All about the “interests” section of your resume

Your entire resume is about showing why you are the right candidate for the job, which means tailoring your work experiences and bullet points to the job you’re applying for, selecting which undergrad and law school activities to include based on their relevance to the position, and crafting a carefully curated image of yourself using position information and necessary skills as your guide.

Until you get to the interests section.

When you write your interests section, you need to get in a totally different mindset. You are no longer tailoring your experience to the job you want. You’re simply explaining what your honest hobbies and interests are so that the interviewer sees that you have a life outside of work and are an interesting person with whom he or she would like to work. It’s where you show some of your personality and give some insight to the prospective employer about you as a person. You should expect to be asked about each one, so don’t list something that is not genuine! You can include both hobbies (things you do frequently) and interests (things you might do less frequently but genuinely enjoy).

If you have more than three or four items to include in this section, be practical in narrowing it down. What does each say about you? Which ones would you most like to discuss? The items you include will give an employer an idea about how you spend your time and what additional skills you may have, so choose wisely.

To help you understand why it is beneficial to include an interests section on your resume, let’s explore why employers like seeing interests in the first place using comments from real attorneys who hire people…

Why do employers like the interests section?

Generally, employers like the interests section so they can see you are balanced, have interests outside of work, and will be an enjoyable person to have around. Interests provide easy conversation topics for interviews and asking about them is a great way for employers to get to know you.

We have asked several attorneys who regularly hire young attorneys what they think about interests sections and here are some of their responses.

East Coast BigLaw Senior Associate: “I feel like I learn something about people by the activities they choose to pursue. It also can be a conversation starter. That doesn’t mean you should list everything you’ve dabbled in, but hiring people with interests other than the law is important to me.”

West Coast in-house counsel: “One line; max 3 interests. You can list food or travel but you cannot list both. I want one line of interests that have nothing to do with anything so I know you’re a human and can evaluate whether I want to work aside you once I’ve determined you can do the work. Random interests also allow me to gauge how good the person is at coherently making a point, which is a key skill for a lawyer that many lack. If someone lists “Travel” but can’t pick their favorite trip or concisely sell me on it, she’s losing points.”

West Coast Associate: “I agree with those who’ve said that it’s a good way to show ‘humanness.’ It’s very unlikely that someone will be put off by a given interest, and there’s a decent chance an interviewer will be intrigued by one of them. It can be a good low-stakes conversation topic either early or late in the interview.”

What are good interests to include?

Interests should be specific and honest, hopefully unique. Logrolling, Greek mythology, and triathlons are all examples of unique interests that are worth including. Additionally, notable accomplishments within your leisure time are noteworthy – backpacked through Asia for two months, ran ten marathons in three different states, won statewide chili cookoff.

“Travel, cooking, and reading” are fairly universally maligned as too common and boring. Pretty much everyone puts those on their resume so they don’t serve as good conversation starters. If you like traveling and cooking, get more specific. Where have you traveled? What kind of food do you like to cook? Did you ever enter a cooking competition? One anecdote that an interviewer mentioned to me more than ten years after seeing it on a resume was a candidate who listed “competitive barbecue.” Why? It was intriguing, unique and stood out. Plus, the candidate could talk passionately on the topic which revealed another side to his personality.

Sports fandom is a good interest to include also. You list sports fandom on your resume simply as “Dallas Cowboys football” or “Chicago Cubs baseball.” But do not list Notre Dame sports fandom. Everyone will assume you are a Notre Dame fan based on the fact that you go to school here, and the sports junkies will want to talk with you about it regardless.

What not to say in an interests section…

Interests should be light, fun activities that are good for conversation. Interests are not skills – Microsoft Word, project management, political debate. Employers want to know what your real interests are and how you spend your time when you get home from work. And while you want to be genuine, you also want to be careful about listing polarizing topics. 

This is not the time to talk about your legal interests or career goals; you can do that in your cover letter. This is also not the time to try and force some skill you didn’t have space to describe elsewhere. Again, you can do that in your cover letter.

And a note on including law school and undergrad activities on resumes.

When we consulted hiring attorneys about their opinions on college and law school activities, the opinions were quite similar. List only a few meaningful activities, preferably those in which you held leadership positions or accomplished something noteworthy. If you have a lot of activities to list, consider tailoring them to the type of job you are targeting. Remove the less relevant ones and emphasize those aligning with the type of work the employer does or demonstrating relevant skills.

Consider what your activities say about you as a candidate. Sports demonstrate dedication, commitment and teamwork. Studying abroad demonstrates curiosity about the world and a willingness to take some risk.

So think about what you like to do in your spare time and what your passions are. Put some of them on your resume and give yourself a chance to display that passion and expertise in an interview setting. If you want help or another opinion, contact the CDO. We’re always here to help.

Until you read again…

This post was written by Ali Wruble and Katelynn McBride Barbosa