how to answer when an interviewer asks “what do you do outside of work?”

A reader writes:

I have been job searching for entirely far too long. I get quite a few interviews but no offers, so I hired a consultant to help me with interviewing techniques. She says I should never mention in interviews that I have a child because, for example, one of the interviewers might be having trouble conceiving and to hear about my kid is painful and unnecessary. Given this logic, couldn’t one argue that it isn’t appropriate in the office among coworkers to mention children, period (e.g., how would you know if a coworker is having trouble conceiving)?

However, occasionally I get asked, “What do you do outside of work?” and I don’t have a lot to say to this because a lot of my time is spent doing things with my child. Should I censor that I have a kid and that he is where my attention goes? Also, he and I do things together that form the basis of having things to talk about with coworkers. I am a bit socially awkward and definitely not very good at small talk, so I find that having done things with him — for example, attended festival whatever this past weekend — gives me something to talk about in situations where I am expected to say something not work related.

I expect I might need to default to other hobbies as an answer to this question, but to be honest, I don’t have much in the way of other hobbies. He’s it. That said, I do very much enjoy television — ever since The Sopranos it’s been a high art form in my opinion — is it okay to mention I enjoy TV? I love movies, too — is that an acceptable hobby? And I read the Guardian a lot — is _that_ a hobby? Obviously we can see where this is going — I lean toward the cerebral instead of, say, ultimate frisbee in my spare time.

In this posting about a great cover letter, the woman who wrote it says, “I used to write very boring, run of the mill cover letters, but I found that once I started personalizing them – mentioning my kids in this one…”. I don’t and wouldn’t mention my child in cover letters, but could use some guidance on if it is ever not inappropriate to mention him in an interview / how to answer the “What do you do outside of work?” question.

The consultant you’re working with is giving you weird advice. It’s common advice not to mention kids in an interview when you can avoid it, but that’s because you’re trying to avoid discrimination from people who think “Oh, she’ll never be able to stay late” or “Will she call out when her kid is sick?” It’s not because your interviewer might be having trouble conceiving and so will reject you for mentioning your own child. That’s a really odd stretch.

Frankly, I think the old advice about never mentioning the existence of your kids in an interview is becoming outdated — it’s pretty common now to hear perfectly strong candidates say things like “I’m looking for a job with less travel because I have young kids” or “I moved back here after having kids because I wanted to be closer to family.” There’s more of an understanding these days that normal humans often have kids and we don’t have to pretend in interviews that they don’t — and especially if you’re a candidate with lots of options, you may want to screen out employers who aren’t family-friendly. But if you want to play it very safe, which in your case you might since you’re having trouble getting offers, you might stick to the more traditional approach of not mentioning kids at this stage. (I also wouldn’t put it in a cover letter regardless. I think the letter you referenced worked despite the mention of kids, not because of it.)

As for how to answer “what do you do outside of work?” — typically when interviewers ask this, they’re not going to read a ton into what you say. They’re just looking to get a better sense of you as a person. It’s fine to say you’re a huge movie buff and do a lot of reading, or that you’re an obsessive consumer of news and read the Guardian a lot. I might not say TV — just because a lot of people do still have a stereotype of TV being mindless and low-brow. (I agree with you that much of it isn’t, and I’ve never understood why saying you attend a lot of theater would be considered cultured but saying you watch a lot of TV isn’t. But that’s often how it goes.) It sounds like you could also say you love exploring the area — that you attend a lot of festivals and community events (yes, you’re taking your kid, but it’s still true).

For people who don’t have anything that would typically be considered a hobby, it’s fine to say “I have a lot of family in the area who I see often, which is great” or “I’m trying to get better at cooking” (assuming you nominally cook) or “Right now I’m spending a lot of time fixing up my house” (which doesn’t have to mean major construction work; it can mean you’re on a closet organizing kick) or whatever ways you actually like spending time. It doesn’t have to be a hobby in the “I play Ultimate Frisbee” sense; interviewers are just trying to get know a little more about you than what’s on your resume.

{ 435 comments… read them below }

      1. 2 Cents*

        Seriously! As someone who also had issues, I understand. But I also had enough wherewithal to know that someone else speaking about their children wasn’t a calculated affront to me.

        1. Zurmpf*

          Before I started reading this blog, I would have assumed the same of everyone. I know it’s a bit of a selection bias, but I’ve been surprised at how brittle such a large number of people can be

      2. Former Hoosier*

        I agree. I have more than once in my HR career heard a comment about a woman because she might have kids or something completely offensive. I have never heard someone say they wouldn’t hire someone because they got to travel to Europe and I can’t afford it. Or they have a child and I can’t conceive. That is ridiculous.

        For many years I did choose to not mention my children interviews but if you use this consultant’s standard then you could never mention anything because something might be problematic.

        1. Gay Drunk Patriots Fan*

          OT: this is very weird and it’s been a long day and my middle aged eyesight is failing, but I misread your screen name at firts as “Former Hooker” and since this is a job-related website, I didn’t even blink at first.

          When I **did** blink, of course, I read it correctly. Go Hoosiers! :-)

        2. Carpe Librarium*

          Exactly, other people aren’t going on holidays, getting promotions or having kids ‘at’ you, they’re just living their own lives.

      3. Nita*

        I sort of see their point. I avoid personal talk with people I don’t know well, but a few weeks ago I slipped up and said something about the kids to a receptionist in my doctor’s office. Something went out of her smile… she didn’t say anything was wrong, but I wonder if she had no kids (and not by choice) and my offhand comment hurt her. Of course you can’t walk on eggshells and worry that every small thing you say could maybe possibly offend someone, but when it comes to kids specifically – that’s a very personal topic, and can cut people very deeply.

        Anyway, as Allison points out, there are many other possible answers. The interviewer might just be asking this question to move the interview into a less formal, small-talk direction, and see how you come across as a person. It could be just to see how you’d fit in with the team, or if you can keep up a conversation with confidence if you’re going to be in a client-facing job. I think mentioning your interest in the movies or reading would be great, and if you have any hobby that ties in somehow with the position, even better!

        And OP, good luck with the job search!

        1. Nitzsche*

          I do not think you can go around life walking on eggshells and never mentioning children, on the offhand chance the person you’re talking to has fertility issues.

          That being said, I agree with the consultant’s general advice not to mention children — just not her reasoning. It has nothing to do with infertility or even pregnancy discrimination. The reason you shouldn’t mention children is that you want your future employer to see you as an independent, goal-oriented person — not as an appendage of your offspring.

          1. RNL*

            Listen, I HAVE fertility issues, and it can be really painful (yay multiple miscarriages), but, I mean, the world is full of children. You can’t avoid them. Yes, sometimes I have to close my office door and take a few deep breaths after someone brings their new baby to the office, but that’s my problem. The idea that I would not hire someone because they mentioned that they had a child is ludicrous.

        2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

          Of course hearing about someone’s kids when you’re childless not by choice can sting, I don’t think anybody doubts that. But it’s not like you committed a faux pas by mentioning your kids in passing. If I understand your post correctly, you don’t know for sure that the receptionist was childless not by choice. It’s possible she has kids who are alive and well and staying with their other parent for a while, or one of them said something mean to her that morning and she was having a hard time letting go of it, or something else entirely. Worrying about the professional implications of mentioning children in an interview is one thing, and of course if you know that someone is having fertility problems it makes sense and is kind to be sensitive, but OP shouldn’t worry that a general mention of her child is a social no-no when children are just a regular part of life.

    1. Snark*

      Yeah, that’s the kind of oddly specific weird answer that invites more questions than it actually resolves.

    2. Legal Beagle*

      Yes, this is very weird advice. I have a baby and I don’t bring that up in interviews, but it’s because I don’t want to risk discrimination (even subconscious). The interviewers’ fertility status has never occurred to me as a consideration, at all. You could just as easily say, definitely mention your kids because the interviewer probably has kids and wants to work with a fellow parent. It’s all speculation about a virtual stranger, and very unhelpful for a job seeker. OP, if you feel that you aren’t a good judge of the soundness of the coach’s advice overall, you may want to ask a trusted friend for a second opinion. This tidbit alone makes me seriously question your coach’s expertise and judgment.

      1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

        “It’s all speculation about a virtual stranger, and very unhelpful for a job seeker.”

        Boom. Speculation about a hypothetical stranger, at that – the thought that any given interviewer might be 1) struggling with fertility and 2) extremely sensitive to it to the point that 3) the interviewer’s sensitivity could cost OP a job opportunity is just a lot.

  1. Karo*

    I’m not the OP, but I have a follow-up question: I read at some point that you need to make sure they’re not exclusively solitary committees – that the interviewers want to know whether you can work with others, or something like that. Is there any validity to that? I used to say things like reading and crossword puzzles, but now always shoehorn in team trivia even though (while I enjoy it) I haven’t done it in months.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m sure there’s some interviewer out there asking this as a hidden way to see if you can work with others, but most interviewers are just asking it to flesh out their understanding of you as a person. (Generally interviewers who want to know how you work with others will ask interview questions about your work with others — not disguise it as a question about your free time.)

      1. Naomi*

        Yeah, I think most interviewers who ask what you do outside of work are just making small talk. There are probably a few who have fixed ideas about what sort of hobbies are acceptable, but it’s like interviewers who are weirdly rigid about how you MUST put your cover letter in the body of the email or MUST use a certain font on your resume–they’re in the minority and some other interviewer out there will want the exact opposite, so there’s no point trying to cater to them.

        1. LBK*

          I agree – I really think it’s just small talk and to inject a little bit of humanity into the stiffness of a job interview. Interviews might subconsciously/unintentionally glean things from it (eg if you suddenly come alive when they get you started ranting about your favorite TV show, it might show a different side of you than more rigid work-related questions) but I don’t think most ask it with any specific goal in terms of using it to gauge you as an employee.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            I agree with your agree. A lot of “small-talk” type questions are mostly to see how you are in conversation. Are you awkward, do you joke, do you take 3 paragraphs where 3 words will do, do you make the topic sound interesting to others?

            1. Zombeyonce*

              This is also a good strategy. We had a candidate once that gave incredibly brief answers and it was like pulling teeth to get more information out of her. We asked some casual non-work questions to try and get some sort of excitement out of her but she still came across as robotic and devoid of personality. I don’t know if she was just nervous, but she didn’t get called back for a second interview and this had a lot to do with it.

          2. Zombeyonce*

            We usually ask a question or two about non-work topics, like “What’s your favorite TV show?” and always volunteer ours first (like mentioning the half the office is avoiding Game Of Thrones spoilers and the other half is obsessively discussing Jon Snow’s real last name) so they know we don’t expect them to only come up with some highbrow thing to try and impress us. We want to put them at ease and also let them know that we’re not all business all the time, but friendly, too.

            1. Former Employee*

              I’m past the point where I would be likely to be interviewing, but having to discuss my viewing habits is something I would try to avoid. I know just enough about Game of Thrones to know I don’t want to watch it. And I have no idea who Jon Snow is, but I am guessing he is a character on some program I don’t watch.

              What I do in my personal life is my business and I find it intrusive if total strangers ask such questions.

              When required, I will put in 12 hour days, work week ends, etc. However, once I leave the office, my time is my own.

        2. CM*

          “fixed ideas about what sort of hobbies are acceptable”

          I still remember the interview for a prestigious law firm where the managing partner kept insisting that I tell him my hobby, and rejecting everything I said as “not a hobby” or “you’re just saying that to sound good.” During this interrogation, I remember thinking, “I should just say golf and sailing…” I finally came up with something acceptable and then he told me about how HIS hobby is sailing. :(

          So yes, I would know your audience. But if you’re looking for a job where it’s acceptable for you to have a family and mention them sometimes, I think it’s fine to say something like, “My kids love going to local events, like the Winter Festival last weekend.” But your other hobbies are fine too. Just give your interviewer some sort of hook so they can relate to what you said or ask followup questions if they’re interested. Like, don’t just say “I take care of my kid,” or “I like to watch movies.” Say “I enjoy watching movies — right now I’m going through an Alfred Hitchcock phase.”

          1. Coldfeet*

            You may not have meant it this way, but I don’t think answering a question about your hobbies with a response about your children’s activities is appropriate at all (e.g. My kids love going to local events, like the Winter Festival). It gives the interview no information about whether you consider that a hobby or interest, it literally just informas that that (a) you have kids and (b) the kids like the Winter Festival . As the interviewer, I would question that response, and wonder whether this person has any life outside their kids. If I’m looking for a well rounded person to fit into my team, I may not be interested in someone who can only discuss their kids.

            1. Koko*

              Whoa. What’s so bad about a parent who doesn’t have time to do much else besides work and parent? The (a) + (b) you gave above = “This person enjoys caring for and spending time with her family in her spare time,” and the reality is that a lot of parents do struggle to find time for anything that isn’t kid-related, especially if they are a single parent or the kid is in a lot of clubs and activities, etc.

              For some people, their family *is* what they’re interested in and they’re not so picky about what they’re doing with the family, and that’s perfectly valid and doesn’t mean they can’t talk about anything but their kids.

              I would urge you to reconsider your definition of “well-rounded.”

              1. A grad student*

                I think her point is that that response doesn’t say anything about what SHE likes to do- rephrasing it as “I love going to local events with my kids- we went to the winter festival this weekend” is probably fine, where “my kids like going to local events” doesn’t say anything about her. I agree with Coldfeet that that the second wording is inappropriate.

                1. Coldfeet*

                  This was what I meant. If I’m asking this question, then I want to hear about the candidate’s interests, not their kids’ interests. I’m not giving the kids the job!

              2. Coldfeet*

                I think you’re reading a lot into an offhand comment and my use of “well rounded”. Well rounded was simply shorthand for a person with a variety of interests and the ability to casually discuss them. Social interaction in an office is important, and if someone has nothing to discuss in response to a simple question, I’d wonder about it. It’s not a make or break question for sure, but if I’m interviewing you and ask this question, I want to hear about you, not your kids. I have two kids under 5 and like to cycle even though I rarely get out for long rides, so I’d answer that question as “I like to cycle in my spare time”. Just because you don’t do something frequently because you have kids, shouldn’t mean that those things aren’t hobbies or interests. If the interviewer asks, talk about them.

            2. Us, Too*

              Tread carefully here. People with children spend HUGE amounts of time on them, often to the exclusion of other activities that people without kids may consider “more well rounded”.

              First, I have no idea why someone being “well-rounded” has anything to do with their ability to do the job. If you require someone who is an amateur pianist, you ought to be asking about their piano-playing skills in the interview, not relying upon hobbies or interest to suss that out.

              Second, your perspective here about “well rounded” team players with respect to their outside of work interests feels like code language for biased hiring. (i.e. “People with hobbies I approve of – but definitely not people who spend their free time with kids.”)

              1. Coldfeet*

                You may have missed my point. The wording of the response was my issue.

                I expect the interviewee to be able to answer a softball question like this in a way that demonstrates some ability to connect with others. Mild social skills and ability to make small talk about yourself can be important, especially in front desk roles, or roles in sales, or roles that require external networking. An interviewee could give me a quick response and say they love yoga, writing The Office fan fiction or visiting cheese factories,despite the fact that parenthood keeps them from spending much time on these things. However, if they only answer that question with an answer of what someone else (e.g. their kids, their partner etc.) likes to do, I’d note it. However, it’s not make or break.

