CV Writing - Should I include a ‘Personal Interests’ section?

CV Writing notes and laptop

Top ‘How To’ Tips for your Personal Interests section

When writing CVs, I am often asked if it is worth including a personal interest section when the average length of a CV is just two A4 pages. First and foremost to consider when writing a CV is whether the content will help the recruiter to select you for interview.

To help ensure this section adds real value, keep in mind the following: 

  • Make the content count
  • Be specific
  • Keep it brief
  • Avoid anything controversial
  • Use a first person narrative

There are pros and cons to consider such as balancing the benefits of providing a little more insight into your personality against trying to avoid the section looking like an online dating profile: I like long walks on the beach…. Who cares? Definitely not the recruiter. So what can you do to ensure you add value to your CV should you decide to add a Personal Interest section?

Let’s have a closer look at the five key points.

Make the content count:

It must communicate information relevant to the role to which you are applying. Have a look at a common example I frequently come across when assessing a CV for a client:

‘Gym, socialising and cooking’ 

Personal Interests section on CV - Gym

It sounds routine and uninspiring, doesn’t it? Of course it does, because the inclusion of a generic statement doesn’t reveal much about you. And the recruiter really needs to get a sense of you, the person, as well as you the professional. However, the same facts can be transformed by adding just a little more detail.

Be specific:

It is possible to expand on that example with…

‘I attend the gym twice a week with a training partner and set regular goals to improve my fitness levels.’

Ok, so what can the recruiter gather from that statement that the former content didn’t communicate? Well, that you are organised, dedicated, work collaboratively to achieve targets and are committed to personal development. Great skills and personal qualities to present.

Now to look a little more closely as the second interest on the list ‘Socialising’. Humans are social beings so this tells the recruiter nothing new about you. However, are you the ringmaster of your social group? Do you investigate and organise new things for you and your friends to experience? Is it you that gathers funds, books tickets and organises transport? If so, say so on your CV. For example:

‘I recently rallied a group of friends and organised for us to train for and run in the 2018 London Marathon to raise money for the Migraine Trust.’

Maybe I’ve been a little ambitious with this example, but I am sure you get the point - reading between the lines, the recruiter will see that you are a determined, ambitious and inspirational leader who makes things happen whilst also being altruistic.

And the final interest on the list, ‘Cooking’. Nothing particularly inspiring for the recruiter, is there? We all eat. However, if this is your passion, say more! For instance:

I have a passion for bread making and have mastered the art of homemade focaccia as well as regularly making bespoke themed cakes for special occasions for friends and family.’ 

The recruiter can now see that you are creative, persistent and able to meet non-negotiable deadlines such as birthdays. Do you seek inspiration by visiting restaurants or do you take home ideas from holidays you have had? Whatever it might be, add some detail. Recruiters love passionate people.

Personal Interests section on CV - Bread Making

Keep it brief:

A well-balanced CV is vital so do ensure that your personal interests section does not overpower the main body of your CV. Ask yourself ‘Does it sound more interesting than my opening profile?’ Are you communicating more passion and enthusiasm for your Saturday morning 5-aside football team than you are for the Commercial Risk Management team of which you are a member? Getting the balance right is vital so I recommend perhaps 3 or 4 lines if space allows. However, there are always exceptions to every rule. And this will be investigated further in another post.

Avoid anything controversial:

Well, to avoid being controversial, I won’t list any specifics here! Carefully think through the content from the recruiter’s perspective as well as remaining very aware of the brand message, values and ethos of the company to which you are applying. Rather than being controversial, our interests can help to align us with an organisation. As such, it can pay to do some research into the company you wish to work for to see if there is any common ground. For example, Lloyds Banking Group have chosen to support Mental Health UK so had you happened to have participated in a Memory fundraising walk then it would be an excellent point to include in your Personal Interests section should you be applying for a role with LBG. 

Use a first person narrative:

My preference is to use a neutral CV style prose for the main body of the CV whilst adopting a less formal first person narrative for the personal interests section. Why? Well, because this makes it more personal. Exactly… Speaking directly to your audience through the use of a first person narrative is a great way to close a strong CV.

These are just a few simple examples I come across on a daily basis during my CV writing for clients. Whatever the content, and there are limitless topics people include as personal interests, adding some detail is a way of communicating directly with your reader. It shows that you have thought about your audience. The alternative is to allow the reader to feel as if you have simply filled in this section just to complete the template much like an application form - CVs are not application forms (more on that to follow on a different post).

So, the key take-away point to remember is that this section of your CV must add value to the overall content for the recruiter.

  • For a person moving out of education and into the workplace, it provides an excellent opportunity to fill a skills gap if your work experience is limited.
  • For those of us further along in our career, it perhaps demonstrates our ability to relax, which enhances our capacity to cope with the rigours of a demanding role.

Speaking of which, it’s time to stop working now and head out to Pilates! Have a great evening.

If I can be of assistance with your CV, please contact me, I will be delighted to help.

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