Resume Personal Section Advice: When to Include Outside Interests Like Burning Man or Politics

When does personal information like Burning Man or church work on your resume make you look like the perfect candidate... and when does it target you for rejection? Good question.

When does personal information like Burning Man or church work on your resume make you look like the perfect candidate… and when does it target you for rejection? Good question.

I often get asked whether it’s a good idea to include a resume personal section, or if it’s just offering unnecessary information that might risk¬† hiring discrimination.

Should you mention your annual trek to Burning Man where you manage a team building a huge art project?

What about the years in college organizing the Young Republicans?

Or your years leading a gay rights organization?

Is this kind of potentially controversial resume information a good thing or a bad thing?

There are two schools of thought about resume personal sections:

One school says your personal life is nobody’s business, and you should never offer any information that is personal and not directly tied to the job at hand because you never know who will read your resume and judge you negatively. They say “Why risk it?”

The other school of thought says that a personal section is a chance to impress a potential employer, to add more skills and depth, and maybe even get some favoritism. As one career coach said, “All is fair in love and job searches.”

My answer? It depends. 

It depends on you and the job you are going after. It depends on your audience and whether you feel the information will be interpreted as a positive or a negative.

It depends on whether you think it will help or hurt.

And it depends on whether that information is core to who you really are.

Let’s face it. As much as we wish hiring decisions were made based exclusively on skills and experience, it just isn’t that way.

The truth is that many companies owe their success to building teams of people who have a lot in common, and people are much more likely to hire people they feel a connection with, and to not hire people who they suspect might have value systems they don’t agree with.

Surf companies want to hire surfer types. Traditional companies seek out people with who embody traditional values and lifestyles. Fitness companies hire people into fitness. Like finds like.

A word about hiring discrimination.

We all know that it is illegal to discriminate against people for their age, sex, religion and other protected categories. This means that companies cannot ask you certain kinds of questions during the hiring process and/or on the job, and they cannot use these qualities to make hiring decisions. (Theoretically, of course… much of this is relative and would be very difficult to prove.)

But it’s perfectly legal for you to offer any information that you want to offer. And doing that can create a more three-dimensional idea of what you’re all about, and can help you stand out a as a candidate. Just do it with an awareness of whether your resume personal section is going to help you or hurt you.

Personal information can help you when…

It shows a commonality with the corporate culture or other employees.

Although Burning Man as an event bans corporate affiliations, there are many tech and creative companies, like Google, where even the top brass participate. If your work experience makes you look mainstream, adding something about your projects in Black Rock City can make you look more like you’ll fit in.

It reveals something important about you.

If a “must have” on your checklist is to work for a company that actively supports equality, including a leadership role on committee for the gay pride parade telegraphs your personal values very quickly.

It illustrates experience that doesn’t appear elsewhere.

If you’re an accounting clerk trying to make a change into web design and your only verifiable experience designing a website is for your church’s youth group, then put it on your resume to show your skills.

You are committed to finding a job where you fit in.

Pretending to be something you’re not can get pretty old, and sometimes you really want to just put your cards on the table and be who you are, right from the outset and that includes your resume. If you are willing to risk being screened out because of something that’s integral to who you are, then go for it.

Personal information can hurt you when…

The information is perceived in a negative way.

Misconceptions abound about a lot of organizations and lifestyles, so offering it up and having someone jump to misinformed conclusions can work against you. If you think it’s likely that someone in the resume review process might have a judgment that people who do whatever it is you do are crackpots, then leave it off.

You are desperate for a job.

Sometimes you really need to get to work, and you don’t have the luxury of caring if you fit into the company culture. In that situation, leave off personal information that isn’t specifically tied to the job, and focus on skills and experience in a way that is irresistible. What they don’t know won’t hurt them.

You keep that part of your life separate.

For many people, their work persona and their private persona are two different things. I see this often in the world of tattoos, where some very conservative-appearing people actually have some bold and daring body ink that they completely conceal at work. If you think work is work and personal is personal and never the twain shall meet, leave it off.

So you see that it really does depend, and every situation is different. So carefully consider whether each kind of resume information will help you, and if it’s important enough to take the risk.

For more about using a personal section to share more about yourself, check out Personal Section or Not? Ways to Show the Real You on Your Resume.

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