Listing your love of chess and skeet shooting and your days as a summer camp counselor on your resume may seem like a no-brainer. Such pastimes help distinguish you from hundreds of other applicants who know how to use Microsoft Word and also demonstrate specific skills that ought to mean something in the workplace. Good chess players are strong strategic thinkers. Skeet shooters could make great cops. Camp counselors have leadership skills, and so on.
So why do most resume experts recommend leaving them off?
For the same reasons they recommend leaving off other superfluous information, from work experience older than 15 years to personal data that could inadvertently reveal more about your life than you intended, like your marital status or sexual orientation. In other words, hobbies and extra info don’t just clutter your resume; they may actively work against you.
“It’s important to remember that your hobbies say something about you as a person and that hiring managers will certainly read into whatever hobbies you choose to include on your personal branding materials,” says Amanda Augustine, a career expert at TopResume.
Websites abound documenting such resume goofs, from an applicant who listed “used to own a dog” as a hobby to the woman who listed a college group project that required an index page as relevant work experience to the grocery-store applicant who claimed to have “ninja skills.”
While we can agree that such overshares are obvious, hilarious missteps, leaving out hobbies may seem counterintuitive, since they can make you stand out. But Augustine says that’s not the case: “Studies have shown the average recruiter scans a resume for only six seconds before deciding if the candidate is a fit for the job. When you have so little time to make the right impression, you need to make every word count.”
That said, a study in the American Sociological Review seems to contradict such standard advice, at least in certain situations. Lauren Rivera, an assistant professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and researcher Andras Tilcsik at the University of Toronto found that men who listed certain leisure activities on their resumes were called back for interviews at law firms at higher rates than everyone else.
Here’s how the study worked: The researchers sent fake job applications to 316 law offices in 14 U.S. cities, keeping work experience roughly the same, but randomly changing a couple of class tells, like surnames and personal interests. The Cabots liked classical music, polo and sailing, while the Clarks liked country music, soccer and track and field. They also fiddled with gender, making some of them James and some of them Julia.
Not shockingly, the upper-crust-sounding male Cabots who dug fancy pastimes got called back at a rate of 16.25 percent — compared with just 3.8 percent callback rate for lady Cabots with the same hobbies. The lower-class men were screwed, only called back 1.28 percent of the time, whereas lower-class women were called back 6.33 percent of the time.
Researchers were surprised to find that sounding upper-class only helped men. When they asked working lawyers to rate those same applicants to help explain the results, lawyers felt the higher-class man was a better cultural fit than the lower-class man. They assumed the higher-class women, however, would ditch on a law career after finding a husband or starting a family — and though they didn’t make the same assumptions about the lower-class woman, one lawyer figured she wouldn’t make a great impression on the phone.
There’s at least one case where adding hobbies might make sense — if you have no work experience and literally nothing to fill out the page. “Entry-level candidates may include hobbies, since they don’t have much material to work with,” Augustine says. “I strongly recommend against including hobbies on your resume after that point in your career. You can, however, include [them] on your LinkedIn profile.”
And as Rivera and Tilcsik’s study demonstrates: “If you’re currently involved in ‘high-class’ activities that are considered desirable, then by all means, include them,” Augustine adds. “Also, feel free to mention them during the ‘small talk’ portion of your in-person interview, especially if you discover that your interviewer shares the same interest.”
Otherwise, spend your resume time and energy making sure you’ve spelled detail-oriented correctly.