Last time, I wrote about critical job skills that can help you advance your career and the hobbies that build these skills. Today, I’m going talk about how to make hobbies show you’re the best candidate.
Not all hobbies though. Consider only hobbies that:
- Are directly related to the position you’re pursuing.
- Show you have knowledge of the industry, company, project or team members.
- Demonstrate highly desirable personality traits, qualities or characteristics.
- Are highly uncommon and conversation-worthy.
- Or otherwise make you stand out in a positive way.
Nicole, a chemist, reached out to me with a tall order: in her upcoming move cross-country, she wanted to shift her career from university research to private enterprise. A company she long admired would now be within commute distance and this is where she wanted to work. Nicole also wanted a promotion into a leadership role out of the deal.
We reworked Nicole’s resume so interviewers could clearly see the variety, breadth and depth of her lab experience. Then we described in even greater detail the Lead responsibilities she’d taken on over the years. But we wanted her supervisory talents to stand out even more.
When I asked Nicole about relevant hobbies or interests, she told me she was raised by her pro surfer dad in Hawaii. She’d been surfing since she was 3 and competing since she was 7. Only recently she was beginning to realize that surfing had taught her certain skills and a unique way of thinking that would be highly valuable to the right employer.
Life Lessons from Surfing
Surfing taught Nicole extraordinary patience: to wait for the right wave with confidence that it will arrive. To make calculated, split-second decisions that required immediate action. To push boundaries but not without seriously assessing the risk in that split-second. And once made, to fully commit, for better or worse. Nicole also learned to assess every wave as a unique entity and to ride it based on its strengths.
These are extraordinary leadership skills that typically take decades of work experience to develop. And in fact, Nicole did have two decades’ experience honing them – in the water.
Here’s the list we decided to work with:
- Ability to make the tough decisions
- Commitment and follow-up
- Balancing risk and reward
- Seeing the best in waves/people
You can make hobbies show you’re the best candidate if you can articulate the unique talents they’ve taught you and how they’re relevant to the position you’re pursuing. Here’s how Nicole did it:
Saying you have a skill isn’t nearly as powerful as demonstrating it in an example. Engaging the reader with a little story also makes you a real person, not just a piece of paper. Nicole incorporated the talents surfing taught her by using them to explain “how” she achieved her accomplishments. Here’s one example [my comments in brackets]:
“Trained new hires in the very labor-intensive and error-prone use of ultrasensitive, state-of-the-art lab equipment, including…” [patience]
“Owned the decision when each person was ready to work independently.” [individuation, self-confidence, tough decisions]
“Determined the risk was too great for one team member; kept him on other tasks [tough decision] while continuing to train him [committed] until he proved mastery.”
Nicole also created a section in her resume called Other Miscellaneous Information. There, she listed honors, professional organizations, volunteer work and simply:
“Surfer since age 3; competitive since age 7”
2. Cover Letter
It’s tempting to repeat portions of your resume in the cover letter but it’s boring and does nothing to differentiate you. Instead, use the cover letter to expand your story and explain why your hobbies show you’re the best candidate.
In Nicole’s case, her application to this particular company was meaningful. Look at how she wove meaning and surfing together to open a very powerful cover letter:
“I started riding waves on my pro surfer dad’s board at 3 years old. And from the day I stood alone on my own board, every wave taught me lessons about what I can and cannot control.
“That growth comes from pushing boundaries but not so far that the risk could push me off my game. What it means to be fully committed – to a wave, project, plan, decision, company. To trust my instincts 100%. And to see each wave for its own merits.
“I am applying to ABC Company because your … product was the only one that could save my skin from the constant salt and sun. It worked so well, I wanted to understand why it was different from others I’d tried. And this led to my interest, degree and career in molecular biochemistry…”
Nicole’s cover letter then segued into more traditional cover letter content. But not before she pulled the reader into a brief story that showed who she is: likeable, interesting and a deep thinker. By extending commitment to projects, plans, etc., she makes it clear that what she learned in the water has relevance in the workplace.
Most importantly, it sets the stage for using her surfing background
to demonstrate leadership skills.
Your goal in every interview is to correlate your background – your accomplishments, skills, education, relevant hobbies and other experiences – to the requirements of the job. The more clearly you can connect these dots for your interviewers, the stronger your candidacy will be.
Eye contact and conversation enable you to take your story a step deeper, to fill in the gaps that the cover letter suggested. Make your hobbies show you’re the best candidate by explaining, expanding and clarifying how these experiences make you qualified for the position.
In our interview sessions, Nicole and I practiced connecting her accomplishments to job requirements until they rolled seamlessly off her tongue. She drew on two previous jobs, her education, surfing and volunteer work. She demonstrated her well-roundedness as well as her competency and ability to perform the job she was pursuing.
And it worked. Within a short while, she received the offer letter and promotion from her target company!
Let your hobbies show you’re the best candidate by identify the talents and skills you acquired from them. Then incorporate them into your resume and cover letter and expand upon their relevance in the interview.