One of the most valuable services a recruiter can provide to you as a candidate is to offer constructive feedback about your resume. Recruiters review a high volume of resumes and generally have a good sense of what works and what doesn’t work when applying for a new position. While most people are very open to suggestions, they sometimes feel strongly about the “activities and interests” listed on their resumes. In many cases, we encourage candidates to delete this section entirely for some of the following reasons:
- You run the risk of offending or alienating your reader. The most common examples are highly political activities or even extreme sports fans.
- Activities and interests can be too generic and fail to pass the “so what?” test. A resume should catch the reader’s attention (in a good way!). Many people enjoy music, sports, travel, reading, cooking, etc. so these interests do not set you apart or give the reader a real idea of who you are.
- Certain activities and interests may give the wrong initial impression. For example, your resume says you are interested in international travel. While this is seemingly benign, a future employer may worry that you will frequently request weeks of vacation at a time.
- The true focus of your resume should be highlighting your credentials and experience, primarily the experience that relates to the job for which you are applying.
While I encourage many candidates to omit activities and interests from their resume, there are some important exceptions:
- Recent graduates should feel free to include activities and interests because, contrary to experienced attorneys, they usually have little or no legal work experience. Interviewing for your initial position in the law is much more conversational and about getting to know you.
- Candidates with particularly relevant activities and interests can stand out in a good way. For example, if you are applying for a position where your legal practice will focus on a specific region of the world, extensive travel in that region and local knowledge will likely be appealing to an employer.
- Community service, philanthropic activities and serving on a board generally show involvement and networking that most employers value.
Despite these exceptions, more often than not, the activities and interests listed on a resume run the risk of being too specific or not specific enough. I can appreciate that you may not want to work somewhere that doesn’t support your quest to visit every U.S. state capital or major league ballpark, but getting a new position requires that you view your resume from the employer’s perspective. Your primary and initial focus should be getting the employer to want you, and you can determine whether you will receive the flexibility or support you desire later in the process.
I also know that discussing your professional experiences during an interview can be challenging, and that it is far more comfortable to discuss sports or other interests. However, you run the risk that a potential employer walks away from the interview knowing only about your passion for gluten-free baking, rather than the fact that you are particularly qualified for the position and genuinely interested in their company. Although it seems harmless to include interests on your resume, keep in mind that there will be plenty of time to discuss your interests once you actually get the job!