The following is an excerpt from the Career Development Handbook.
When someone asks about your interests, it may seem like a broad and strangely difficult question to answer. Do they want to know about how you’ve been knitting since you were in middle school, or about your intramural water polo experience? Would they care to hear about your vegan lifestyle or the book you are engrossed in at the moment? What do any of these things have to do with your career path? To help give a bit of structure to thinking about interests, here are a few related words to consider:
Take a moment to think about the things you have dedicated time and energy to (causes, activities, organizations), enjoy doing for fun or would do for free (and perhaps already do), and find yourself drawn towards learning about, discussing, or keeping in mind for future engagement. As you consider the topics and undertakings that fall into these categories, do you see any common threads? For example, do a number of them relate to animals, or politics, or entrepreneurship, or traveling, or being around groups of people? Would any of your interests be something you’d like to incorporate into your future job or work environment? Or is it your intention to keep some of these interests separate from your career, saving them purely for personal enjoyment or as a way to wind down/exercise a different part of your brain? If the latter, it may be important to find a job that allows time for you to engage in your interests outside of work (i.e. “work/life balance”). Regardless, your interests are definitely worth bearing in mind and articulating as you explore career options.
If nothing else, you may end up talking about some of your interests in an interview, at a networking event, or on your resume. Though your passions may be varied in nature, the types of interests that are most appropriate to discuss in professional settings are those that are positive and not particularly controversial. Which ones you bring up may also depend on the employer at hand (ex: though both government related, mentioning your political affiliation could be a good idea when applying for a job working for that party on Capitol Hill, but would not be as wise when pursuing a job with a nonpartisan agency or department). Also, if you choose to advertise particular interests, be sure they are genuine, because there is a good chance you will be asked to expand upon them. For example, if you have never traveled out of the country, “international travel” would likely not be a sensible interest to put on your resume. Most often, discussing your interests with an interviewer or professional contact can be a great way to build rapport and give them a sense of who you are outside of work.