          2. Koko*

            To be honest I hate this question because I spend all my free time engaging with alternative/sub/countercultures that I hesitate to bring up in an interview because of all the negative stereotypes associated with, “I go to Burning Man and help build our camp’s burning effigy,” or, “I volunteer for a group seeking to legalize all drugs,” or “I attend a lot of social events for people who practice polyamory.”

            Once you take away those things, I’m left with, “I like to surf the internet and watch Hulu,” which as Alison notes is also not a highly-regarded answer for a lot of people.

            I do often resort to saying I like to hang out with my dog, take her to the park, play fetch, etc., because dogs are pretty uncontroversial. I am child-free by choice, so if it’s acceptable for hanging out with my dog to be my socially appropriate hobby, then I don’t see why hanging with your kid shouldn’t be.

            (In grad school I was once unexpectedly asked to answer this question in front of my whole cohort in a round-robin. At the time I wore a scarf every day and had a pretty large collection of lightweight and heavy scarves in different colors to go with different outfits – it wasn’t anything I cared deeply about, they were like any other accessory to me – but I panicked and blurted out, “I love scarves!” because it was the only answer I could think of that didn’t involve sex, drugs, and TV. For the rest of my time there everyone in my program thought I was obsessed with scarves and was always sending me links to interesting scarves or asking if I was wearing a new one or gasping if I didn’t happen to wear one…pretty funny in hindsight really…but as a high-achieving professional with a deviant and private lifestyle I still hate the question.)

            1. Burly by Night*

              Alt-life sister!

              I’m a burlesque performer. So my hobbies distill down to “dance classes for fitness” (I’m so not fit) and “sewing” (oh, no, I don’t happen to have pictures of my projects on my phone…or details about my projects…no I don’t make things for other people…). So it just gets a little dodgy if people begin to dig deeper into the specifics of my freetime. Luckily I watch a lot of movies while I work on costumes, so I try to throw in an occasional high-brow/art movie to keep that as possible “hobby talk”

              1. Kelsi*

                Yooooo fellow burly person!

                Happily for me, most of my coworkers know and are cool about it. But when someone new gets hired, I always have to be a little careful until I know how they’ll take it. People overhear me talking about how I have a show that weekend and it starts the “Yes I dance…no, not really like ballet…ummmm it’s kind of a mix of styles…ballroom and some other stuff….no I think the tickets are all sold out….hmm no no video or pictures have been taken!”

                But hey, the good thing about burlesque is we all have silly stage names, right? So nobody’s gonna find me accidentally by googling.

        3. LawPancake*

          I most often ask it when the candidate seems nervous at the start of an interview, it gives me a sense of their personality and them a chance to get their bearings.

        4. Safetykats*

          This. We generally ask this kind of question to fill time, to try to relax the interviewee, and to maybe check that they are a sufficiently well-rounded person (from a work-life balance perspective) to have a hobby or two. The appropriate answer is short and not too personal. Seriously don’t talk for 10 minutes about any hobby – that shows you have somehow forgotten what you’re there for. Maybe use it to highlight some trait or talent you think is relevant, even if not directly work related.

      2. Antilles*

        Generally interviewers who want to know how you work with others will ask interview questions about your work with others — not disguise it as a question about your free time.
        Especially since asking about how someone spends their free time doesn’t actually tell you anything about how you work with others – many people have hobbies specifically *because* they’re different from your 9 to 5 atmosphere.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Yeah, I work differently with others in a work context than in a recreational context. Among other things, there’s a considerably lower barrier to me going “I don’t really like these people do I’m going to go find something else to do rather than hanging out with them every week”. Whereas at work, one of the more important things an interviewer might want to know is whether I can get along with people whom I find kind of annoying or don’t particularly click with on a social level.

        2. paul*

          I tried to make a hobby a side source of income; it was miserable and I hated it and it burned me out. So I definitely agree–I like my hobbies to be different than work!

          1. Former Hoosier*

            I tried that too Paul and found that some things are meant to stay hobbies. At least for me.

            1. Snark*

              Same. People have straight-up told me to start a food truck and they’d invest in it. And I’m like, no man, this is what I do for fun, for my friends.

              1. Kelsi*

                YES. Every time I show off a new costume, people try to insist I should sell my sewing.

                First of all, y’all can’t see the hot mess that is the inside of things I make for myself. Commercial goods have to be finished pretty and hold up for longer than just a con or two. Second of all, I do other people’s bidding all day, why would I want to do it in my free time too?

            2. Antilles*

              Yeah, it turns out when you’re doing it as a job, there’s all sorts of non-fun grindy items that come along with it that you don’t bother with when it’s purely a hobby for fun.
              Sports are a perfect example: For professional basketball players, the time spent actually *playing basketball games* ends up being a tiny fraction of your time compared to the endless grind of practices, team meetings, film study, working out, playbooks, …

            3. Elizabeth West*

              Yessss this.

              Writing is NOT a hobby for me, and I want to sigh heavily when people act like it is. I’ve answered this question differently because it’s phrased as “What have you been doing while you’re not working,” as opposed to asking what I do outside of work. I say I’m working on personal writing projects.

              But other things that are hobbies, like miniatures (gah I haven’t worked on them in ages), I don’t think I would like as much were I trying to say, open an Etsy shop where I sold little tiny Sculpey food or decorated roomboxes. I’ve thought about it—if they’re good enough, I could make some bucks—but it’s mostly just for me. Too much pressure to be perfect.

          2. sam*

            Yep – people sometimes ask me why I don’t try to do photography as some sort of money-making venture, and I tell them it’s because I like it too much and I don’t want to make it my “job”!

        3. SS Express*

          Such a great point. I’m really good at working with others but after a full day of engaging with stakeholders, managing external suppliers, negotiating with senior colleagues and having a delightful phone manner, all I want to do is bake and watch Netflix by myself.

    2. Snark*

      My feeling is that it usually boils down to, “Are you someone I could enjoy interacting with on a superficial level for 40 hours a week for the foreseeable future,” not anything more multilayered than that.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        Bingo! As long as your hobbies aren’t “Making fishing flies out of human skin and teeth”, you’ll probably be okay.

        1. Snark*

          Yeah, that’s where self-editing comes in. “I tie fishing flies. With…stuff.” Always put your best foot forward.

        2. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

          Ugghhh – I used to be just awful at interviews. I’m just a combo of introverted + awkward. I’ve gotten a LOT better (thanks AAM!), but I usually need an interview or two to “warm up”/get back into the swing of things.

          Anyway, at one go of interviewing, at my first interview I answered this question with “Oh, I love to watch trashy TV and drink wine with my roommate”. It definitely did not go over well. I don’t suggest it. Now I stick to “oh I try to stay active with walks and yoga classes” or something about my dog.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Yeah, I can see why that is probably not something to say in an interview, but if you said that to me in an interview, I’d be thinking that you’d probably fit in pretty well here.

          2. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

            Well nice to know others can appreciate my *actual* hobbies… Buuuuttt – I still don’t recommend using this one in an actual interview haha

          3. Nitzsche*

            If you’re asked about hobbies, this is your chance to respond with something memorable and unusual. “I have a prize collection of 18th-century porcelain teapots from Tibet” is a hell of a lot more memorable than “I try to stay active with walks.”

            1. Lissa*

              Sure, but people with a memorable, unusual and work-appropriate hobby are not the people for whom this question is difficult. :) For the rest of us, the answer is either sound boring, sound crazy or lie.

    3. Tuesday Next*

      I work really well in a team, and my job, which I love, requires a high percentage of interaction with people – workshops, interviews, etc. But I’m an introvert so that tires me, and when I’m at home I need a lot of quiet time. If you based your assessment of my teamwork skills on my solitary hobbies you’d be totally off the mark.

      1. TardyTardis*

        Same here. I enjoy going through my fairly extensive collection of back email, watching CNN and various other shows, and writing large fantasy novels with a considerable amount of smut in them (this may be a warning to an interviewer that I’m so gone if any of the books go nuclear in income, but if they knew anything about the actual writing biz, they’d know that writing made buying Powerball tickets look like a sane investment).

    4. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      I’ve also heard that it’s good to mention hobbies that involve teamwork and working to achieve a goal, to show that you’re a team player , ambitious and willing to put time and energy into mastering something. This advice isn’t a problem for me because the honest and simple answer “I sing in a choir” matches both criteria. However I once had an interviewer then ask me what time of the day my choir practice is (in the evening, doesn’t interfere with normal work hours) and how much time I put into my hobby. That was weird.

      1. Former Hoosier*

        I once had someone ask me in an interview what excited me. It felt odd because I definitely felt this uncomfortable undercurrent. I said that I loved to watch my sons play sports and that I loved going to college basketball games. He didn’t accept that and kept asking. I tried a couple of more reponses which also seemed deficient and finally I just said, I don’t know what else to say.

        On the way home, I actually prayed that I didn’t get the job because I really needed one and couldn’t afford to turn it down if it was offered but I knew it would have been a nightmare. For once things worked out. The same week I was offered two jobs that were great opportunities.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          I had an interview just like that too once – I mean, where as I drove home I kept thinking “Please please please don’t offer me this job because I’ve been out of work for three months and really need it, so I won’t be able to say no, but…ugh, I really really really don’t want to work there!”

          And I too got a job offer elsewhere just a couple of days later, plus got called for some other interviews. Such relief!

          1. Kelly L.*

            Ha, I had this too–I felt this sense of existential despair just stepping onto the property, and the office was grim and claustrophobic and yet covered in the most saccharine motivational posters imaginable (imagine Mordor with “If you can dream it, you can do it” plastered all over) and the interviewer was nebulously rude and the hours were terrible…and I was like “ARGH I’ll have to take this if they offer it, please please please let them not offer!” I…may have intentionally “forgotten” to write a thank-you email in the hopes they’d forget my entire existence. Thankfully, I did not get that job, and later got a much better one.

      2. Yods*

        I’ve had an interviewer comment negatively on the fact that I don’t do any team sports. As you ‘you know what we have to work in a team here’. And he didn’t seem to want to accept that playing in an orchestra is also a way of working together for a shared purpose.
        I felt like pointing out that ‘being a team player’ is a metaphor and not to be taken quite that literally, but snark probaly wouldn’t have helped my case.
        So yeah, some people do seem to interpret a lot about your personality from what you do, or don’t do, in your free time.

        1. JustaTech*

          Ugh. I hate team sports (hated them in school, don’t enjoy watching them, just nope) so this question would really put me off. I guess the best response for me would be something like “I’m not any good at sports so I don’t play because I don’t want to let the team down.” There, I’ve shown that I am a *team* person, I just don’t show it with sports.

    5. MsMaryMary*

      There are a handful of interviewers who ask questions like this and make strange judgements based on your answers. They might assume that if you like crossword puzzles you’re not a team player, or that you’re unmotivated if you prefer watching movies over training for a marathon. I used to work with a woman who would ask candidates about the last book they read, and then refuse to hire anyone whose answer wasn’t related to business or professional development (exceptions could be made for non-fiction if a quick thinking candidate could connect it to a professional topic).

      These people are looney. They are like the interviewers who judge you for not wearing high heels to the interview, or who ask what extracirriculars you participated in high school. You never know when you might run into one, but there’s no sense in treating every interviewer like they’re a loon.

      1. Fiennes*

        WOW. Somebody could’ve said, “I’m reading Ulysses,” and that hiring manager would’ve written them off as a loser.

      2. Jesca*

        Oh I would be so screwed. My hobbies include extensive research on really random and arbitrary topics. Like for instance, the last thing I researched in depth was the early migration patterns of humans in Mesopotamia. Like that has nothing to do with process engineering or analytics. I just wanted to know … Now I mean sometimes i research things that do require my analytical skills (like when I see stats presented on major news networks that are obviously skewed), but for the most part, I just really like to know things.

        1. Just Employed Here*

          You might enjoy BBC Radio 4’s More or Less: Behind the Stats, then (there’s a BBC World edition as well, but I prefer the Radio 4 one). They do with exactly this, if with some silly jokes thrown in.

        2. PhyllisB*

          Yep, I know what you mean. Lots of topics interest me, and I love to read/do some research on them. One time I was reading a book (can’t remember the name) about how Daylight Savings Time came about. I was sitting in a cafe reading while I ate, and the waitress, trying to be friendly, asked me what I was reading about. When I told her, she looked at me like I was crazy and didn’t say another word to me until “Here’s your check. Hope you enjoyed your meal.” When I shared this with my children, they agreed that I’m crazy. :-) Can’t get no respect.

        3. Sarah M*

          Jesca: That.Is.An.Awesome.Hobby!

          Then again, my top-of-my-head answer would be “solving puzzles”, so I’d be in the same boat in this scenario. I wonder what would happen if someone answered “cosplay”.

        4. Koko*

          I totally relate to this! So much so I never really thought of it as a hobby. A few of my friends have nicknamed me “Kokopedia” because of how often I pipe up with relevant information to such a wide variety of random topics that come up in conversation.

          To be honest, I’ve often felt like it was a character flaw – I get really interested in things and once I’ve learned about them I lose interest and move on, which is why I’m so well read about so many different things, so I’ve always associated my recreational research with myself being unable to find a middle-ground between obsessively wanting to know everything about something and completely losing interest, like “I don’t stick with things” or “I don’t finish things.”

      3. SS Express*

        Whaaaat. Once I was asked about the last book I read and I wasn’t quick enough to think of a lie so I told the truth – 50 Shades of Grey. I got the job! (Not because it was a pervy workplace. Because my interview was a friendly, easygoing guy.)

    6. designbot*

      Goodness, I’d struggle with this one. My hobby is hiking, and I was so excited when I went on a 5.5 hour hike the other weekend and didn’t see another human being the entire time. Obviously I wouldn’t put it that way in an interview though–I’d say something about how important it is for me to recharge at the end of the week instead, but they basically lead to the same conclusion: introvert’s gonna introvert for a few hours.

      1. Kaleid*

        Oh! I hike as well- ways to spin it for an interview- exercise, planning (route planning for the hike, also how to get to/from, weather conditions etc). Interacting with a group (surely not ALL of your hikes are alone? You don’t have to mention that the majority are by yourself). Meal and gear planning, first aid, the list goes on…There are so many ways this can be refocused away from ‘ introvert will introvert’… (though hey, if it works for you, and you need to signal it, go ahead!)

    7. Wintermute*

      I find for any given question you may find one out of a hundred people that are using it because they read in some (terrible) management book that this is the perfect hidden silver bullet question to unlock deep secrets about the candidates’ psyche… and the rest have either the obvious ulterior motive (E.g. I’m asking about their weaknesses not just to know what their weakness is but to judge self-awareness and ability to admit to weaknesses) or none at all.

      It’s very tempting as a job-seeker to try to ace every interview because… you need a job! But at the end of the day some people are just not rational, and as Alison has often said, for every person with a super-specific do-or-die preference (put your cover letter in the email body, don’t show up more than five minutes early for an interview, never use Times New Roman font on your resume and cover letter), someone else will have the INVERSE do-or-die preference (attach your cover letter, show up at least 10 minutes early for an interview, use default Word settings only).

