“What do you like doing in your free time?” is a question that regularly comes up in job interviews. And even though it might not seem relevant, your answer can tell hiring managers a lot about who you are.
This guide will go over how you should approach your answer if you want to make the best impression possible.
Why Interviewers Ask “What Do You Like Doing in Your Free Time?”
Many applicants expect interview questions to be entirely focused on the job itself. As a result, questions like “What do you like doing in your free time?” often come as a surprise.
But interviewers asking about what you do during non-work hours is surprisingly common, and there are a few reasons why.
First, your response sheds more light on your personality. It gives hiring managers more insight into who you are, allowing them to learn more about your values, goals, and work ethic.
It might seem irrelevant, but you’d be surprised by how much information they can pull from your answer.
For example, discussing your time engaging in team sports indicates that you’ll likely do well in a collaborative environment and understand how to work with others. Meanwhile, saying you spend your free time reading or expressing your creativity through art shows that you’re always pushing the envelope and devoted to continued personal development.
This question helps gauge your fit within the company culture and shows the interviewer who you are. It’s also a great way to form connections. Interviewers may share similar interests, giving you plenty of room to leave a lasting impression.
Second, Your response can also give hiring managers a better idea of the type of employee you’ll be. Employers want people who can find the right balance between their professional and personal lives. And studies have found those who engage in hobbies outside of work are generally happier. If you burn the candle at both ends or have few hobbies to destress after work, it could be a red flag.
How to Answer This Interview Question
There are many ways to approach this question, but you want to give it the thought and consideration it deserves. “What do you like doing in your free time?” is a question that’s open-ended and multi-faceted. Interviewers read between the lines, so you must think about your response and deliver an answer that benefits you instead of working against you.
Here are a few tips to help you give a great answer.
1. Be Honest, But Professional
Before you start thinking about what the interviewer wants to hear, stop. Many job-seekers assume that employers want to hear something specific. While there are many things interviewers listen for, there’s no inherently “right” or “wrong” response.
So avoid the urge to fabricate the truth and say something you don’t actually enjoy doing.
Truthfulness is the best policy here. Interviewers know how to spot inauthenticity. If they get the feeling that you’re only saying something to fit what you think they want, your answer will do more harm than good.
This question is about learning who you are, and saying something fake doesn’t serve that purpose.
While honesty should be a top priority, the same goes for remaining professional. You should never bring up anything that comes off as too personal, no matter how much you love it.
Remember where you are! You’re interviewing for a job, so keep things professional and honest.
2. Focus Your Answer on Something You’re Passionate & Knowledgeable About
Another important tip is to choose something you’re genuinely passionate about doing. Don’t choose an activity that you only do once in a blue moon. Instead, talk about something you love and can speak about confidently.
When you go into detail about something you care about, your passion is evident in your words. Interviewers notice the small changes in how you talk and can see your eyes light up. That’s what they want to see.
Showing passion is critical when talking about what you do in your free time. It reassures employers that things beyond work are important to you, indicating that you’re a well-rounded person who will do just fine in the workplace.
Talking about your passions will also make it easier to answer any follow-ups. The interviewer may share the same hobbies or want to hear more. You never know what they’re going to ask after your response.
The last thing you want is to scramble for answers because you’re not well-versed in the hobby you decided to answer with. If it genuinely excites you, there should be no problem delivering a confident response to any follow-ups.
3. Connect It to the Job
Here’s where you’ll need to get creative.
Connecting what you do in your free time to the position you’re currently interviewing for can leave a lasting impression interviewers can’t forget. It helps the decision-makers envision you in the job and provide reassurance that you’re the perfect fit.
Finding those connections will require creative thinking. They might not be obvious, but there’s always a way to tie everything back to the job you want. Think about the skills you use to participate in the hobby. You can also reflect on the lessons you learned and how they benefit your career.
For example, say that you like to do stand-up comedy in your spare time. You could say that years of standing in front of a crowd have helped your communication skills and made it easier to work with customers during a sales call. Alternatively, people who love extreme sports could talk about how they learned that taking controlled risks lead to great rewards.
There are many ways to connect the dots. Get creative and establish that connection. It’s a fantastic way to impress interviewers and show that your interests outside of work benefit your career.
4. Be Prepared to Elaborate
Finally, be prepared to provide more details. It’s not unusual for interviewers to have follow-up questions, and they often come organically. They may not be part of the written script interviewers use, so you can never know what they’ll ask.
