The Personal Interview – Hobbies and Interests

Another popular question which you should be ready to face: “What are your hobbies/interests?”

As with “strengths”, this is a very deceptive question. Again, it is not really asking “what do you do in your spare time?” but “what do you do better than most other people you know?”. In an attempt to impress, a lot of people claim hobbies which they are not really all that fond of (or good at), and this can lead to their downfall on occasion.

For example, statistical evidence (and my experience with interviewees) suggests that 60-70% of people mention reading as a hobby (and more than half of those mention it as their first/only hobby). The idea presumably being that reading sounds like an intellectual pursuit and marks one out as being erudite; not a bad impression for a potential MBA candidate to make. As usual, though, the problem is that one also has to be able to defend one’s claim, and that is where a lot of people fall short. At one extreme I have known some desperate optimists who claim to be readers, yet when asked “what books have you read?” confidently reply something like “The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho” and when asked “and what else?” give the interviewer an indignant look as if to say “what, one book isn’t enough?”. But even if you are not quite so literally challenged, can you really claim that you are among the most voracious and attentive readers you know? (In passing, I should mention that I myself read between 40-60 books in a typical year. And I still hesitate to mention reading as my main hobby!) If you are lucky, the interviewer might ask your favourite authors, some books by them, why you like that author or those books, who are the protagonists of the story, what you learned from it, and so on. If so, at least you can defend yourself if well prepared. But it is a real possibility that the interviewer might just look at it and say “oh, another wannabe claiming to read stuff” and not even bother to check!

Claiming a more interesting hobby (a true one, mind you, not just taken up for a month for interview purposes) can make you more memorable, more likely to stand out from the crowd of aspirants. In addition to the relatively standard ones like trekking, cricket, dance and music, I have encountered hobbies as diverse as macrame, karate, chocolate-making, sudoku, android app development, minesweeper, origami and scrabble. And some people have even successfully defended hobbies like “watching TV” or “playing computer games” or “listening to music”.

If you plan to claim something as your hobby, therefore, take the time to do a little research. If you say “listening to Bollywood music”, research 4-5 favourite songs – movie, actors, composer, lyricist, what you find special about that particular song. If you mention “reading”, do the same research with a few books and authors. If you like “watching cricket”, know some of the major records and the important recent occurrences, if you prefer “playing cricket” know the basic rules – ways for a batsman to get out, size of the ball, length of the pitch…but in all cases, show your passion for it.

Additionally, if you claim something which can be tested on the spot, it is entirely possible that an interviewer will do so. If you sing, or dance, or play the flute, they might ask you to demonstrate, if you sketch, they may ask you to draw them, if you do sudoku, you might find yourself handed the day’s paper and asked to prove your claim. (I claimed a high reading speed in one interview, and they tested it!). The good thing is, if you live up to your claims, they are more likely to give credence to everything else you claimed (but the reverse is true as well, so claim nothing you can’t back up!)