Special Interests, Hobbies & Volunteer Experience: should these be included on your resume?

In a recent workshop, a discussion came up about whether or not to list volunteer experience or hobbies and special interests on the resume.  I think it’s perfectly fine to list your volunteer experience since it can show you to be a well-rounded person, but it all depends on what you’re trying to say by doing so. 

There are times when your special interest can be an enhancement. 
One of my clients, an administrative support professional, listed her special interest in Scottish folk dancing at the bottom of her resume.  Hold on, before you roll your eyes wondering why in the world would she say that on her resume, check this out.  Turns out she was one of the founders of a local association of Scottish folk dancers which sponsors annual events for the public.  She holds an elected position on the board.  Through this organization she has developed and, therefore, can demonstrate leadership ability that she might not otherwise be able to do as an administrative assistant.

But, if it’s not relevant, please omit it.
Years ago, a job candidate who applied for a job I was trying to fill had the following hobby on her resume:  “Walking my dog on the beach at Cape Cod.”  At the time I remember thinking, “And how is this relevant to your qualifications for the job?”  Needless to say, this candidate did not receive a call from our firm.  Instead, we all had a good laugh and put her resume in the “no way” stack.

To avoid being screened out, consider this too…
Is your volunteer experience or special interests controversial in nature?  Does the organization you’re involved in reveal hints about your religion, political affiliation, sexual preference or ethnicity?  Most of these are protected classes under employment law, which means that employers aren’t supposed to take the information under consideration. 

If you do add this kind of information to your resume, be sure you understand and accept the possible disadvantages.  If you have strong enough convictions to volunteer, you might have strong enough feelings about being hired for who you are – and what you believe in.  I totally understand that point of view, however, in the real world, discrimination does, unfortunately, exist, and most experts would encourage you to play it safe and leave it off.  The cardinal rule is to avoid putting anything on your resume that will possibly screen you out. 

In the end, such a decision is highly personal.  As with all the content on your resume, just be aware of what you’re trying to say about yourself.  Always ask yourself the question, “Is this relevant?”

Happy Hunting!

Angela Loëb is an author, speaker and career coach. She and her partner, Jay Markunas, help people make successful career transitions through workshops, webclasses and 2×1 individualized coaching services. Listen to them on The Job Search Boot Camp Show. Find out more about their programs & services at www.greatoccupations.com.
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