      At the end of the day these are bad hiring managers, and ultimately, even if it doesn’t look like it when you’re staring at a rapidly dwindling savings account and the prospect of running out of unemployment eligibility, they are doing YOU the favor by not hiring you because a place that lets one person’s irrationally specific personal preferences dictate hiring preference is not going to be stocked with the best and brightest to learn from and grow, and they’re not going to have functional processes and procedures and effective oversight and accountability.

      There are a few questions that have common ulterior meanings (the “weaknesses” one, for example) but trying to read too much into interview questions is a good way to give yourself much unnecessary stress, just take things at face value and you will be happier.

  2. Snark*

    Yesterday, someone asked my son what he likes to do when he’s not at school. He pondered that for a moment, then replied very earnestly, “I am a robot kitten who flies to space to fight bad guys and rescue crashed spaceships.”

    So you could always say that, OP.

    I’ve struggled myself with the feeling that “oh god what do I say, I just work and go home and eat dinner and collapse exhausted at 9pm,” but the truth is….I’m a pretty committed cook (for my family), I go hiking (with my kid), I like museums (with my kid), I go camping (with my kid)….I have stuff going on. And even the stuff you do with your kids, phrased wryly, can be a pretty good answer – I was helping rescue crashed spaceships in the back yard last night.

    1. Tassietiger*

      Someone needs to get on that idea! Fresh new comic book “robot kitten space rescuer” splashed in all the comic book stores :D

      1. Snark*

        You’re not the first to suggest that. His preschool teacher wants it to be a book. He’s capable of going on at great length and with detail about his robot kitten alter ego’s adventures. He’s got wings with propellers, he’s purple, he’s made of metal with some plastic, he has a rescue hook on the end of his tail, he sometimes flies to Jupiter, and sometimes R2-D2 helps him because he has rockets. And sometimes he rides a super fast tricycle that’s a rally car.

        1. Strawmeatloaf*

          Remember, Axecop was officially started with a 5 year old and his 20 something brother drawing it!

          1. Nolan*

            Hahaha I came here to say the same thing. What a brilliant web comic. I would also read a robot space kitten comic!

    2. neverjaunty*

      “Can you give me an example of how you would prioritize between fighting a bad guy and rescuing a spaceship?”

    3. Murphy*

      I just work and go home and eat dinner and collapse exhausted at 9pm

      Oh, not just me then? That’s good to know.

      1. MechanicalPencil*

        I don’t even have human children and this is what I do. I sometimes make it to 10 pm.

        1. Snark*

          I made it to 10pm last night. I was proud of myself. Then I woke up again at 1am with the bedside light on and my Kindle resting on my face.

          1. Murphy*

            I was tired at 8:45. My husband convinced me to watch something, but then Hulu wouldn’t load, so I just went to bed anyway.

            My daughter has been sleeping through the night for a while, but somehow I’m still drained at the end of the day.

        2. Brandy*

          I get the question, what are you going to do/what did you do this weekend. I sometimes say, nothing, absolutely nothing….and it was great. I get tired hearing about some co-workers evenings.

          1. Ten*

            One of my friends makes a point of differentiating when she is “not doing anything” from when she is “doing nothing”. That downtime is important!

      1. PhyllisB*

        One of my grand-sons told me when he grows up, he wants to be a dog. His mother used to say she wanted to be a bathroom!!

  3. Lil Fidget*

    I try to keep a few things in my back pocket to say, that will be interesting and let me stand out (ironically this is the opposite of the post a few days ago, in which I said unless you’re a brand new grad you should NEVER include school activities or hobbies on your resume – and I stand by that, but this is icebreaking chit-chat in the interview). The problem with “I like to read and watch movies” is that it doesn’t lead the interviewer to a good followup question and it’s not going to create much of a conversation. Chemistry does matter on these things, I feel, as a lot of interviewers who have several good candidates go with their “gut” on who they felt the best about in the end. So, if you can, I’d say think of something you like to do that is somewhat unusual and has a generally positive association and keep that one ready.

    1. Snark*

      My go-to, for this reason, is “I’m really into cooking, which is great because I get to do my hobby every night whether I want to or not,” and it usually gets a laugh and a foll0w-on question. People connect over food.

      1. essEss*

        I live in a big foodie restaurant city, so I usually pull out the “I like to go try new restaurants each week” and that goes off into discussions comparing places we’ve been recently.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I think if you go with books and movies, it’s good to follow it up with “I just saw X and loved it” or “I’m reading Y” or something that people can build on.

      1. TootsNYC*

        exactly! So our OP could say, “I’ve been caught up in Sopranos. I feel it’s turned television into an art form.”

        And, even something like, “I make the rounds of all the museums in town pretty regularly with my family/son.”

        1. Agile Phalanges*

          Ooh, I wonder if it would be too disingenuous to sub in a non-progeny-type kid for your actual kid when talking about your interests, then, at least for the interview. If you like taking your kiddo to science museums, say you enjoy hanging out with your nephew, and just took him to Local Science Museum. Or your niece to the zoo, or you coach your BFF’s kid in soccer, or whatever. Shows you take an interest in whatever it is, and that you enjoy hanging out with kids, without opening yourself up to as much discrimination as it being your own kid. You can come clean, of course, once you have the job and are chatting around the water cooler (not fessing up to the minor white lie, start involving your own kid in your stories of what you did on the weekend or whatever).

          1. Wintermute*

            No offense, really, I see where you’re coming from, but that would be terrible, awful, and could get you fired.

            They’re going to find out you have a kid eventually, somehow, if they do hire you, and if you forget your little white lie and forget you said you have a nephew suddenly you’re the guy that lied in the interview, which in some places is right out the door, in others at the very least would be cause to go back and go over everything they took for granted with a fine-toothed comb: make sure you actually graduated high school and college, double-check employment history, etc. And if they find anything a little off that may be it for you too.

    3. Kj*

      I agree. And I might be a bit judgey, but I admit to looking a little askance at people who can’t name ONE hobby. We once did the most painful exercise at a retreat where we went around and had to name hobbies and one co-worker’s hobby was waiting for her child to get out of dance class. It was utterly depressing and made me think of her differently- I always wondered after that if she was ok and it explained why we never could talk about anything other than work when making chit-chat. Everyone should have some hobby they can name that sparks further conversation. Sometimes for a hobby like reading, talking about a recent book you liked is enough to humanize you and make you more interesting. Spending time with kids- could you name what you do with your kids, like go to musuems or do art projects? You don’t have to mention you have a kid in tow unless you want to.

      1. EditorInChief*

        I do alot of second interview interviewing and I am a little judgy if someone can’t name one hobby besides TV or they say their kids are their hobby. Having a hobby demonstrates intellectual curiosity above and beyond the day to day activities of life.

        1. CarrieT*

          And it doesn’t have to be a hobby per se, it can be an interest. Instead of just “reading” you can be interested in African literature. Instead of just “kids” you can have an intellectual interest in child health, or the like.

          1. EditorInChief*

            Yes! Exactly this. I never thought about it that way, but yes. More specificity brings some substance there.

        2. Anon for this*

          *winces* That…I usually name photography, even though I seldom get to do it, so I guess I’d be okay. But I have two kids, both special needs (neither extremely so, but it’s amazing how much time various standing therapy appointments can use up), and I work full time and otherwise take care of household chores. What time for a hobby?

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            Do you have waiting time while children are in appointments? Apparently that’s when a lot of knitters get things made.

            Of course, I always hesitate to mention knitting, because it’s SO gendered in people’s perception, and because people have such strong associations with it. Just like with tall people getting asked about basketball or the weather, every (American) knitter in the history of ever has had “Knit 1 Purl 2” quoted at them. (For the record, it’s a song title from Tinpan Alley times. Nobody knows that; they just know the phrase.)

            I haven’t had to answer this question in ages, probably because I’ve mostly worked contracts, and I’m not sure what I would do. Maybe mention reading the Little House books and how it spurred my interest in the social history of the mid-1800’s US? Because that gets us to cowboys and movies and racism…. Hmm.

            1. SusanIvanova*

              Knitting: “I construct wearable devices using a low-level 3D topological assembly language.”

          2. JB (not in Houston)*

            I think you can just name interests–those things that you try to do every now and then when you actually have some rare free time, or the things you used to do and hope to pick up again one day. That’s the kind of thing they’re looking for, getting to know you on a more personal level. So photography is fine even if you don’t get to do it often.

          3. Willis*

            Yeah…I think at points in life there is a big difference between “hobbies” and “what you do during non-work hours,” for various reasons (raising kids, caring for elderly family members, etc. etc.). But when someone is just making small talk during an interview, I think it’s fine to mention something you have an interest in even if you don’t have any time to pursue it that actively at the moment.

          4. Student*

            I think it’s important to make some time for a hobby. It doesn’t have to be a daily thing – it could be once a month, or even once a quarter (for a little while) if you are deeply tied into other things that take up a lot of time.

            It’s not about the specific hobby. It’s about you staying grounded, tied into the broader community beyond your nuclear family. It’s about you taking a breather, and enjoying life sometimes, so you can go back to the grind without burning out quite so fast. It’s about building enough connections that there is someone to pick up the slack, like caring for your kids for a bit, when you need it.

            Seriously, taking time for yourself will benefit the people you care for in the long term. Only ever giving to others, being the martyr every day, will eventually hurt you even with those people who depend on you. For example, your kids will one day want to relate to you more as adults and less as your children – if you have nothing but them in your life, you won’t be able to make that transition with them.

          5. Wintermute*

            A hobby isn’t something you do every day, it’s just something you have an interest in and some knowledge about and do when you can. If “when you can” is once every six months… so be it.

        3. Rainy*

          I watch a lot of tv and movies, because one of my research interests is reception, particularly in popular media. I’m definitely lowbrow with no intellectual curiosity, and you should 100% judge me for it. Now pardon me whilst I go read some Homer. In the original.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            I am so intrigued! When you say “reception”, do you mean things like “how characters interpret what other characters say”?

            1. Rainy*

              Oh, no. “Classical reception”–it’s a term of art in my field. It’s about the ways that Greek and Roman material are transmitted and interpreted, for example how stories or myths are translated, or how they pass into common turns of phrase, how they move through a Shakespearean usage to a mid-twentieth-century film to a sitcom or popular movie, how they are used thematically in tv series or comic books, that kind of thing.

          2. Anna*

            Yes, but that’s your research interest, not necessarily your hobby. If you said “oh, all I do is watch Keeping up with Kardashians and posting selfies to Instagram” yeah, people are not going to think you’re too deep. And in fact, that would be what you say. “One of my research interests is [explanation of what that research interest actually is] so weirdly enough, I end up watching a lot of TV in my free time.”

              1. Anna*

                Ha! That’s cool. But it’s also a hobby that’s not just about studying which Bachelorette is getting the rose. I mean, maybe you do like The Bachelor and watch it and enjoy it and podcast about it, but I think framing it as “I podcast about reality dating TV shows” is way more interesting than “I watch a lot of reality dating TV shows.”

        4. Luna*

          eh I don’t know, I think that’s unfair. I’m lucky that one of my hobbies involves exercise (running), because between getting up early to run before work, commuting, working 8 hours a day, often stopping at the grocery store or CVS on the way home, and making dinner- there is really very little time left during the week for extra hobbies. And I don’t even have kids!

        5. Chinook*

          But what if your hobby is religious related? For a few years, I spent my evenings leading a Bible Study, a church woman’s group and Sunday school. I truly enjoyed it all (only stopped because I moved) and prepping for leading all of these took the rest of my time, but I would be reluctant to mention them in an interview as I could come off as a religious nut to someone who doesn’t realize that I don’t proselytize or even talk about church at work.

          1. Former Hoosier*

            I agree that you have to be cautious about religious related hobbies. I think simply stating I volunteer a lot at my church might work. I spend a lot of time helping with our church youth group and I think I could spin that away from overly religious by talking about how we specifically design activities to bring the kids together and teach new skills. We bake bread every fall and sell it to raise money. The money is not the only benefit. The kids work together, many of them learn a new skills, they have fun, etc.

          2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

            I think that saying it would be more positive than negative, because “has leadership experience, is good at planning and organizing and likes to have lots of stuff to do” outweighs “may be a religious nut”. But this is just my opinion.

            1. Temperance*

              I think if there’s non-affiliated stuff to balance it out, it might be fine, but heavy involvement in church activities could be off-putting to some and give the impression that all one cares about is religious activities.

          3. There's Always Money in the Banana Stand*

            I would be reluctant to mention my religious hobbies/activities as well, even though they are what take up a lot of my free time. I am a part time pastor, and a theology nerd, so I spend a lot of time working on “church things” and reading religious books. A coworker once asked me what I was going to do on my vacation, and when I responded that I would be spending the week helping out at my church’s summer youth camp, I think it struck her as odd. I wouldn’t want an interviewer to think the same thing.

            1. Chinook*

              Only if I could refer the book as the translation of a collection of ancient texts that can lead to vigorous debate (since the Bible is the only book I read where said book club can take 2 hours to discuss 10 lines. My job as facilitator was definitely put to the test to keep us on topic).

              Actually, “in depth study of a collection of ancient texts and their historical context” does sound like a great intellectual hobby and not a religious nut. I will have to remember that.

        6. MG*

          Do you have young kids? I used to have hobbies but nowadays with a pretty high demand job, a pregnancy, and a toddler I have no time to myself. I’m actually toning down my initial response which was not polite at all, and I say that because you tone is really judgy and it felt personal.

          1. CMart*

            I too have a (medium)-demanding job, a toddler, and an ongoing pregnancy and am feeling extremely defensive. “Having” a hobby is a privilege of having time and energy.

            But honestly? Even when I wasn’t so strapped for mental resources I’ve never really been a hobby-having person. I watch some TV shows I like. I read books sometimes when one comes my way. I pay attention to the news and stay engaged in current affairs. Sometimes I cook difficult things. My friends and I watch movies and enjoy each other’s company. I’m pretty good at trivia and enjoy playing trivia games at home or at a bar.

            But *hobbies*? Nah. Perhaps I do lack intellectual curiosity, I’m probably not the best judge. But people seem to think I’m interesting to talk with anyway so I’m not going to torture myself by using my time looking into 16th century European architecture trends just to appease some nebulous sense that “having an interest” is necessary to being interesting.

            1. SS Express*

              I think maybe this is a matter of what you mean by “hobby”. A hobby doesn’t need to be challenging or unusual or structured, or take up huge amounts of your time. For example trivia is absolutely a hobby! I consider it one of mine, although I don’t go to trivia nights on a weekly basis. Baking is also one of my hobbies, and I don’t bake very often at all these days – but I’m still interested in it, I still pin cupcake recipes and keep an eye out for cool decorations at the supermarket and think about whether I could incorporate the flavour of some delicious new chocolate into a brownie, so I’d still call it my hobby.

          2. sap*

            Yeah, I’ve written and then discarded several responses here.

            The reality is that a lot of people really don’t have time for non-survival-related activities for reasons that they shouldn’t/don’t want to talk about in a job interview, whether it’s a sick child, poverty and needing to work two jobs, a serious illness of their own, or whatever.

