Bill Gates plays bridge. Meryl Streep knits. Warren Buffett is a virtuoso on the ukulele. Successful people are often passionate about hobbies that seem to have nothing to do with their careers. But those quirky pursuits may actually be one of the things that makes them so successful. Having interests outside of work can lead to better job performance, make you healthier, and even improve your mood, research has found. But despite the proven benefits of having a hobby, many people aren’t sure how – or even if – they can use a pastime to move forward in their career or get a job.
Career experts tend to give conflicting advice on how to talk about your hobbies when applying for a job. One school of thought says it looks unprofessional to include any mention of your non-work interests on your resume, while others say go ahead, especially if your activities are relevant to your career. But even if you don’t list your hobbies on your resume, you should be prepared to discuss them during an interview, when there’s a fair chance you’ll be asked about what you do when you’re not working. Employers want to find out who you are as a person, and finding out what you do in your free time is one way to do that.
“It’s no coincidence that in an increasingly competitive job market, more and more employers are looking beyond qualifications and focusing on personal interests to identify your individual talent, personality and creativity,” Chris Smith wrote in an article for The Guardian. “In addition to enhancing your qualifications, your hobbies can actually fill the gaps in your work experience and even substitute for skills stipulated on the job description.”
Of course, not every hobby is appropriate to mention in a job interview or on your resume. Controversial or potentially off-putting hobbies, like taxidermy or involvement in certain political causes, could turn off an interviewer. Even seemingly innocuous hobbies may do more harm than good in some situations.
Researchers who wanted to find out whether a person’s perceived class background affected their employment prospects sent out fake resumes to numerous white-shoe law firms. The resumes were identical as far as education and work experience, but included different hobbies and interests. They found men who listed “high-class” pursuits like sailing and polo received significantly more responses than other applicants, presumably because HR thought those individuals would fit better with the firm’s elite culture.
While not every hobby is guaranteed to impress a hiring manager, certain pastimes do pay off in terms of networking opportunities, enhanced job skills, and impressive accomplishments. If you’re looking to advance in your career, consider exploring one of these four hobbies.
In some fields, deals get done on the golf course, which means if you want to get ahead, you better learn how to play. One study found that executives who played golf earned 17% more than those who didn’t hit the links, The Economist reported.
Why is golf such a popular hobby with the business crowd? It’s partly because the way you play reveals so much about your personality. Your golf game can offer a glimpse at how you handle pressure, whether you’re honest, and whether you’re a strategic thinker. “Golf is the most revealing activity,” one golf expert told Forbes’ Cheryl Conner. “Your true personality is going to come out. Are you a cheater? Or an honest, generous person? Do you curse and throw your clubs?”
A history of volunteer work looks good if you’re hoping to get a job with a non-profit or other helping organization, especially if your experience lines up with your potential employer’s mission. Your chances of landing your dream job with an environmental group increase if you can point to your history of volunteering to fight climate change. But community service can help your career in other ways too. Leadership positions, even if they’re volunteer roles, provide valuable experience. Serving on a board is a particularly good way to enhance your management skills, meet new people, and show you have what it takes to lead.
“By being on a board, I not only expanded my network but I also picked up new skills, ideas, and opportunities for my full-time work,” Dan Blakemore wrote in a blog post for Idealist.
3. Endurance sports
Running marathons or participating in other endurance sports in your free time will likely impress a potential employer. Triathletes and marathoners can harness the same drive and focus they use when competing to succeed at work. One study even found that people saw those who participated in intense exercise as more motivated and dedicated, qualities sure to impress a hiring manager, Fortune reported. Workers also believed that training for a marathon would help them focus on their career and be more productive at work, a survey of 1,000 employees in the U.K. found.
4. A creative hobby
Your passion for knitting, painting, or gardening may not directly translate into a job offer, but it can help your career all the same. People who engage in creative hobbies perform better at work, a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found. The study couldn’t pinpoint the exact relationship between hobbies and on-the-job performance, but it could be that creative activities outside the office help people recover from work demands. And if giving yourself time to engage in creative non-work activities makes you better at your job, it might also translate into promotions and better career opportunities in the future.