When I was downsized with about 120 other staff members from a federal government office in 1995, it was time to create my first resume as an experienced professional. The office had an outplacement company help us by reviewing our resumes, among other things.
The resume I developed had my hobby on it—Amateur Radio. Our outplacement counselor suggested I take it off because it “wasn’t relevant.” It also took up space on the one-page resume format the outplacement company recommended at the time.
Many of us have hobbies, and we are passionate about them. But do our hobbies belong on a resume or LinkedIn profile? There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Nonetheless, here are some thoughts:
- Communicate relevant and positive information,
- Don’t take up space needed for essential data, and
- Avoid including activities having potentially negative perceptions.
Accomplishments in a hobby may add keywords and demonstrate career-related skills you should promote to prospective employers. Hobbies may also inadvertently communicate information employers will perceive negatively.
Communicate relevant and positive information.
Your resume and other career marketing content—job search letters, LinkedIn profile, and social media posts—should be relevant to your career goal and convey a positive image. This is true for non-work activities as well as your work, school, and professional training.
Alison King, a former children’s librarian, said she included her community theater activity on the resume she used to apply for the children’s librarian role at a public library. It was relevant because children’s librarians lead story hour, where performance skills are important for engaging young readers.
The most interesting hobby situation I have worked with was for an engineer I’ll call the Rocket Scientist. He developed special software, known as firmware, for a unique modem to be used on the Space Shuttle and ISS. This is rare experience that few engineers have but we faced two challenges. First, the project took place more than 30 years ago. It was also volunteer experience related to his hobby—Amateur Radio—rather than to salaried employment. We wrote the following resume entry:
“Volunteer Primary Experimenter, Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment, Johnson Space Flight Center, Houston, TX”
The achievement looks even more impressive in his LinkedIn profile volunteer section because the NASA logo appears with the entry, LinkedIn also allows space for an accomplishment statement about the firmware development project. Firmware is embedded in most of the gadgets we use daily, and it can require frequent updates or revisions, so this is a valuable skill.
Don’t take up space needed for essential information.
Resumes are traditionally brief documents so it’s important to avoid taking up space with irrelevant information. LinkedIn offers us more space to work with but also sets limits for each section.
Our rocket scientist client, for example, had “Morse Code” listed in his LinkedIn skills section. This is no longer a marketable skill in the United States although some of us enjoy learning and using it as a hobby. We recommended dropping it from the LinkedIn profile.
Of course, most of us don’t do rocket science as a hobby. In fact, our hobbies may have little to do with our career.
Several years ago, I spoke with a senior financial analyst who traveled the country winning quilting bees when she was not jockeying spreadsheets. It was more important to find room on her resume to demonstrate her data science skills and achievements, than to use space talking about her quilting bee wins.
On the other hand, if the same jobseeker was applying for a job as CFO at a quilting supply company, her experience at quilting bees might have been highly relevant.
Avoid including “risky” activities.
Another interesting situation involved a client applying for jobs at strategic consulting firms after completing his MBA. His hobby was motocross—a sport that involves racing motorcycles over rough terrain, according to RiskRacing.com.
About the same week, I saw a Wall Street Journal story quoting HR managers as saying they do not want to hire people who participate in “risky’ activities because they could increase health insurance costs. (I have not located a link to the story.) As a result, I recommended deleting motocross from the resume.
Remember, though, that your social media footprint may complicate efforts to downplay activities employers may think of as risky. You can delete your own posts related to potentially problematic hobbies or sports, but you cannot remove posts about you that others put online. In other words, you can reduce, but not eliminate the chance employers will learn about hobbies they may not like.
My rocket scientist client had another hobby that I thought could make hiring managers nervous—he had a private pilot license. But we decided to leave the license on his resume because he developed software for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly called drones. So, an aviation credential was relevant. Relevance, then, is the key. If the hobby adds valuable keywords to the resume and LinkedIn profile, such as “firmware engineering,” consider including it. When the skill is not marketable, such as sending and receiving International Morse Code, do not take up space with it. While we normally have more space available on the LinkedIn profile than we do on the resume, it is still a good idea to include only information relevant to your job target.