The key is to provide fewer details in your initial answer and give interviewers the room to ask for elaboration if they want it. Be prepared to answer anything. If you’re choosing a hobby you know a lot about, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
But still, get comfortable talking about your passions and going into more detail if it comes up.
What to Avoid When Giving Your Answer
Don’t let the open-ended and personal nature of this question fool you. There are still plenty of ways to mess it up! Avoid these mistakes to ensure that your response works in your favor.
Don’t Talk About Unprofessional Hobbies
We touched on this briefly earlier, but it deserves extra attention.
Whatever you do, don’t say anything that could raise concerns. For example, don’t answer that your favorite thing to do in your free time is to go bar-hopping every night. A response like that paints an unflattering picture of who you are.
Not only that, but it can be a red flag for employers because it makes you a high-risk employee. They may think that drinking and socialization are top priorities, increasing the chances that you’ll come to work hungover and unfocused.
Don’t Choose a “Lazy” Hobby
There are many stereotypically lazy hobbies out there. We’re talking about browsing social media, watching TV, playing video games, etc. There’s nothing wrong with doing those things in your spare time, but there’s always a risk that interviewers will read too much into those hobbies.
While there’s tons of merit in more relaxed hobbies, some hiring managers will think that spending your free time doing them makes you unambitious. That might not be true, but you don’t want to risk coming off that way.
Instead, try finding a more physically or mentally challenging hobby to discuss when answering this question.
Avoid Activities That Could Interfere with Work
Here’s a big no-no to avoid. You might have passions that are big and exciting. For example, you may love to go on expeditions to discover the world, you may want to tone it down and talk about regional travel or closer destinations.
While admirable, those hobbies have the potential to interfere with work. Even if you’ve done a fantastic job separating those grand adventures from your career, some hiring managers will be skeptical. They may think those big hobbies will force you to request a lot of time off, making them feel your career comes second.
Avoid Cliche Answers
Don’t make the mistake of saying that you like to work during your free time. It’s a cliche answer that makes most interviewers will roll their eyes. Chances are, it’s not true and will only raise concerns of inauthenticity.
Plus, it doesn’t provide any of the insight employers want. Cliche responses like that give no real information and don’t shine more light on who you are as a person.
Your answer should always be unique to your situation and life, but we have a few examples to inspire you.
The first is a simple response with a universally loved hobby. While it can come off as generic, the job-seeker uses their response to show why it benefits their career.
“I love to be outdoors and often use my free time for long walks and hiking in nature. If I have a few days, I often visit nearby parks and camping hotspots.
Our industry is very tech-focused, so I often spend my days staring at a computer. I find that spending time outdoors is a great way to give my eyes a rest. It also helps keep me healthy, which is perfect for combating those long hours sitting at a desk.
Being outdoors is rejuvenating for me, and I love to do what I can to unwind over the weekends and come back refreshed.”
Our second example focuses on more creative endeavors. The job-seeker is applying for a job that requires creative thinking, so they use their response as a way to show hiring managers that they’re committed to continued development.
“I’m a naturally creative person. That’s why I ended up in marketing! But during my free time, I like to explore other art forms beyond what we typically use in this industry.
I enjoy painting and digital photography. I also like to push myself out of my comfort zone and try new things to flex my creative muscles. For example, I’ve recently started attending pottery classes.
I believe that my hobbies have done a lot to help my career. Exploring other art forms has encouraged me to think outside the box and approach projects from unique angles.”
In our final example, the interviewee uses this question as an opportunity to show that they have the necessary skills to excel in the job. They do so creatively, taking a seemingly unrelated passion for connecting the dots and proving they’re the right person for the job.
“I love to cook when I’m not working.
Cooking is both relaxing and challenging. Preparation is a big part of the equation, but there’s an endless bounty of recipes that push my skills and force me to try something new.
One of the things I love most about cooking is that you gain insight into many different cultures. It’s not just through the food but also the ingredients and techniques used.
I’ve found that exploring cuisine outside my own culture has helped me create amazing connections in sales. It’s helped me connect with some of the global clientele my previous company worked with. I can’t tell you how often cooking has come up when speaking with clients. I’ve even shared recipes with a few!
It’s a great way to connect with people, even if they’re not in the same room to share the finished product.”
Being prepared to answer “What do you like doing in your free time” will come in handy during your interview. While not directly job-related, it provides hiring managers with valuable information about you.
Spend some time before your interview thinking about how you’d like to answer this question. Once you know the approach you’d like to take, all that’s left is a little bit of practice!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.