            Of course, most of these people are able to charmingly deflect the question by naming something they *used to do* or making a joke or talking about a goal for future free time adventures…

            But being judgy about someone’s lack of intellectual curiosity because they don’t have a hobby and haven’t successfully deflected your question is pretty terrible. Judge them for not being slick and personable, sure–I know that distracting people by being charming is a job skill in many contexts and you wouldn’t want to hire someone who couldn’t pivot “tell me about your hobbies” to a different getting-to-know-you subject.

            But not being able to identify a current hobby is often a signifier that someone is disabled or ill, or is a primary caregiver, or is struggling financially, and it’s very uncharitable to these people (not to mention kindof ableist/classist) to paint anyone without hobbies as not intellectually curious.

            1. Pommette!*

              Yes to all of this, and to MG’s post also.

              I should have time for hobbies. I don’t have any children or other familial responsibilities, and my job isn’t demanding enough to preclude engagement in outside activities (my colleagues have lots!). But by the time the work day is done, I’m exhausted. I don’t have the energy to do any kind of structured activities. I go home, make supper, maybe read a bit, and go to bed. Anything more would impede my ability to function the next day. I can’t afford to lose my job.

              I have a hard time when conversations turn to hobbies. I know that my colleagues judge me for never having interesting stories about my outings and activities. I would love to but I legitimately can’t. It has nothing to do with intellectual curiosity.

        7. EBStarr*

          This can end up being a really gendered thing to judge people for because people who don’t have the time for hobbies are often spending their time on unpaid caregiving, and that’s a workload that women still disproportionately carry.

      2. Inspector Spacetime*

        I always freeze at this question, but it’s not because I don’t have hobbies. It’s because I don’t necessarily want to tell a stranger “I write fanfiction and play D&D every weekend” lmao. So take heart! Maybe she does have a hobby, but it’s like LARPing or something :).

        1. Murphy*

          Exactly what I was thinking! Sometimes you just don’t want to talk about in a work setting. I do crafts (or at least I did before my baby was born, and someday I will again!) so that’s what I always say. But I also really like comic books, and recently started playing D&D, and people can be judgey about those kinds of things, so while I would mention it to co-workers, I probably wouldn’t in an interview.

          1. Baska*

            I’m the opposite of you, Murphy. I tend to use “what sort of things do you like to do outside work” to float the idea that I’m a big geek and enjoy stuff like roleplaying games, medieval reenactment, sci-fi books/movies, etc. It’s a big enough part of my non-work life that if my prospective boss is gonna be weird / judgey about me doing those things, I wanna know right up front. That’s not a person I want to work for.

            But I can totally appreciate that for people who just play D&D every few weeks or whatever, it might not be something they want to put out there at the job interview stage.

        2. Strawmeatloaf*

          “I play WoW way too much, and unfortunately just got into Skyrim so I spent a couple of hours last night casting the same muffle spell to raise my alteration stats…”

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Or when you move to next-level Skyrim fandom, where it’s “I spent last night trying to figure out which mod is repeatedly crashing my game…”

            1. Strawmeatloaf*

              “I killed 5 Thomas the Tank Engines last night! I mean they killed me a few times but…”

              It’s amazing how long it takes to figure out which one it is.

          2. JB (not in Houston)*

            Yeah, I love Skyrim, but my coworkers definitely do not want to hear about it, unfortunately. I would not bring it up in an interview that I spent an entire weekend improving my sneaking ability and building several houses for my adopted child and her pet dog that she wanted but doesn’t even like anymore.

          3. Aleta*

            Oh gosh you’re me, I’m currently consumed by both. Allied races out on WoW and finally bought Skyrim on the Switch. I’m looking forward to the adventures of my spell-sword book thief. It glitched right out of the gate (horse standing in front of Hadvar during the opening, partially obscuring the character creation screen), which made me glad to see it was still the glitchy mess I know and love.

          4. Thegs*

            Guilty as charged, but lucky for me my coworkers don’t mind getting regaled with tales of the little dramas of mythic raiding. Everyone can relate to having someone in the raid who is phenomenally good at one class insisting on playing another they are terrible at :)

            1. Strawmeatloaf*

              Ha, did a raid last night where one of the healers was in dps spec as a priest.

              Then we wiped the first time, and they complained that dps weren’t doing their part, someone commented on the healer not being in healing spec, and someone else said healer was 2nd on dps charts.

              Yeah… no wonder we were losing so much health. They acted as though everyone else was in the wrong but… you sign up to be a certain role, you do it. The next time we aced it and there was a lot more healing and fewer people dying.

              But anyway, raid finder sometimes reminds me of work. >_>

              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                Oh man, I never wind up getting far in with priests. Whether I’m DPS or heals, apparently I’m always Doin It Wrong.

        3. Admin of Sys*

          “amateur writing with an online community review” is how I usually describe fanfic. The role playing I generally just admit to, but then I’m in IT. :)

          1. Hellanon*

            “My online writer’s group” was how I usually billed it. It definitely helped that some of my LJ friends turned out to make awesome RL friends and showed up in town to visit… although we tried to stay away from any real details. “Um, you know, we… read each other’s work and, ah, talk about characterization. You know. Writer stuff.” And then a quick change of subject.

        4. GG Two shoes*

          My husband is into that kinda thing. When he was interviewing a few months ago he would say, “think of a nerdy hobby- i probably do it.” He plays video games, reads fantasy, watches animes, plays board games, reads comic books, and plays D and D. I LOVE that he has so many hobbies, because even if I can’t follow everything we always have lots to talk about.

        5. Aiani*

          Yes! I play a lot of video games but I probably wouldn’t tell most interviewers about that. There are still a lot of people who are really judgmental about video games.

        6. Brandy*

          I don’t need to bring up reading, because they want to discuss and I read for enjoyment. I would have to bring up what I read, which is cozies, then theyd want to know what is a cozy. And unless you are a cozy fan, theres kinda a looking down upon ness. When I red horror, just the covers would scare off non horror readers. Never had this come up at interviews, just in polite conversation times. Lord don’t let me metion in an interview my favorite channel is Discovery America (DAM). If they know the shows on it……… More self editing…Bringing up dogs, I have 5 inside pups and the cats (probably get some side eye on that)

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Hahaha, yeah, I don’t mention my entire bookshelf full of horror titles. Unless people are talking about Stephen King, who is pretty mainstream these days. And most people don’t know who Algernon Blackwood or Bentley Little are anyway.

        7. Aurion*

          Yeah, I have “safe” hobbies to discuss in an interview, but almost none of them give me the joy fanfiction does. But I’m glad I don’t have to discuss my fic to a prospective boss!

        8. Lissa*

          Yeah, I play D&D and run vampire LARPS. I have talked about my “improv theatre” hobby before in interviews, though. I find that if you describe larping without calling it that, people can think it’s cool.

        9. a different Vicki*

          Yes. I have a relative whose answers would be “I’m spending most of my free time with my toddler or at synagogue” and “when I can find the time, I play in a zombie-themed LARP,” either of which could get weird looks.

          I could tell them I play a lot of Scrabble: but I’m not caring for two children, holding down a full-time job, and trying to deal with maintenance/repairs on a just-bought house with some problems nobody warned me about.

      3. AnotherAlison*

        This whole judgment of your coworker makes me sad. I’m not really on board with the lifestyle, but it’s really common to spend your life running your kids around from lesson to lesson in my neck of the woods. So, not only does your coworker have to go to work every day, schlep her kid to lessons and wait for her, now she has to find another more conversation-worthy hobby (with or without her kid)?

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Sorry, one more thing to add related to waiting for kids. . .I used to wait for kids more when mine were younger, and it always seemed like a good time to go for a run around the park while they played baseball, or read a book while they practiced karate, but it never really worked out that way. If you sit in the car or leave the site, you can be judged by judgy moms who think you should be more social or watch your kid’s every move. If you try to sit in the bleachers or waiting area and read, then someone will want to chat with you. Anyone who is raising a human for a couple decades should get a pass on finding time for their own hobbies, if they don’t want to juggle one more thing.

        2. hbc*

          Well, you can also spin it more positively and not make it sound like you stare blankly at a wall while your kid does an activity. You can say your hobby is X but you hardly find time for it. You can say that right now, your hobby is being a Dance Mom and chatting with other parents while you watch your kids but that you look forward to doing X or Y when you have more time. You can say, “Based on my calendar, I’d say my number one hobby is overscheduling my kids.”

          The point isn’t to prove that you have time to do stuff, it’s to show that you have interests and/or are interesting.

          1. Fiennes*

            Exactly. It’s not that she has to wait for her kid, which is just human experience; it’s that she can’t mention anything else except the sheer fact of it.

        3. Student*

          It may be common for parents to do this now, but a portion of us don’t think it’s actually healthy or good – for the parent or the kids. I do judge people who think devoting themselves only to their kids is good or desirable. I judge that very strongly, and very negatively, as a moral and social issue. I keep my mouth shut in person, because I know I have no business weighing in on other people’s family choices. It is so very different to how I was raised that I cannot relate to it at all, and I struggle to see anything good in it.

          It’s not an exaggeration to say I judge it more harshly than minor drug addiction or some milder forms of more classic child abuse. I know it’s not the common view, but I judge it as a form of self-abuse and child-abuse that feeds into stereotypes I deeply loathe. I’ll get on my soap box for only one sentence, and say this: “it’s really common to spend your life running your kids around” – do you know, in person, even one man that’s true of?

          I know that it’s ultimately not up to me, though. I try not to let my views on people’s private lives impact my work, and I cannot imagine screening someone otherwise well-qualified out of a job over this; it’d be as absurd as screening out a co-worker with a hobby I can’t relate to, in that it’s not a work problem. I say this not because I expect you to agree with me or change your ways, but because you should know people like me do exist, and yes, we do expect you to have a life outside your kids and find it alarming when you don’t.

          1. MG*

            I mean, if you work all day, and have young kids, when are you supposed to see them? And if you see them on the weekend when they have activities, then what are you supposed to do?

            “more harshly than a minor drug addiction” and you find it “alarming”? Wow.

          2. CMart*

            I’d really suggest you reevaluate that judgement, per MG’s questions above.

            One can have an intellectual life beyond their kids, but a physical life beyond them for a certain number of years can be really difficult. Unless you think people shouldn’t spend time with their children?

          3. Nitzsche*

            “It may be common for parents to do this now, but a portion of us don’t think it’s actually healthy or good – for the parent or the kids. I do judge people who think devoting themselves only to their kids is good or desirable. I judge that very strongly, and very negatively, as a moral and social issue.”

            Just so. We look for job candidates with a record of accomplishment. You do not want to present yourself as an appendage of your kids.

          4. AnotherAlison*

            Student – I’m not sure if you think you’re attacking my viewpoint or lifestyle or what, since you said “I say this not because I expect you to agree with me or change your ways,” but I actually do agree with you, to a very limited point, and these are not my ways. That is what I meant by, “I’m not really on board with the lifestyle, but it’s really common. . .in my neck of the woods.”

            Sure, I have 2 kids, so I have spent my share of time doing things for them, but I personally maintain things for me, too. I am not a big “kid” person, so I agree fitting in life outside the family is important. But I don’t harshly judge working parents who don’t have the interest in taking classes, regularly reading books, or going to the gym at 5 am (my main hobbies), and I don’t think it’s worse than child abuse. My father was regularly molested as a child, and I am pretty confident that overly involved parenting is not worse. You lost me there.

            I also actually do know dads whose lives revolve around their kids. Have you not ever met a sports dad? There are men who plan their careers to have the flexibility to coach every one of their kids teams, to be at every high school game, and spend their spare time traipsing across the country for traveling soccer and $1000 2-day showcases for the off chance that junior can get a college scholarship.

          5. Delphine*

            It’s not an exaggeration to say I judge it more harshly than minor drug addiction or some milder forms of more classic child abuse.

            I think you ought to reevaluate your judgement here, honestly. Many people don’t have a choice about devoting all their time to their jobs and their children–that’s just how much time there is in a day. To say that you judge them more harshly for that over “mild” child abuse is extremely disturbing to me. Having a life outside kids is usually a privilege. People who work more than one job, or work long hours in one job, would probably rather go home and spend what time they have left with their families than try to come up with another interest just so that some people find them intellectually energized.

          6. a different Vicki*

            That is work that falls overwhelmingly on women, yes. So why are you judging the people who have all that extra unpaid labor dumped on them, rather than the fathers who don’t step up to do their share? If you think this is an aspect of oppression or exploitation of women, maybe think about why you’re blaming the people who, if that’s true, are the exploited, not the oppressors.

      4. Rainy*

        I always assume that when people “can’t name ONE hobby” it’s because their hobbies are all too outré for a vanilla crowd and they’re censoring themselves. It makes me like them a little more as I imagine them spending all their time sewing fursuits or braiding whips etc.

        1. Admin of Sys*

          See, but I think that still shows a lack of creativity – you can say ‘sewing’ and not mention you’re sewing your fursuit. Or claim you’re into costuming work. I had a friend who did a ton of fabric dying because they made their own custom shibari rope colors – they can mention the fabric dye without mentioning the context.

          1. Thegs*

            The problem with that though is that often people want to talk about it further. Like for example I have friends who knit and they talk about their current and recently finished projects. If you make fursuits in your spare time you still need a cover for what you’re sewing in case anyone asks what you’re working on. Sure coming up with a couple white lies is easy enough, but not everybody will want to be lying to strangers about their hobby lest they be found out, so they don’t bring it up at all.

            1. sap*

              Yeah, there’s this–I honestly don’t have any hobbies anymore because I go from the office to my bed and back (chronic illness), but when I did have free time it was used for *really inappropriate stuff.* A lot of the time I’d mention the most vanilla version I could create, mentioning an *unrelated detail about the location or setup for the hobby,* and then ask my interviewers questions as part of my response, so that they would be too busy talking about themselves (about the NON-HOBBY detail) to ask me, for example what the dance class I was taking was for (burlesque).

              For example, “what are you doing in your free time?”
              Me: “oh, I’m taking a dance class! It’s a lot of fun–getting there takes me past Mr. Restaurant, which has the most delicious Weird Appetizer. Have you ever been?”
              And now the interviewer is going to be focused on Weird Appetizer and where Mr. Restaurant is and I can follow up with a whole set of questions about what my interviewer likes to eat/what else is good in that neighborhood/whether the interviewer hates the bus service too.

              1. sap*

                For the sewing fur suits example, there’s stuff like:
                “I’ve been doing a lot of sewing, lately. It’s a great dual-purpose activity–I can work on a project AND catch up on [popular TV show] at the same time. Do you watch that?”

        2. NW Mossy*

          Yeah, I happen to love rap music, but as a white suburban mom working in a conservative industry and a region with major faults to rectify in its treatment of POC, it’s not something I’ll air for small talk until I know the person reasonably well. There’s just all. this. stuff. to unpack about cultural appropriation, racism, sexism, etc. in rap, and that’s way more than I want to delve into in casual conversation. Instead, I’ll talk about a particular author or style of book I’m into at the moment – way less loaded.

