Q: “I’m afraid I may have screwed up an interview for a really good job. Everything was fine until the recruiter asked ‘What do you do in your spare time?’ The question caught me off guard, because no interviewer has ever asked me that. After thinking for a minute, I mentioned a couple of activities that are perfectly legitimate, but not as noble as volunteering at a soup kitchen.
“Despite meeting all the requirements in the job description, I was not offered the position, and I believe my ‘free time’ response was the reason. The interview was going extremely well until that point, so I have to assume that my answer did not meet their standards.
“I am quite disappointed, because this job seemed tailor-made for me. What do you think about this?”
A: As any human resources manager can tell you, there are a million reasons why a qualified applicant may not get the job. For one thing, managers are frequently choosing from a number of experienced candidates.
Perhaps another applicant had superior qualifications, or maybe someone else was a better match for the manager’s personality. For all you know, the job might have been filled by the CEO’s brother-in-law. Unfortunately, there’s really no way to find out.
I feel fairly certain, however, that unless you said something truly bizarre, your “spare time” answer was not the deciding factor. If you were clearly the top candidate, a mundane hobby would be immaterial, so you can stop beating yourself up for preferring movies to disaster work.
Interviewers do need to remember that exploring personal pastimes can be risky. Should an applicant mention activities involving a legally protected group - such as race, religion, or national origin – the result could be a discrimination charge if the person is ultimately rejected.
Want to make a great impression on interviewers? Here are 16 helpful tips: Do's and Don'ts for Job Interviews.