This common interview question has many variations, such as; What are your hobbies? What are your pastimes? How do you spend your free time?
Regardless of how the question is asked it is important that you have prepared a comprehensive answer. Many job candidates fall into a trap that they consider this such a simple question that they feel they can answer it adequately off the cuff and that the answer does not deserve much thought. Other interviewees view this question as a fun question and a bit of respite from the heavier specific job related questions. However, this could lead to a lost opportunity to really sell yourself.
An employer who asks this question is typically trying to ascertain whether your personal ideals tie in with the ideals of the role and the cultural ideals of the organisation. For example, if your passion is in extreme sports and your job is in a conservative sector such as compliance, you may receive a few raised eyebrows from a potential employer, whose own personal passion is minimising risk.
What is the best approach?
The first port of call should be to list all your hobbies on a sheet of paper and highlight the hobbies which are somehow related to the position you are applying for. For example, you are going for a position in a company which strongly advocates Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR).
Co-incidentally, amongst your hobbies is helping a charity which is also one of your interviewers CSR partners. Voilà, you have created an instant connection with a potential employer. This is the ideal. On other occasions you can look at the job requirements and you can relate your learnings from your hobbies/pastimes and how they could potentially benefit your new job. For example, you may be captain of a local football team and you are hungry for success in this role. The position you are going for is that of sales manager. Your potential new employer can deduce from your hobby that you are highly competitive and that you have the strategic insight to motivate and lead a team to success (that is assuming you are winning your matches). This is much better than saying you enjoy going to the pub every night to watch football on the big screen!
The “interests outside of work” question is a great opportunity for you to really sell yourself in an interview and should not be treated lightly, or even worse, flippantly.