          1. AKchic*

            As I’m currently getting loud, pointed sighs from my mother for daring to wear Viking and Celtic beads in my hair to the office. Because *she* doesn’t like them because they aren’t “normal”. They aren’t actually distasteful. It’s just not “normal”.
            My extracurriculars are okay when they are for charity (when she approves of the charity), but otherwise, it’s “not mommy-ish” and therefore deemed frivolous, a waste of time, and “non-traditional” and unacceptable to her. If the woman had her way, she’d pick my clothes out daily (no, we don’t live together, just work in the same building).
            We look somewhat alike (same general familial features, similar coloring), so she wants to treat me like her Barbie doll like she did when I was a child (which put me firmly on the “no pastels” path).

            My hobbies are generally minimized to “time wasters” by my extended family. Everyone else has no problem understanding what I do. Or what I tell them I do. Some things you just don’t tell people.

      5. TootsNYC*

        it’s really not about the traditional hobby, but more about, “what interesting things occupy your brain time?”

        1. Maude Lebowski*

          If only they would ask it that way! Brain is not idle (What’s the global impact of the Rohingya crisis? Why is the Guardian obsessed with the opiate crisis in the USA? Why is Netflix original programming so dystopian?) but I suppose these examples might be, you know, somewhat political and that’s, I suppose, a whole other area to avoid in an interview.

          1. Maude Lebowski*

            [I’m not trying to get off on being an esoteric dick. For the past ~13 yrs my work has been in what could broadly be described as the applied social sciences, where thinking about social stuff is what we do. Although all my esoteric dick examples have done is to suggest that, ya, indeed I don’t have much of a life outside of work / sense of other stuff you can do outside of work].

            1. a different Vicki*

              That’s not esoteric (which may just mean we’re in overlapping bubbles), and I don’t think it’s dickish to wonder why a non-US newspaper is obsessed with that aspect of what’s going on in the US, especially if they’re only concerned about it as a US thing. (I’m sure we have issues that stop at the border; that isn’t one.)

        2. CMart*

          But for real, who has free brain time? You mean the 30 minutes I have while lying in bed trying to fall asleep?

          I half-exaggerate, but I’ll be honest that I can nitpick pretty much any version of “prove to me that you’re not a piece of dry toast” because as someone living the life of a nearly-piece of dry toast I’m *super* defensive about it.

          I really wish people would just ask what they mean. “What things outside of work do you find interesting?” THAT I can answer.

          But when you don’t have free time or energy to do much other than the daily grid/family life it’s hard to answer anything that requires active engagement honestly. And I don’t think it’s very fair to mentally penalize people who aren’t able to have even a barely-active “other than” life as boring or incurious or whatever. I promise you (the general You) that I can go toe-to-toe with anyone in a discussion about pretty much any topic if you engage me in one! I just can’t tell you that I’m currently interested in anything other than getting 6 straight hours of sleep.

      6. Liz2*

        What’s rough sometimes is when your hobbies are not in the slightest work friendly. But that’s why I have the back pocket “suitable for all ages” responses in such cases.

      7. Maude Lebowski*

        OP says… I know, I know. It’s really unhealthy not to have a hobby or something like that. I mean, I am an introvert and my idea of a good time is going for a walk by myself. That’s how I like to spend my time. But I’m not a particularly well balanced individual – I read an article (wish I could find it) that argued it’s super unhealthy to be all work and no interests otherwise (because it makes a phase of joblessness even worse to manage) and I’m sort of the poster kid of what not to do. Am all or nothing – work defines me and it always has (plus I was in grad school for ~8yrs and left without my phd 3yrs ago, haven’t had steady work for nearly 2yrs now… so I’m having identity crisis, too). But, you know, walks by myself [aren’t helping]!

        1. Rainy*

          I too was in grad school for 8+ years and then left without my PhD a few years back. I’ve always had interests other than work/graduate work, but finding the time to pursue them… It’s so much harder when you are being told you should spend 20 hours a day on your research. The identity crisis is real, and definitely a thing that I think we all go through.

          1. Maude Lebowski*

            Sigh. Sorry to hear that (8+ yrs then that’s that)… I could really do with a new identity (crisis). Fed up with this one. Hope you’ve achieved some work-life balance!

            1. Rainy*

              I actually have a fantastic career in something totally unrelated to my area of study that nevertheless capitalizes on my extensive experience actually being in grad school and a higher ed environment. All I needed was an employer who saw the potential in the experience I had and was willing to take a chance on me, and then a quick certification course, which my employer paid for.

              And I have a real job that ends at the end of the day, the pay is…well, it’s higher ed so…but the benefits are really good and it’s the best work environment I’ve ever had. And I really love what I do. I hope you get there too. :)

        2. Nitzsche*

          The definition of “introvert” is not “someone without hobbies or interests.” (That would be the definition of “bore” and is exactly why the question is being asked.)

          An introvert is someone who tends to draw energy in more solitary pursuits, as opposed to from other people. There are plenty of hobbies (photography, handicrafts, some kinds of sports such as weightlifting, etc.) that fit the bill.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          It ought to be, but usually (at least when I’ve been hiring) there have been several good candidates who could do the job well. So the hiring manager was looking for some reason to remember one of them. If you have no passions at all, you may seem a little flat and they believe – incorrectly, I think, but it’s human – that somebody more awake can do a better job. Or at least someone who can pass off a pleasing conversation starter like “I really enjoy reading, and my favorite books are civil war period pieces” versus a wooden “I don’t have hobbies.”

        2. CMart*

          Apparently not :(

          In an employment context that’s really demoralizing, but in a personal context I do think it helps with self-selection of one’s social circle. If someone thinks I’m not an interesting person worthy of getting to know because I go to work and then go hang out with my family then they’re probably not the friend for me. The folk who recognize that a lack of “hobbies” or “fun interests” doesn’t necessarily mean a person can’t still be interesting to know are the ones who stay in my life.

      8. essEss*

        I knit and sew and embroider and quilt and various other textile skills during most of my free time. But as a middle-aged woman in a tech field, I’m NOT going to bring those up to an interviewer because that will pigeonhole me into a domestic housewife/grandmother image instead of a professional one.

    4. Solo*

      Honestly I disagree that “I like to read and watch movies” isn’t a good conversation opener. “Read any good books lately?” or “Watched any good movies lately?” has led me to some of my most rewarding conversations and connections.

      1. Elizabeth*

        I think the difference, though, is that your question gives someone an opportunity to give a really specific answer, whereas “I like to read and watch movies” is the interviewee offering up something generic from the get go. Sure, the interviewer could press for more details, but I’m not sure I would if I were the one doing the interviewing.

        [This whole thread kinda reminds me of how much online dating can be like job hunting. So many people just list really generic, non-specific stuff in their profiles and it’s like “Can you give me something, anything to grab onto here, please!” Saying you love 1950s monster movies gives me a much better idea and something to hook onto if I want to message you than than “Oh, I like movies.”]

      2. CarrieT*

        It’s got to be more specific, though. “I’m on a quest to watch all the Best Picture films” or “I’m on a big dystopian novel kick right now”.

    5. Maude Lebowski*

      OP here [Can’t fig out if I reply to the top comment or the bottom one in this thread… we’ll see where this lands!] Ya, I have tried replying with cooking a few times… it stands out in my mind because every time all I got in response was blank stares and, like, tumbleweeds moving through the room. Zero response, which I thought was weird, so I need something meatier har har. Although my cooking is part of a careful (read: anal) orchestration of a thorough grocery list development process, meaning I only have to go to the groc store once a week, so maybe that’s what I could be impressing on them (excellent org skills), rendering me even _less_ human and approachable than I already came across as /overthinking.

      1. EditorInChief*

        Try being more specific. Is there a specific style of cooking or regional cuisine you’re working on perfecting?

      2. Anlyn*

        Interviewer: “What’s one of your hobbies?”

        You: “I enjoy cooking. I sometimes attempt exotic dishes and occasionally make up my own recipes.”

        Or whatever it is you actually do when you cook.

        1. Anna*

          “I enjoy cooking. I sometimes forget I put something in the oven and it crisps up a little too much. I’ve learned to like the taste of carbon.” ;)

        2. Brandy*

          Follow up with how I once charred a pizza box into ash and almost burned the house down. And Im a decent cook. But a lazy one as well.

          1. AndersonDarling*

            I once burnt a pan of rice crispy treat. It’s hard to do when you don’t “cook” anything in the recipe, but it happened. It is a great story and gets the conversation going.

        1. Maude Lebowski*

          Socially awkward lady hears you… but eg even if I can be more specific I tend to go overboard, way past the realm of small talk (e.g movies – I like Japanese movies of the 1950s for example. That’s another tumbleweed starter right there).

          1. paul*

            “I enjoy enthusiastic arguments about Burbrink’s butchering of Lampropeltis taxonomy based on limited mitochondrial DNA samples.”

            I hear ya :/

          2. ket*

            I think that’s an ok thing to say, though! “I’m on a 1950s japanese movie kick right now…”

          3. Natalie*

            If you’re not good at hitting the balance on the fly, there’s nothing wrong with coming up with one or two lines at home and just trotting it out whenever you need to. It’s okay if the hobby you mention isn’t the most current interest of yours or if you’re only mentioning one hobby among several.

          4. Nita*

            Maybe you’re interviewing with the wrong people! I can’t imagine hearing that in an interview, and not asking at least which movies, and what you find fascinating about them. But, if you say something and get blank stares, maybe try to get the conversation back on track by asking them something. “I’ve been watching a lot of Japanese movies… have you ever seen the original Godzilla?”

          5. Temperance*

            “I’m really passionate about cooking, and I’ve been into X lately, but I also have done Y and Z”
            “I’m a big movie buff, and I’ve been currently getting more into Kurosawa and other Japanese directors from X period”

            You’re starting a conversation and giving them the ability to ask follow up questions.

            1. TardyTardis*

              “I like the correlation between some classic Japanese films and the Clint Eastwood Western versions of them. And the fighting scenes in “The Hidden Fortress”. Plus, I enjoyed the joke in the episode where The Simpsons went to Japan, and Homer said, “I don’t remember it that way.” (relates to Rashomon/The Unforgiven).

          6. sap*

            I think when most interviewers ask this question they’re really looking to see whether you’re easy to talk to. Since it sounds like you both tend to ramble into the weeds if you try to give too much detail about cooking or get boring blank stares if you give the simple “cooking” answer, this is probably one where you want to say 1-2 sentences and then ask the interviewers a question about themselves and their hobbies/eating habits/favorite foods/quality of their gas range.

            Food is also a good one because it can redirect the conversation back to The Job if you don’t want to be talking about your personal life.

            Like, “I do a lot of cooking! I’ve been making a lot of curries lately, which sounds impressive but is actually pretty straight forward. Plus, it’s great as leftovers for lunch the next day–though I noticed that there’s a cafe in this office. Do you like the food they serve?” Or “what do people here usually do for lunch” or “I noticed that the office smells of fish, do people microwave fish here EVERY day?”

      3. a-no*

        I always go with “I spend a lot of time cooking, I recently finally perfected my ‘X’ recipe”. My ‘X’ is usually my jambalaya recipe that I did spend time altering to perfection – I just always fail to mention I perfected it a few years ago. I’ve always gotten pretty positive reactions to adding a specific recipe as my interviewers often get the image of hobby chef instead of survival cooking.
        I’m a fairly adventurous cook and do get enjoyment out of cooking but I am not a hobby chef, we’ve eaten many a back up pizza as my experiment turned out inedible but my interviewers don’t need to know that :)

        1. Snark*

          When we were dating, early on, I made a dinner for my now-wife that was utterly inedible – chicken in Chinese black bean sauce, but I used the wrong sauce, and it ended up being chicken coated in this pebbly, fermented, astonishingly salty slurry of goo. And she gave me a kiss, slapped my ass, and said, “We can always order a pizza. Keep cooking weird stuff for me.”

          And so I did. D’awww.

          1. Symplicite*

            I <3 this so much.

            Creativity and a zany brain. It's one of the things that drew me to my guy, his creativity.

          2. TardyTardis*

            Reminds me of when I was in the SCA and tried out some medieval meat pies–the family still ate them, it was food, but it was pretty clear that it was not their favorite style of food.

  4. SarcasticFringehead*

    Granted, I haven’t done much interviewing, but the reasoning behind the consultant’s advice is bizarre. You could just as easily say “don’t mention your parents, because an interviewer might have a poor relationship with theirs” or “don’t talk about your pets, because someone’s might have died recently” or “don’t mention traveling, in case one of them could be afraid of flying.”

    I almost wonder if she heard the advice about not mentioning kids, didn’t understand the reason behind it, and made up her own. Or she’s had some trouble of her own & is projecting.

    1. Squeeble*

      Right–if that’s the rule, you basically can’t talk about anything. “Don’t mention you live in a house, as theirs might have burned down, you never know.”

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I felt like saying not to mention kids because it may relate to the interviewer’s personal conception situation was a way for the consultant to NOT say don’t mention your kids because some companies are not parent-friendly.

  5. Student*

    Your goal in answering that question is to be relatable and likeable. So cherry-pick things you do to talk about based on that goal.

    If your industry tends towards being nerdy, talk up the sci-fi you are reading/watching. If your industry tends toward being cultured, talk up the highbrow stuff you’re doing. If you have a lot of parent-age people on your hiring committee, and they signal they like talking about their kids, then talk about especially interesting or unusual things you do with your kids. Play the odds and go with things that are broadly interesting rather than things that are very unique but hard to relate to.

    Whatever hobby you pick, don’t go on about it at length, and try to draw hiring committee members out a bit with it by engaging with them.

    1. seejay*

      And “relatable” and “likeable” are key here. While my hobbies include movies and reading, those include horror movies and books on serial killers and forensics. I keep those specific details out of conversations unless I’m in a safe environment to discuss them since people generally look at me weirdly if I mention them. Safe movies are things like “Lord of the Rings” and books like Terry Pratchett.

      1. Jason Ogg*

        I think that what’s “safe” is very context-dependent. I was once asked to name my favourite author in an interview, said Pterry because it’s the truth, and was told that didn’t count because he “only writes fantasy”. So, yeah :/

        1. seejay*

          That… says a lot more about them than about you if anything. :|

          Pratchett is totally a safe author to talk about since he hasn’t done anything offensive or risky. While some people might consider fantasy more “childish”, given the popularity of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, that’s much lower than it used to be. Horror, on the other hand, still carries a stigma risk, so one would have to tread carefully, even if mentioning a more popular author like Stephen King.

          Either way, you can’t please everyone all the time so if someone wants to get a bug up their butt about the whimsiness of Sir Terry, they can get stuffed IMO.

          1. Jason Ogg*

            Well, yes, but that’s true of any answer and response in this scenario!

            Sorry, I simply do not agree. In my experience, Sir Terry is not a “safe” author to talk about, and fantasy is no better received than horror. Harry Potter’s very popularity makes people likelier to see it as childish, and LOTR is definitely stigmatised as “for geeks”. People are judgemental about genre fiction in general, and such answers always risk disapproval, sadly.

            I agree with your final line, but I think it should be applied to any answer.

