Got a hobby? What you do off the clock can help build your career

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In a recent Zoom interview, some pixels caught my eye from behind my would-be boss’ left shoulder: a Grateful Dead framed print. Rather than compliment his ficus plant, I said “Nice poster” and a good one-third of the job interview was devoted to taping culture, the Grateful Dead’s jam band progeny and why Saratoga Performing Arts Center is the best venue in America.

I got the job, likely because the exec saw that I, too, know the singular rush of standing amid a sea of 40,000 strangers (the lives we lived!), taking in the silence followed by explosive applause when the stage lights dim and your favorite group takes the stage.

This is not to say, of course, that you should feign an obsession with dueling guitar outros or “Europe ’72.” However, it’s a fact that well-rounded people make the best employees. Hiring managers see it. Your boss sees it. Your co-workers see it.

Career counselors agree. Whether it’s cooking, sports, chess, motorcycles, crafting, art history, yoga or crochet that’s your obsession, being passionate about your pastimes gives you a leg up in the workplace.

In addition, down the road, somebody may very well be paying you to teach a cooking class or do freelance marketing work for a local museum. Or you may win your company chess match and catch the eye of the brass looking to pull someone new into that strategic-planning summit.

Here, career experts weigh in on how to put your multifaceted talents into action.

Employers like to hire jacks of all trades

Having diverse interests and so-called soft skills linked to your hobbies is a big draw for companies scouting out new talent.

“If you look at the annual lists of the best places to work, they all have one thing in common: well-rounded employees,” said management consultant Joanna Dodd Massey, Ph.D., author of “Culture Shock: Surviving Five Generations in One Workplace.” “Across the board, these companies have corporate cultures that emphasize personal life and work autonomy over the old paradigm of promoting those employees who do nothing but work. This shift is recent, but it reflects a corporate awakening, which is that well-rounded employees have the three E’s: They are more engaged, efficient and effective at their jobs, and that’s better for everyone.”

Carve out time for your interests

You may be well-intentioned with that Rosetta Stone membership (guilty), but unless you pencil in a specific time each week to pursue your desire to watch “Sex and the City” entirely in subtítulos (also guilty), it’s likely for nil.

“One client in particular was very good at taking Friday afternoons off to spend time being in nature with her kids,” Massey said. “She also tended to go radio silent on the weekends, not sending e-mails unless it was urgent, which freed her up to focus on her family, to read and to think rationally from a calm mind. I discovered that she [had] a lot of helpful insights around work projects during her weekends. Her company couldn’t promote her fast enough.”

“I came on board after she had just been promoted to the chief marketing officer position,” Massey went on. “And within six months, she had received a second promotion giving her oversight of three areas within the corporate structure.” Key takeaway: Deliberately take time off to recharge, and you’ll be rewarded.

Re-evaluate your hobbies

Do they excite you or feel like a burden? Now is a good time to do an inventory of what you enjoy doing outside your 9-to-5.

“As a consultant, I’m highly focused on brain science and how people react to change, stress and conflict,” said Massey. “I am going to make a bold statement: The only thing that will enable a person to pick up a new hobby, habit or interest is if it is rewarding and, as such, triggers the necessary endorphin and dopamine release to encourage their mind-body loop to do that thing over and over.”

With a few weeks of trial and error, you should be able to hone in on the ones that invigorate you. Stick with those, and remember: It’s OK to give away all that baking gear you bought at the start of quarantine.

Highlight your sideline activities on your résumé and in job interviews

“Say you take a painting [class] at a local college or start local recycling efforts,” said Mary Meston, a career coach specializing in leadership. “Any of these offer you the opportunity to develop skills like collaboration, working with others and leading.

Meston cautioned against concentrating on reading or listening to podcasts. Pursuits such as volunteering, sports leagues, artistic skills and foreign languages all deserve a spot in the “additional experience” or “awards, skills and hobbies” section of your CV. You can also weave these activities into job interviews. “Don’t go for the one short-sentence response unless the question requires it,” said Meston. If you’re asked about a time you worked well on a team, cite an example from your yoga studio or latest community service project. If you’re asked if there’s anything else you would like to share, that’s the ideal moment to show the breadth of your interests and accomplishments.

“You can respond by highlighting a few hobbies or experiences that contribute to your ability to do the job well,” said Meston.

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