus on when working out your answer to “What do you do in your free time?”
Common activities and interests
The more common activities and interests between you and your future company/co-workers, the better chance you’ll be a good fit. Do your research! Don’t just give a clearly-memorized laundry list of what you have in common. Talk about what you do, how often you do it, and why you enjoy it so much.
If you volunteer anywhere in your spare time, mention it. This goes for any kind of volunteering, formal (such as for an organization) or informal (such as in your community).
Show that you are serious about your career by sharing anything you do to gain knowledge of or experience in your industry (reading books, blogging, attending seminars, taking classes, etc.). However, overdoing it can come across as dishonest. Plus, some companies prefer that you stay fresh by only minimally doing anything work-related in your down time.
In each case, explain why the things you have mentioned are important to you. And however you choose to answer the question, make sure that you are clear and concise, and completely truthful.
Two big caveats: Avoid mentioning any political or religious outside activities or interests (unless you’re applying for a job at a political or religious organization or business).
In mapping out an answer to a question like “What do you do in your free time?” you consider an approach like this:
In my spare time, I take online classes to improve my writing skills, and I try to blog my opinions about news in our industry at least twice a week. I also play ultimate frisbee with friends in a local league. Our team promotes The Salvation Army, and we occasionally do fundraisers for them. I’m also taking a kickboxing class to stay in shape.
To sum up: in crafting the best possible answer to the “What do you do in your free time?” question, include elements of professional interest, as well as things that you enjoy personally (and that hopefully your future company/team does as well).
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