      2. essEss*

        Oh… that’s true. I forgot many years ago I was really into playing warcraft and at my interview (at a computer programming startup company) they asked the hobby question. I blurted out that I’d been playing world of warcraft, evoking an immediate yell of “FOR THE HORDE!!” along with the obligatory hand salute from my interviewer. LOL

        1. essEss*

          Oh… that’s true. I forgot many years ago I was really into playing warcraft and at my interview (at a computer programming startup company) they asked the hobby question. I blurted out that I’d been playing world of warcraft, evoking an immediate yell of “FOR THE HORDE!!” along with the obligatory hand salute from my interviewer. LOL

    2. Marillenbaum*

      This is a really smart response. At my last job, I was expected to fit in more with the outgoing, collegial vibe at the office. While I was about ten years younger than most of my coworkers and neither married nor a pet owner (the big topics of conversation), I had my own things that I would bring up: I’d talk coffee with my boss, or the struggles of that day’s NYT crossword puzzle with the head of Northeast Recruiting, etc. It was still me, but it was more explicitly tailored than, say, bringing up how I’ve been binging the newest season of Real Housewives of Atlanta.

    3. Anon.*

      Exactly. My hobby/passion (Olympic weightlifting) is a bit obscure and pretty odd for an older woman. I don’t want to have to go into a big explanation. I just say I through heavy barbells around and leave the rest to their imagination. Then I jokingly ask if they need any heavy boxes moved…?

    4. Former Hoosier*

      But just don’t make stuff up because that can be found out sometimes and then creates an extremely bad impression. Don’t mention Japanese movies from the 1950s if you just watched half an episode of Yu Gi Oh five years ago.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah, I think it has to be something you could handle a few casual follow-up questions on. If you say “reading,” at least be able to name a book or two you’ve enjoyed – if you say “movies” have one in mind that you watched recently. Don’t make up something out of whole cloth.

      2. Maude Lebowski*

        Hahah – totes. There’s, like, everything I don’t know about current pop culture, but I did pretty much geek out on 1950s Japanese movies, so I’m in the clear on this at least :)

    1. Aleta*

      Aaaaaand Evil HR Lady is now on my “downtime at work” list.

      (don’t worry, I’m a receptionist and have explicit permission to do SFW goofing off on the computer during downtime)

  6. Coffee Cup*

    Oh wow. What’s next, don’t go out with your children because people in the street might have trouble conceiving?

  7. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

    *looks at my piles of grading and research* …what is this outside of work you speak of?

  8. senatormeathooks*

    I view any and all “hobby” questions as just a general inquiry on how I spend my free time, and I try to frame it as constructively as possible. I love cats, and I spend a lot of time reading about them, but I also do a little bit of volunteering at a local cat rescue group. Reading is fine to also mention as a ‘hobby’. I’ve also mentioned gaming, because I do enjoy it – but it’s online gaming and I frame it as a ‘group leadership activity’ (which it is, lol).

    1. Alienor*

      I have three cats and love them dearly, but I’d be afraid to mention them in an interview because of the “middle-aged cat lady” stereotype. I don’t know why dogs are socially acceptable and cats aren’t, but I’ve found it shuts even non-interview conversations down in a weird way when people ask if I have a dog and I say “No, but I have cats.” Though a little bit less when I say “My daughter and I have cats,” I guess because the existence of offspring in my life somehow “proves” that I’m not a weirdo who knits sweaters out of her cats’ fur (but give me a few years!)

        1. a different Vicki*

          Are those balls safe as cat toys? Part of why I brush my long-haired cat is so she won’t get too many hairballs, and I’d worry that one or both cats would swallow balls of cat hair.

          I didn’t send a photo of Molly (said longhair) lying on my desk last week, because the monitor display was a crossword puzzle, so not exactly “cat at work.”


        2. TardyTardis*

          I had an orange longhair whose fur went into yarn form really, really easily. I could have knit myself a new cat (stole this phrase from someone else, but I like it).

      1. SenatorMeathooks*

        Yes, I understand what you mean! But hey the interviewer asked *you*, not the other way around, although you certainly could. Nothing brings more positive feelings to the surface than if you can tease out someone’s relationship with their pet. I’ve had almost whole interviews centered around that topic, because one of my personal hobbies is to see how far I can guide a conversation.

  9. Ani are you okay*

    I think part of the reason TV is an odd thing to mention is that it is so common. It’s a sufficiently ubiquitous activity that you might as well say you like to eat food and check your email as hobbies.

    1. Odyssea*

      I agree, just saying “watching TV” is pretty uninformative. I do think it can be acceptable if it’s specific – British costume dramas or Scandinavian crime shows come off as more interesting and less channel-surfing.

    2. Archives Gremlin*

      I agree, but if you do say it, say “Oh I like TV, one of my favorite shows right now x”

    3. LBK*

      Agreed – I think if you’re going to give that as a hobby, you need to be more specific about it to differentiate yourself from a casual TV viewer who maybe has a show or two they like but for the most part just leaves it on as background noise. I list TV among my hobbies, but by that I mean I’m actively watching every episode of 10+ series at any given time, I’m constantly looking for new shows to watch when I finish other shows, and I’m passionate about what I watch – I can talk for literally hours about Game of Thrones or BoJack Horseman or Battlestar Galactica.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        But don’t be too passionate!! The whole reason they’re asking you a softball question is to see what kind of person you’d be like to work with. If you go on too long or too excitedly about something (especially if your interviewer has no recognition on their face) you’ll come across badly.

        1. LBK*

          I think it depends on the job – I’m in data analysis, passionate nerdiness kinda comes with the territory. We appreciate people who get passionate about their nerd stuff since we’re all the same way.

          1. SenatorMeathooks*

            Agreed! If someone asks me what my favorite sci-fi franchise is, it will go something like,”Now let’s discuss the relative merits of the Treaty of Algernon in context of Federation interests…”

  10. Bend & Snap*

    I think the bias still exists. I was specifically called and invited to apply for a role by the hiring manager, during that conversation mentioned my role as a single parent and never heard from the company again.

    When in doubt I think it’s better not to mention kids.

    1. Observer*

      There is only so much you can do about that, though. And in any case, not mentioning your kids to avoid potential hiring bias is much different than worrying about someone who might be having trouble having kids. Obviously it’s never a good idea to go on and one and…. about your kids. But treating it as some sort of deep dark secret because someone MIGHT be having issues that you could have no way to know about is ridiculous and has no end.

    2. Lil Fidget*

      I actually agree that you don’t necessarily want to lead with kids, but the REASON this consultant gave was definitely odd. I wondered if s/he was thinking that it might lead to discrimination but didn’t want to say that directly.

    3. Merci Dee*

      See, I would have a different outlook on that situation. If I mentioned to a hiring manager that I was a single parent and never heard back from the company again, I would be inclined to wish them good riddance. I totally realize that everyone has to set their own priorities, and that the calculus for that is different with every person, but I decided a long time ago that my role as a single parent means for me that my daughter comes before any job. Of course I want to be the best employee that I can, be diligent and thorough with my work, and be the kind of worker that management and colleagues feel that they can rely on. I’m happy that I’ve managed to achieve that in my current position. But my managers also know that if my kid is sick or has some other kind of emergency, it’s not even a question — I’m there for her first, and I’ll catch up with my bosses once everything is in hand to give them an update about when I expect to be back at work, etc. If a workplace can’t give me the flexibility as a parent to deal with occasional family matters, then it’s not a place that I want to consider working.

  11. Odyssea*

    Most interviewers who ask this question don’t have an ulterior motive. For me, it’s a nice way to consider a candidate as a human being instead of just a work robot. Obviously, your work persona is most important, but it helps to personalize you.

    Of course, in academia, we might be asking to figure out what committee you could be asked to be on or what student club or activity you could sponsor. Nothing that would count against anyone, but a nice way to sell us to the candidate – “oh, you like tabletop gaming? We have a club for that!” or “we do an annual film festival – you might want to be on the committee since you enjoy films.” Something to let the candidate know that they are appreciated for more than just their work output.

      1. Anonymous 5*

        It is nice, to a point. But as someone in academia who is also pretty ruthlessly committed to protecting my recreational life from being appropriated by my professional life, I have zero hesitations (and had zero even when I was pre-tenure) about saying that yes, I do xyz things in my free time, but no, I would not be willing to bring those into my professional responsibilities. Don’t know whether I would have had the guts to be that explicit in my interview, although I think I could have finessed that to say that the school has more than plenty of opportunities for me to fulfill my college service (which is true) without violating the boundary between my work and my extracurriculars.

  12. Strawmeatloaf*

    Will definitely be taking the advice of Allison from this question.

    I really don’t like “what do you do outside of work?” because I always feel like you have to give some social answer like “I play soccer on a casual team” or something, when mine is “I’m an introvert and just want to get home and nap and play a ton of video games and question what I’m doing with my life.”

    1. aebhel*

      Same. Nearly all of my hobbies are solitary; I have a job dealing with the public, as well as two small children, so time to myself is extremely precious.

      And yeah, I usually spend it reading scifi and writing fanfiction, but still. Hobbies.

    2. Delta Delta*

      Also firmly on the “I” side of the Meyers-Briggs test, and I discovered that I naturally gravitate toward hobbies/activities that I do on my own. So, I’ve learned to frame them like, “I enjoy distance running because I like to train for a big race – it’s a great goal to work toward!” Truth is, I like to run because I can either do it by myself (most of the time) or with other people. But I can frame it in terms of having a goal. I’ve got a few other activities like this that I enjoy that I’ve figured out how to describe in non-introvert terms.

    3. Lil Fidget*

      Haha, I feel ya, but I wouldn’t want to suggest this about myself in an interview! That sounds like someone that mysteriously won’t get picked for the team.

    4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Hah, true. I’m active in my MMO guild, but lol, definitely not bringing that up.

    5. AvonLady Barksdale*

      And not all social activities are given equal weight! I’m a choral singer, and a pretty serious one at that. It’s a very team-oriented activity. Very social. A lot of room for leadership and other useful skills. It makes me a conscientious collaborator. But I get the blank stares because it’s not soccer or kickball. Which means that I often want to tell them about my other hobbies, but they’re all pretty solitary and I like it that way (I’m working on my bread-baking skills and I like to ferment things).

      1. Lil Fidget*

        That’s odd, I would have thought “I’m in a community choir” would be a great answer to this question. Maybe you just interviewed with jerks.

      2. CheeryO*

        You would fit in perfectly at my office! The sporty types are more likely to get blank stares around here.

      3. please*

        “But I get the blank stares because it’s not soccer or kickball”

        How do you know this? Have you answered kickball and gotten better responses?

      1. A Non E. Mouse*

        when mine is “I’m an introvert and just want to get home and nap and play a ton of video games and question what I’m doing with my life.”

        “I love to watch Ancient Aliens and try to guess the ‘First aired on’ date by the current height of that one guy’s hair.”

      2. boo*

        Ha! But I think it have the same problem as saying you like watching TV-isn’t everyone spending decades in the throes of existential crisis? Just me? Okay, then!

        Actually though, I have wondered about this lately, which is why I’m commenting on yesterday’s thread. For me it comes up socially more than work-wise, anyway. I used to have a hobby I was really invested in, that had the advantage of making me sound smart but also no one wanted me to talk about it at length. Now, the hobby is my job, which I love, but basically the “interests outside of work” slot is empty now. Also I don’t know what do do when I run out of work.

        I should take up some kind of hobby.

    6. Alienor*

      Yeah, I feel like where I live (West Coast) the acceptable answers all skew toward outdoor/physical activities like hiking and rock climbing and camping, or at least something sports-involved like following a particular pro team. I like going to the beach, but to sit with a book and listen to the waves, not to do sand sprints in preparation for my next triathlon. :-P

  13. Mary Dempster*

    I understand being sensitive to certain things when answering this question, but this is weird. I’m a big hunter, and that’s what I generally do in my off time, especially during seasons, or practicing with my bow during off seasons, but I generally re-frame is as “hiking” and a “love for the outdoors” until I get to know someone better. Re frame maybe, but yeah, this reasoning is bizarre.

    1. NW Mossy*

      Oh, you’re reminding me of a former direct of mine who was an avid hunter/fisherman. To me it’s no big thing because I grew up in an area where deer hunting is so common that schools are often half-empty on the first day of the season. However, we work in an area where there are a lot of people with a very strong negative view of hunting, so he definitely downplayed it until he was sure that I wasn’t going to start handing him leaflets implying that he’s a horrible monster.

  14. Blue Anne*

    I have a related question, if it’s not too much of a derailment… my honest answer would now be “Doing small repairs in my dozen rental properties.” I do all my repairs myself because I love working with my hands, it’s a hobby in addition to saving me money. Running a successful small business is definitely giving me a ton of skills, and I have a part-time assistant who attends inspections etc during the day, so it doesn’t affect my job much. Just sometimes texting my assistant, running out to the bank at lunch, etc.

    But when my current boss found out how many I’ve acquired he said “That’s a full time job!” Which made me realize that a lot of employers would see this as something that could majorly mess with my work.

    Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Does it depend on the interviewer?

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      I guess I would be somewhat concerned about this, but possibly only because I had a former colleague who had the “making numerous property-manager-related calls on work time” problem among his list of issues. He didn’t make it to 90 days but that was only a minor portion of the reason why.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Personal opinion, but I think unless property management has provided you with some sort of crossover skill to the job, I wouldn’t mention it or I would seriously downplay it. There is someone that sits near me that is apparently doing some sort of house rehab, and he is on the phone about that probably more than he thinks he is. It is an interesting piece of conversation, but it’s also a well-known F/T career-escape plan (fantasy?) for a lot of people.

      1. Blue Anne*

        Well, I mean, part of the reason I’m wondering about it is that it has provided me a ton of crossover skills. I’m installing handrails and smoke detectors, but I’m also getting backing from out of state investors and commercial financing, doing all the property accounting, managing an employee, etc.

    3. SarcasticFringehead*

      I would maybe reframe it so you emphasize that you have an assistant who takes care of most things, but that you like to take care of repairs when you have time – otherwise, I’d be concerned that you might be distracted by tenant issues/emergencies during the work day.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Yeah, this. I’d keep it to “home improvement as a hobby!” without getting into how much you’re doing it or how many homes you’re improving.

        1. Blue Anne*

          This makes a lot of sense, thank you! I’m sure I can talk about how satisfying it is to replace a bathroom sink myself without saying I’m doing one for a tenant tonight.

    4. Maude Lebowski*

      Just don’t mention it as a business? Leave it as, “Doing small repairs around the house and for friends – you know, always tinkering!”? (Which i think is actually a lovely hobby and I could well stand to learn how to take care of stuff)

      1. Rebecca in Dallas*

        “Tinkering” yes! That’s one of my husband’s favorite hobbies (he’s an engineer in his day job, so he’s kind of always tinkering I guess). He prides himself on being a guy who can fix or build anything. I think that’s a great skill to have!

    5. Anonymous for now*

      When I was helping out a theatre company in my spare time, I ended up not mentioning it in interviews because many people seemed to overlook the “volunteer” part and see it as an actual job, especially when I would say that I had planned to keep doing it. It had turned from a hobby into a job at that point. I only started getting more interviews after I stopped mentioning this “hobby.”

