How to Handle the Interview Curveball

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No matter how many interviews I have, there is one question that always catches me by surprise. I can take just about any job- and experience-related question, but for some reason, when I hear, “What do you like to do for fun?”  I freeze up. No, this is not because I don’t know how to have a good time. It’s because I make the mistake of being so focused on promoting myself for the job that I forget to promote myself as a person.

Really, the two should be one and the same. There is no need to separate “real” you from career you. A job interview isn’t just about finding the most qualified candidate for the job. It’s also about finding a candidate who is the best fit for the work culture. By showing who you are as a person, you can let the interviewer know you’re a good fit for both.

This year, instead of rattling off one of the my previous responses about “loving the outdoors and hanging out with friends” or “liking PR so much that it is fun for me,” I am going to give a better answer to the curveball question.

While this particular question may not come as a surprise to everyone, it is still important to know how to answer it. Here’s how to prepare to answer, “What do you do for fun?”

Relax. The key to any interview is being comfortable and confident. If you feel at ease, you’ll remain composed no matter what question the interviewer throws at you. (For interview relaxation tips, read this article on Forbes.)

Make a list. Before the interview, make a list of everything you like to do for fun. If it pertains to your career, cross it off. You can tell the interviewer about your passion for networking events in other responses, but this question should show more of your hobbies outside the profession.

Set yourself apart. Anyone could say they like to listen to music or spend time with friends. Consider elements of what you like to do that will make you memorable.
Example: I love outdoor activities, especially hiking. I spent last summer in North Idaho and tried to go on a hike every weekend. The farthest I’ve hiked is seven miles, but I hope to do 15 one day.

Provide details that show your passion. Don’t just say you what you like to do. Explain why. This will make it clear to the interviewer that you have a passion for something outside of work, which you can transfer to your attitude in the workplace.
Example: Storytelling is a big part of my life. I started writing stories almost as soon as I learned the alphabet. The creative process that goes into books and short stories is really fun for me. I have a passion for working with words, and I hope my work will inspire others.

Relate to the job description. Never fabricate a response, but if your interests seem to fit well with the job, be sure to mention them. For example, if the job involves coaching and motivating others, you could mention coaching a little league team on weekends.

Think of a specific, recent example. Stories make everything more memorable. Tell a story about your favorite activity. The more timely, the better.
Example: I’m really close with my roommates. We’re very different, but we share a love for running. Last weekend, we did a half marathon together. There were times I may have quit running, but having my friends with me kept me going the entire way.

Finally, if you don’t have an answer to this question because you actually don’t do anything fun, invest in your friendships and pick up a hobby. It’s important to have a balanced life where you have activities that don’t involve working.

 What other interview curveballs have you experienced, and how did you handle them?

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