    6. EditorInChief*

      I would downplay it because of the number of rental properties. In addition to the manual labor required for upkeep there is also the administrative aspect of it and with a dozen rentals I would assume you’re going to be using some of my work day on your side business, and I would be less likely to hire you.

  15. Millennial Lawyer*

    My problem always was that my extra curricular group activities usually involve politics (think “Young X” groups and volunteering for organizations or candidates), and I’ve had to magically think of something else to stay instead that wasn’t completely boring.

    It was problem enough I had jobs working for specific candidates and a publication that implied a political position – I had to confront one interviewer who wouldn’t stop talking about how much he despised my state’s governor and then said “what’s *your* opinion on him?” and another interviewer who crinkled his nose and said “I don’t understand why people want to make it easy to vote.”

    1. Strawmeatloaf*

      “I don’t understand why people want to make it easy to vote.”

      And I don’t understand why people think this when in other countries you are required to vote (and I believe they give you the day off to do so), why is it so hard to vote here, in the U.S. (presumably) when it’s our rights as citizens to be able to vote? Why is it so bad for people to be able to vote? My head hurts!

  16. Annie Moose*

    My problem is that I have really weird hobbies (my hobby is inventing fictional languages and cultures, okay? It’s not very common and people either think you’re really weird when you mention it, or want to ask a billion questions!), so I have “normal hobbies” in my back pocket to whip out when people ask. I usually go with liking reading and camping/hiking, which are true, but not how I’d truly characterize myself.

    Anyway, my point is that if you have a hobby that you won’t/can’t/don’t want to mention for some reason, you’ve just got to think about it ahead of time and prepare something. I agree with others that interviewers (or anyone else you meet who asks a similar question) aren’t trying to do some deep psychological analysis of you, so it’s fine to say something casual/a bit generic if you don’t want to get into details.

    1. Snark*

      “My problem is that I have really weird hobbies (my hobby is inventing fictional languages and cultures, okay? It’s not very common and people either think you’re really weird when you mention it, or want to ask a billion questions!”

      I have a billion questions and think you’re rad, but I’ll limit myself. Do you watch The Expanse? They actually had a linguist consult on the creole language spoken by the Belters, the culture that arose when the Asteroid Belt was colonized and promptly turned into the Sub-Saharan Africa of the solar system. It’s fascinating.

      1. Annie Moose*

        I don’t watch it, but I’m willing to bet the consultant was David Peterson. (the guy who did Dothraki for Game of Thrones)

        *swiftly googles*

        …huh. Hollywood figured out there’s a conlanger other than Peterson in the world? I’m shocked. :P

        Seriously, though, I am extremely excited every time I hear about another TV show, movie, or game that involves a constructed language, because it means my hobby is that much closer to the mainstream!

      2. SarahKay*

        I didn’t realise that The Expanse had become a TV show, but a couple of years ago Amazon recommended the book “Caliban’s War”, which I misread as being ‘The second book in the Expense series’. My accountant’s heart was delighted and fascinated by the concept of some sort of Sci-Fi crossed with accounting, and then deeply disappointed when I reread it properly as Expanse :(

        1. Snark*

          I got into the books first, but the show is super fun and really well done – I totally recommend it. Sadly, no Accounts Receivable droids, but.

        2. General Ginger*

          There isn’t any accounting going on in the actual plot of the Vorkosigan saga, but the space nobility on a particular planet are called Counts, short for accountants.

    2. Blue Anne*

      I get that.

      When I worked in audit in the Big 4, I had one massive spreadsheet that wasn’t for work. It was tracking a bunch of stats about the populations of 10 magical races over millenia of wars, famines, times of magic caused on the mana concentration created by various races, etc. It looked like work and no one knew I was actually just sitting there being a nerd because I was too burnt out on actual workpapers.

      1. Anlyn*

        When I first started working at my job, I made a kick-ass spreadsheet of all the training courses they offered that I wanted to do or looked interesting. I spent a lot of time on it between tasks–creating it and formatting it was relaxing, in a way. Sadly, just as I was finishing it, they changed the training program and almost all of the courses no longer existed!

      2. Coalea*

        I wonder if “creating and maintaining spreadsheets” can be considered a hobby. If so, it’s definitely one of mine!

    3. The Grammarian*

      I actually know someone who makes up new languages (or she did in the past, anyway) and I think it’s super cool! I’m pretty nerdy, though.

      I think mentioning a slightly unusual, but non-titillating hobby is better, actually, because it engenders more discussion in the form of questions. My hobby is sewing garments, which is just unusual enough that people ask me about it. I think it also demonstrates my facility in following technical processes, interpreting technical illustrations, and learning specialized terminology (totally relevant to my career as a technical writer).

  17. Delta Delta*

    I don’t have kids, but I’ve been party to interviews with people who have kids. I have never been put off by someone saying “I like to spend time with my family” in response to a question about outside interests. Maybe that means kids, maybe that means other relatives.

    I also had someone once say she really liked pro-wrestling (you never would have guessed by her presentation that she was into this) and she got really animated about what she liked about it. It’s not my jam, but I liked the fact she had a thing and she was interested in it. She ended up not getting hired for other reasons, but I really liked her for this answer.

    1. trilusion*

      That’s a good point: in one interview I asked the candidate about their hobbies, because they didn’t seem to be interested in anything, almost indifferent. I thought they were nervous and I was looking for passion – any passion! The person ended up saying “I dunno”.

    2. NW Mossy*

      I have a dear friend who’s a highly respected attorney, and she also happens to be the biggest NASCAR fan you’ll ever meet. She does not fit the popular image of NASCAR’s demographic, which is part of what makes it so appealing listening to her discuss a recent race or her favorite drivers.

  18. Maria*

    I think mentioning kids-related activities without explicitly saying you’re doing them with your kid is the way to go. The local festival activity is a good example, as is spending time outdoors (even if it’s just the playground).

    But I get you, I have a two-year old that I spent most of my time outside of work with. We attend a music class, I play the guitar to him and we sing a lot, so I have mentioned my interest in music and playing an instrument as a hobby in interviews.

    I’m also in charge for social media communications of my regional professional association, which is an activity that takes a few hours a week (looking for/preparing content, scheduling posts) and looks good on a resume – and I’m really just surfing the web for content that interests me anyways, so that’s a win-win for me. Maybe you could find something similar?

    1. Maude Lebowski*

      Ya, that’s what I got to thinking after I sent the question [OP here] … e.g. saying I like to spend my weekends wandering the city and going to festivals and just not mentioning him. And you’re right – I need to find a quasi volunteery-hobbyish thing that I can use to fill in that blank when asked.

  19. RabbitRabbit*

    I had a really weird interview in which the interviewer went down a pre-set list of over a dozen questions, and about a half-dozen were rewordings of this question. What do you do for fun, what do you do to relax, what are your hobbies, and a few other variants. I couldn’t figure it out at the time but maybe it was a “do you have kids” screener. I was literally running out of ways to come up with answers.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        It did for me too, and I don’t even have kids. I was thinking “these are all synonyms, right? They’re the same? Why the emphasis on leisure? Is it better if I think of more or if I run out?”

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            Hah, no! Very much the opposite. More in the tea regulatory and testing end of the spectrum.

  20. govt_drone*

    I’m pretty sure this question is what landed me my current job. Basically all of my spare time is dedicated to working with my dog – we do competitive agility. It’s an unusual and very niche hobby (given that my day job has nothing at all to do with animals), and is usually a big attention grabber.

    That said, I think I require about as much flexibility as someone who has a young child – I never stay late because I have to walk/train my dog. I flex my hours so I work 1 half day per week so that I can work with my trainer 90 minutes away. I have had to take PTO to deal with dog-related issues. The list goes on.

  21. Tendell*

    I wonder if mentioning target shooting would turn an interviewer off? I’ve been getting into shooting as a hobby–you get to make EXPLOSIONS with your HANDS, and it speaks to my inner 10-year-old in a major way–but I don’t know if I’d want to say that to anybody in a professional capacity.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      You’ve got to know your culture and interviewer. My state, industry, and company culture are all fairly pro-firearm. There used to be a group of coworkers who formed a skeet shooting club, and sometimes client entertainment is a hunt. But, the first person I worked for here was very left-wing. I don’t think she would have not hired you for saying that was your hobby, but it wouldn’t give you a boost, either. I also think your dedication to the hobby matters. If you’re a lifelong hunter and NRA activist, then mention it for self-screening purposes, but if you’re still casual about it, maybe not.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yep, know your audience. We have a lady here who is super into hunting and it’s been GREAT for her career – she’s always invited when the bigwigs go shooting, and gets a lot of name recognition, to the extent that I wish I had some of that pull. But, we’re an org aligned with hunting. If you were interviewing at an office that had recent workplace violence I’d guess you wouldn’t want to bring up guns. It can be a polarizing topic.

      2. Coalea*

        +1 to knowing your audience!
        I was recently in a large meeting with a bunch of colleagues and a team from our new client. As part of the introductions, we were asked to share a “fun fact” about ourselves. I thought of something right away (I have a pet bird and my current hobby is maintaining “her” Instagram page), but also thought of a backup fact in case I got the sense that my real answer wouldn’t be well received.

    2. Temperance*

      If someone brought up shooting as their first choice, I might think that the person wouldn’t be a good fit to work with me because we work with some anti-gun organizations. However, I did once hire an intern solely because she did reproductive rights work in her spare time. (You know what you’re getting into when you work with me.)

    3. Isobel*

      I’m very much in favour of gun control (I’m in the UK so have no experience with guns day to day whatsoever) but actually I have no problem with someone doing clay pigeon shooting or similar. Probably because it’s so heavily regulated here, and I see it more as a skill like archery, rather than associating it with violence. So I agree it would vary by context.

    4. TardyTardis*

      You would be hired so fast in my town it would make your head spin. We have two different gun ranges, in different parts of this county within easy driving distance, and we’re a relatively small population place.

  22. mf*

    If you’re looking for a generic answer that will make you seem relatable: everybody likes food! If you cook frequently: “I cook a lot in my free time. I like experimenting with new recipes and I really enjoy make good meals for friends and family!” If you eat out more than you cook: “I’m kind of a foodie so I love trying new restaurant and finding great local places to eat.”

  23. Kat Em*

    As someone who is having trouble conceiving, I would never in a million years punish someone professionally for having children. Most people have kids! If I didn’t like kids, I wouldn’t be trying to make onemyself! Yes, I feel sad when I hear other people’s pregnancy announcements. But I wouldn’t want people to stop telling me just because of my own personal circumstances.

    On the outside life question, I think there are some perfectly acceptable hobbies that you might not want to mention in an interview (pole dancing, gun collecting, and volunteering for X political party come to mind), but saying that you’re a movie buff seems pretty innocuous.

  24. Laura in NJ*

    “What do you do outside of work?”

    I really never know how to answer this because I’m a very private person and seriously believe that it’s none of the interviewer’s business what I do in my downtime. So how do I say answer this to the interviewer’s satisfaction and my own?

    1. NW Mossy*

      Is there something you do at work that you can stretch to after hours? For example, I’m a devoted coffee drinker and do so primarily at work, so telling people that I like to try different styles of coffee is not really telling them very much more than they’d pick up from watching me in a meeting.

    2. Ten*

      I have the same question! I always want to give the interviewer the side eye and ask what it has to do with the position I’m applying for (which would be a pretty counterproductive answer). I typically say I’m more of a dabbler and that I like to try new things. Vague but not too evasive, and spun to reflect a positive job-related trait.

      1. Millennial Lawyer*

        Sorry to butt in, but I’d think it was a really odd answer if someone said that to me – leaves me with nothing to respond with. How about creating a go-to that doesn’t have to reveal too much? Like “I love coffee/going to museums/traveling to new places.” You can have one story banked that doesn’t reveal too much.

    3. Millennial Lawyer*

      Have one activity and a related story that will be your go to. It doesn’t have to be that deep – just superficial friendliness. “I love to travel, I went to Italy recently and it was amazing.” or “I love to cook, I just tried out X recipe and it worked really well.”

    4. Lil Fidget*

      Hmm. I think the question is just intended to get a sense of what you are like as a person, so an evasive answer will rub people the wrong way. There’s no hostile intent, they’re trying to start a conversation with you. Can you think of anything you’re willing to share that won’t feel too personal to you?

      1. Laura in NJ*

        Honestly, no. What I do when I’m not at work is MY business, not the interviewer’s. I’m not there to discuss my “social life’ (or lack thereof in my case), I’m there to discuss my qualifications of the job.

        1. Millennial Lawyer*

          That’s not an attitude that would fly in a lot of work places. No one’s asking you for confidential information. People just want to know more about you since they are spending every day with you. Interviewers want to know that a candidate can get along with others.

    5. Temperance*

      I would honestly find this answer to be kind of hostile, and it would make me wonder why you’re so ashamed/secretive about your hobbies.

    6. Stormy*

      Just give an answer that is specific about a generic. That makes it both believable and not too revealing.

      So, you’re not into cooking, you like to perfect international desserts. You don’t watch movies, you enjoy historical biopics. Et cetera.

    7. sap*

      I’m with you, I hate answering this question too because most of what I do in my down time is health-related or completely out-of-step with my industry culture. I don’t think it’s really a question anyone should be asking in a *job interview,* because for some people an honest answer would reveal something that exposes them to (illegal) discrimination, or would just be a really inappropriate topic for work, so instead they have to say something that’s, at best, truth-adjacent. And everyone here–even Allison!–seems to agree that giving a somewhat fabricated answer to “tell me about your hobbies” is acceptable in a way that wouldn’t be acceptable to other interview questions. If a candidate is asked “tell me about what you’ve been working on,” and the candidate replies with a project they completed 5 years ago (and implies they’re working on it currently), most people would agree that candidate is being dishonest and shouldn’t be hired, but it’s fine for a candidate to say their hobby is rock climbing even if they haven’t touched a carabiner in years. So clearly the content of the answer isn’t actually important to interviewers–if it were, it wouldn’t be okay to answer with half-truths. There’s something that’s just *off* about having a section of the interview where lying is okay.

      But beyond it being kindof slimy, I think this question can contribute to an unfair interview process. I think it’s easier for most people to be “personable” and “at ease” when they don’t need to conceal something, and I think it’s unfair to use a question where an irrelevant variable (whether the candidate actually participates in work-appropriate hobby) will have a large impact on performance (whether the candidate seems at ease when describing a work-appropriate hobby). I think it’s *particularly* unreasonable that classes of people who are already subjected to a lot of prejudice make up the majority of candidates who can’t answer this question honestly, especially since many of them had no control over their membership in a disfavored class (such as those who are ill/with ill family members).

      That said, it’s a pretty standard interview question and I don’t think you really can give an answer to the effect of “my private life is private and I don’t want to answer the question.” If I heard a candidate give that answer, I probably wouldn’t hire them–that answer would strike me as being out of touch with workplace norms and would suggest that the candidate didn’t have good judgment when deciding whether to use a direct or indirect approach to workplace conflict.

      It’s good to be direct in lots of situations, but I don’t think this is one of them. This is a question that it’s pretty easy to deflect with one sentence answers and a follow-up question to the interviewer (at least with a reasonable interviewer). It’s also considered a standard interview question, so interviewers who ask it aren’t doing anything a reasonable person knows is inappropriate (even if I think the consensus on that should change). And while *I personally* don’t think it’s rude to go straight to setting a direct boundary whether or not someone is behaving inappropriately, lots of people think setting direct boundaries is rude (or implies wrongdoing by the listener).

      So even though I would be fine with the sentiment behind “I don’t want to discuss my personal life,” I wouldn’t really be okay with hearing it, in any form, from a job candidate. There are lots of ways to avoid answering this question that aren’t widely seen as rude, and I don’t want to work with someone who picks the rudest option among several effective responses.

  25. Data Lady*

    I have regular hobbies (knitting, fitness) that I’m sometimes uneasy mentioning because I’m either not always able to make time for them or I don’t make significantly visible progress. For instance, I like to knit, but I don’t produce a lot of finished objects; likewise, I’m at the gym all the time, but my body is only changing slowly.

    In a work setting, I’m wary of my hobby progress contributing to a perception that I’m undisciplined or something. Being single and childless also seems to make people assume I have oodles of free time, so I’m wondering if that plays into however people percieve my engagement with my hobbies… Does anyone else have similar worries?

    1. Willis*

      I tend to have a lot of hobbies but not be very good at or super disciplined about any of them, so I hear ya on this. But, I don’t think most people at work really care that much. If asked, I’d probably just say that they’re things I do for enjoyment/entertainment/to relax and they’re not things I have particular goals for.

    2. CheeryO*

      I feel ya, but I think you’re overestimating how much attention people pay to others! People know I knit, but it’s not like they expect a knitting report every week. If someone compliments me on a scarf or something, I might mention that I made it, and 9/10 times they’ll go, “Oh yeah, I forgot that you knit! Cool!” and that’s that.

      And as far as fitness goes, anyone who is judging the speed of your progress is a total asshat. I’m not sure if you’re referring to weight loss or muscle gain or both, but I think most people understand that progress can be slow for any of a number of reasons and just want the best for you and your health.

  26. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    Depending on the day, my answer might be: “Cross stitch because sometimes I need to stab something nine thousand times.”

    In all honesty, my answer usually revolves around travel. My best friend and I go on a road trip every summer. I can usually direct it towards a number of things – picking up new recipes (I like to cook), learning about the area (I love learning and history), getting out and exploring, etc. I also legitimately get excited and will talk anyone’s ear off about it so even though I’m naturally reserved it allows some of my personality to come bubbling to the surface.

    1. Snark*

      “Cross stitch because sometimes I need to stab something nine thousand times”

      I would hire you on the spot.

        1. Snark*

          I know someone who needlepointed this elaborate, flowery, grandma-style panel that reads “F*ck you you f*cking f*ck” in gothic script.

          Also, I think “Sometimes spending a few hours lovingly stitching the word f*ck is more soothing to the soul than a bottle of wine for dinner” is possibly the funniest thing I’ve read in weeks and I will cherish it always.

          1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

            That’s (almost) exactly what I do. I love it! Because it looks all sweet and charming. Until you read it, that is. I love watching people’s faces: “Awww……………..ooooooohhhhhhh.”

            And, thank you! I consider it an achievement when I can make other people laugh. (Especially on this site – happy to return the favor!)

  27. Tuesday Next*

    I actually think the why is more interesting than the what.

    I used to make web sites, and my favourite hobby was pottery because I loved the contrast. I enjoyed creating physical objects that couldn’t be changed or updated if you changed your mind or made a mistake.

    My current work requires lots of interaction with people, working with technology, and defining exact solutions. In my downtime I enjoy reading and gardening. Both are solitary which allows me to recharge my batteries, and are as tech-light as you want them to be. And both require you to give up a lot of control and accept the outcome.

    So maybe consider not just what you do, but why, and what it says about you.

    1. OtterB*

      I’m the flip side of this. About 5 years ago I was in desperate need of something other than being mom or working (I’ve always liked to read, but I needed something more structured). I considered taking piano lessons – I didn’t take them as a kid, but had a few years as an adult close to 30 years ago now – but realized that going from sitting by myself at a computer keyboard at work to sitting by myself at a piano keyboard wasn’t quite the change of pace I was looking for. I ended up joining a women’s a cappella chorus, and it’s great.

    2. sin nombre*

      I worked for years as a lab technician, and I think it’s related to why I hate cooking to this day.

      Now I am a software engineer, and my big extracurricular passion is martial arts, and my training time is about the only waking hours I don’t spend staring into a screen. (I suppose that in an interview I would not bring up how sometimes I just need to punch something really hard.)

    3. Stormy*

      Related to this, I’ve seen a hobby explanation morph into an anecdote that displays additional professional knowledge or fortitude. For example: “I’m passionate about wildlife photography. If you think a ten-hour product shoot is grueling, try spending three days in the rain attempting to catch a red-tailed hawk in a dive for his dinner!”

  28. DCompliance*

    The only thing that I can possible think of is that the consultant thought you were spending too much time in the interview talking about your child or said something that could be taken the wrong way. However, if that was the case, she probably should have just said that.

    1. Maude Lebowski*

      It was actually in response to some written replies I had provided rather that at the mock interview (we hadn’t reached that stage yet)… I maybe said a sentence about having a kid and doing stuff with him.

  29. I Coulda Been a Lawyer ;)*

    Confession: he was hands down the best candidate anyway, but his hobby of researching countries and languages and then spending his vacation visiting new countries, with a goal of going everywhere on the planet at least once before retirement, made me look forward to having him as a coworker.

  30. Typhon Worker Bee*

    I’ve used “I’m making the most of this Golden Age of TV” and also “I enjoy supporting my husband’s career” (he’s a carpenter in the movie & TV industry). Not in interviews, though :)

  31. Temperance*

    I think what the consultant was getting at was that people want to know what you’re interested in. I think if you like community engagement (festival attendance, etc.), say so! You don’t necessarily have to say that your son is who you went with to the festival.

    I’m kind of weird and a super nerd, so, depending on the audience, I have said:
    1.) fan of Soccer Team
    2.) member of Young Friends of X
    3.) avid comic book reader
    4.) avid regular book reader
    5.) craft beer clubs
    6.) tabletop gamer
    7.) WoW player / video gamer
    8.) vintage video game collector
    9.) trekkie

    You definitely have interests! Just make a list.

    1. Nope*

      “You definitely have interests! Just make a list.”

      But… I don’t. I get up, I go to work, I go home and eat dinner (usually something microwaved), I stare at the TV for a few hours, I go to bed and then I do it again. At the weekends I shop for food and clean my house, catch up on sleep, and do laundry.

      Literally NONE of this is stuff that I am interested in. I am not interested in stuff! I have an anxiety disorder and depression, this is the most I can do and remain functional. There isn’t room in my brain for anything else.

      1. Us, Too*

        You can say TV is your hobby even if it’s not super interesting to you. If you watch old 90’s sitcoms every night as part of your TV ritual, then just say that. “I binge watch really terrible sitcoms in the evenings. It’s a not-so-guilty pleasure.” Personally, I don’t really have a lot of time for hobbies because I have small children. So when asked I say that I enjoy really terrible disaster films (e.g. “Waterworld”) and reading post-apocalyptic, soul-crushing fiction (e.g. “The Road”). Nevermind that the last time I actually did one of these things may have been six months ago.

        Honestly, this question is the interview equivalent to “how are you?” The answer needn’t provide significant insight into who you are, it’s just to lubricate the conversation.

  32. RB*

    I think it’s perfectly fine to make things up as long as you’re not too specific, e.g. “getting outside” could mean anything from going to the farmers markets to taking your kid to the park to going hiking.
    “Fixing up the house and yard” could mean simply getting your weekly chores done.
    “Seeing friends and family” could mean a play-date for your kid or a girls’ night out

  33. Overeducated*

    I have never been in an interview where they asked this and I’m ok with that. I can think of plenty of safe but vaguely interesting things to say, but I just always feel much more in control and professional when interviewers stick to the professional.

    1. Ally A*

      Right? I’m surprised this is as common as it seems from this comment section. I have never been asked, nor have I ever thought to ask during an interview.

  34. I heart Paul Buchman*

    My worst interview ever: the manager was off sick and they forgot to cancel my interview. When I turned up the floor manager ended up interviewing me (it was entry level in a supermarket so not big beans).
    He asked me about my hobbies and I told him that I volunteer teaching English to refugees in their homes, I have done that for 3 years and found it very satisfying. I am also studying at university in the evenings (not in any way an impediment to the supermarket job – lots of their staff are students).
    I was sitting across the desk from him but I could see what he wrote on his pad which was pre-populated with the questions. He wrote one word: “MUM”.
    It was hard to complete the interview pleasantly while seething with rage. I did get the job and for financial reasons I did have to take the job… but I didn’t have to like it.

    1. Cortical Implant*

      That really depends on what you watch and how you engage with it. Someone vegging out watching the Real Housewives probably isn’t having much of a cerebral experience, no. But someone watching a well-made, interesting and challenging show and then thinking about the issues raised, reading articles about it, engaging in discussion of the themes, questions, etc. the show evokes certainly is.

      I’ll assume you are more of the former, given your perspective here. But I assure you the latter is real.

    2. Temperance*

      I’m a huge TV fan, and I’m with you. There are some great shows, like Breaking Bad, but they’re few and far between.

    3. Brandy*

      I watch and learn a lot from tv. I love a good documentary and swear I learned more from tv then any years of school. because I like tv. I didn’t like school. I watch everything from reality tv to documentaries. There is nothing wrong with enjoying tv and people need to quit trying to act like there is.

    4. Delphine*

      I disagree. Even the most “trashy” television can be cerebral, depending on how you engage with it. As a teen I enjoyed getting into a show and doing a sort of meta-writing that was popular for the show, where viewers would analyze episodes/plots/characters as if they were analyzing literature. Would I bring that up in an interview, necessarily? Maybe not. But the work I did as a young person really helped my critical thinking skills and I had a dream of a time at college getting my literature degree.

  35. Buu*

    When interviewing for a few companies when leaving a toxic job, I got the impression they asked it to make sure I had a proper work life balance. When I got my current job it was on the merit on stuff I did outside of my last job…but then the first day my boss told me the job wasn’t my life and whilst they encourage self development taking care of myself was #1 and that from my responses he knew I also had other non work stuff going on.
    Bit floored tbh, I think it holds true though that it’s a question to see where you are in life. I’ve interviewed at some toxic places where actually having no social life was encouraged because they worked people to death.

  36. SeaSpray*

    It’s so much a matter of how you frame it. My work was solo, science-y, and bureaucratic. My hobbies, as I described them, included being a volunteer tourguide and docent at some of our town’s historical attractions, a fort and a tall ship reproduction. In a lot of ways a perfect hobby for an interview — very much the opposite of my work, social and outdoorsy, memorable, and with the history component, sort of brainy and museumy. What I didn’t mention is that when I do the tours, I’m usually dressed as a pirate or an 18th century soldier. So: cosplay! With a sword!

  37. Melissa*

    Mine would be:

    Listening to Podcasts (would list some bc they indicate I am commited to continued learning)
    Traveling Soccer Supporter

    I often wonder if mentioning you love to travel is considered a red flag for interviewers because they assume it would mean you are constantly asking for leave.

    1. Batshua*

      If you worded it to imply [truthfully] that you save up for one big trip a year, or that you’re into weekend trips locally, it might be fine?

      1. Melissa*

        I take one large (10-14 day) trip a year, and then the rest is long weekends I work around my compressed schedule.

        Maybe I’ll start throwing in “I love to travel to support my soccer teams, but thanks to the league schedules, I am always available and happy to work around Thanksgiving and Christmas!”

  38. urban teacher*

    So I do a sport that makes me sound like the Queen of England.
    Eventing which is an equestrian sport. I haven’t started interviewing yet for a nonprofit but I did tell a teaching panel that it showed that I was crazy and yet willing to try new things.

  39. einahpets*

    When I interview, I don’t highlight the fact that I am a mom to two young kids or anything, but I definitely don’t hide it either. If a question about hobbies / what I am up to outside of work comes up, it comes up. It hasn’t hindered me so far, as I’ve gotten job offers each time.

    Usually my answer starts with “oh, I am a big reader, but I have had to switch to audiobooks on my commute recently because I’m usually keeping busy out doing things with my kids on the weekend” which turns into polite questions about ages and then sometimes talk about the interviewers’ kids / nieces / nephews / grandkids / neighbor OR it goes into a discussion about what I’ve read recently / what the interviewer likes to read or the office bookclub, etc.

    Young kid antics is part of who I am right now (and frankly part of most people’s lives at some point) and treating it like something I have to hide would be miserable.

  40. LemonLyman*

    Interviewer: What sort of things do you do on the weekend?

    Me: Shop at Target.

    Interviewer: You’re hired!

  41. Batshua*

    If you’re like me, and you don’t have any “real” hobbies (I read, I lounge around conserving energy, I try to learn how to meditate, I sporadically make truffles and do henna, I like fountain pens), you can always say you like learning about [fill in the blank] or you like [fill in the blank]. For example, I *like* folkdancing. I’m not currently a folk dancer (I haven’t done dancing regularly since … about 4 years ago? But I still like it.) That way you don’t sound boring, you sound like a real human being, *and* you’re not making something up in order to sound interesting.

  42. Steve*

    “She says I should never mention in interviews that I have a child because, for example, one of the interviewers might be having trouble conceiving and to hear about my kid is painful and unnecessary. Given this logic, couldn’t one argue that it isn’t appropriate in the office among coworkers to mention children, period (e.g., how would you know if a coworker is having trouble conceiving)?”

    It sounds like she’s one of those hypersensitive types who assumes that everyone else has thin skin and gets freaked out at mention of anything remotely connected to whatever their concern du jour happens to be.

    Now, you probably shouldn’t mention kids in an interview because it’s quite frankly none of the interviewer’s business. The greater risk over offending someone is running into someone who simply can’t stand children. I know more people who dislike kids than I know people who have struggled to conceive.

    Additionally, your mentioning children tends to put the interviewer in a dicey position of having to skate around a bunch of prohibited questions and topics.

  43. Igg*

    It’s a throwaway question they just don’t want to hear you practice satanism in your basement. Say anything that you’ve ever done it doesn’t matter. Say stuff you like stick to safe things don’t say skydiving unless you think that’ll help. Kids: when I was younger f and desperate to enter the field I didn’t mention kids. When I was established and could pick my places I mentioned them on purpose bc Iwanted to gauge their face: kid friendly or not? Choose accordingly. Discrimination is illegal but that knowledge doesn’t pay the bills.

  44. LV426*

    When I was asked in an interview one time what I did in my spare time I mentioned that I like to take my dogs out to go sheep herding. Of course that opened up a whole can of questions about what that entails and I basically drive an hour away on Sundays to take the dogs out to herd sheep. The interviewer commented that my kids must like that but I explained I don’t have children that my dogs are more than enough like toddlers for me to keep up with and sadly that lead to a very uncomfortable situation where she told me that it was my “god given duty to bear children”. Of course I ended the interview immediately. I don’t want children and I don’t want to work for someone who thinks it’s my duty to have them.

    Sometimes I feel like interviews are like navigating a minefield because anyone can take anything and make it a negative.

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