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For interview questions that ask for personal hobbies, should you mention a bunch of tech activities you enjoy, like how "I love building java applets in my free time" or should you focus on non-programming activities to show you are well rounded? Does it show passion to say programming is a hobby, or does it sound disingenuous? I could see it going either way, so please back up your answer with some sound reasoning.

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closed as not constructive by ChrisF Aug 31 '12 at 11:40

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If you can think of too many things to list as hobbies, then ask a clarifying question. Other than that, be honest as others said. –  Job Nov 11 '11 at 19:16
+1 for idea about lying about enjoying building java applets. they will think that if you like doing something like that then you will enjoy other old technologies. –  IAdapter Nov 12 '11 at 0:47

10 Answers 10

up vote 54 down vote accepted

I think you should be honest. If you do love building java applets in your free time, you should say so. If you like other non-programming activities, you should mention that too. There are varied culture among companies and programmers. Being honest takes you one step closer to work for a company whose culture matches with what you are comfortable with.

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+1 for "being honest". It's no different than any other hobby. Why would you be ashamed of mentioning how passionate you are about programming? –  Terence Ponce Oct 14 '10 at 6:56
Still, accentuating one's versatility isn't dishonesty (as long as you're not lying). Mentioning only programming-related activities may be honest, but it's not the best thing to do if you want to make a good impression. –  Joonas Pulakka Oct 14 '10 at 7:13
Yeah honesty is required in an interview –  user2567 Oct 14 '10 at 8:54
+1: I think the same way. By being honest (no even need to accentuate anything (just don't talk too much about your flaws)) you have way better chance to land in a company that match you. Exactly like you said. –  n1ckp Oct 14 '10 at 9:47
-1 honesty should be your last resort when you don't have a game plan –  IAdapter Nov 12 '11 at 0:40

Frankly, "I love building java applets in my free time" sounds scary. Besides, most employers don't want tunnel-visioned one-trick ponies. I would encourage not only mentioning non-programming activities in an interview, but also actually doing them.

Of course your professionalism is the first thing in the interview, but I think the idea of a "What are your interests?" question is to probe areas outside your professional capability to get some kind of big picture of you as a human being.

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+1 for "and actually doing them"! –  Dean Harding Oct 14 '10 at 8:31
how do you make the leap from "I love building java applets" to "tunnel-visioned one trick ponies"? How do you he doesn't also like to write solaris device drivers, or do UI design on mobile phones, or ..."? Maybe he's interviewing for a .NET position, so this would show his skills are varied . –  Bryan Oakley Dec 16 '11 at 12:31
@Bryan Oakley: My point was that if you're in a tech profession and you also spend all your free time doing only tech activities and nothing else, then you are pretty much one trick pony in the wider sense. You know little about the whole if all you're ever doing is a small subset (tech) of the whole (all there is in the world). That's my opinion at least. Of course, varied skills within the tech field are also beneficial. –  Joonas Pulakka Dec 16 '11 at 12:39
@BryanOakley I was with you until you provided "building solaris device drivers" as an example of diverse interests. LOL :) –  quant_dev Dec 17 '11 at 15:05

I've been engaged into interviewing applicants for quite some time and I also ask the question about hobbies from time to time. It is not a question to influence my decision - as a rule by that moment I already have a decision. It is more to enrich the portrait of the person I've been talking to.

And I should say that it can be easily noticed if a person says "I like coding in my free time" meaning "give me a job, see I'm true geek". It is more interesting for me to see how a person is passionate about non-job-related activities. If our interests intersect, we can even discuss the most recent news in that area :)

So, +1 for "be honest" and +1 for "show your other side".

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+1 for this being a pointless question –  IAdapter Nov 12 '11 at 0:42

I scared a few interviewers mentioning I like reading mangas and playing videogames. After that I just say "I like reading and swimming". Which is indeed true, but still not the whole truth.

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ummm... that scared them... ??? –  JoelFan Nov 8 '10 at 23:25
The "manga" part was scary for them. Most people just confuse manga with hentai :D –  Emiliano Nov 9 '10 at 11:12
I would imagine anything along the lines of "I'm an avid WoW/CoD/Halo/etc. gamer" would scare someone, unless of course they like that too in which case you likely have a new friend if not a new boss. –  Wayne M Nov 11 '11 at 20:15

If a programming applicant didn't mention at least one techncial interest outside of work, I'd be surprised and probably probe further. I go for trying to seem well-rounded and slightly cerebral: reading, music, movies, traveling, technical self-study, but recommend avoiding inappropriate subjects like partying, porn, gambling, nude sunbathing, etc.

Sometimes you have to be disingenuous to avoid being an idiot.

(EDIT) I'm starting to feel like this and others like it are bad interview questions for progamming. We need to focus as a profession on technical merits and unlike other fields take pride in our ability to work with diverse groups of people. It's not that you can't get additional information, but should you.

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What a difference a year makes. –  JeffO Nov 11 '11 at 19:06
While I agree that technical merits should be the first thing you look at when employing someone, if I had two candidates one of whom just edged it technically but the other had hobbys that matched up exactly with mine I know who I'd rather work with. –  MoominTroll Dec 16 '11 at 9:27

This is a question that depends a lot what kind of culture you live in, and what the corporate culture is. In some companies employees might be expected to be total nerds, in others perhaps outdoor activities are popular, or it might be more diversified. It can be impossible to know this in advance, of course.

The reason I asked this question in interviews, was two-fold: first, it's a way to get to know a person better. Second, it's a way to get to know if the person has a passion about IT, beyond it just being a job. To me, the latter is big plus, but not a show stopper - there are many variables to take into account.

Having programming or programming-related hobbies (such as hanging out on programmers.stackexchange.com or stackoverflow.com) are highly likely to be seen as positive, so if that are your hobbies, go nuts.

However, having unusual hobbies might be considered weird, so it might actually be beneficial to not speak up about them. However, I do not exactly know what should be considered unusual - this is highly subjective. On the other hand, you might not want to work somewhere where your hobbies are considered unusual or weird!

Mostly, I believe this is asked to get to know the applicant better, and hopefully to find some common interests. Bonding with the interviewer by having common interests should definitely be seen as a plus!

And by the way, asking about hobbies in interviews can be illegal in some countries (US?), or at least can lead to asking questions that are illegal: Don't ask a job applicant these questions

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The interviewer may also be trying to get a sense of how passionate you are about anything. I've never seen a well-rounded, non-one-dimensional personality count against the candidate. By this point in the interview process, they are probably past evaluating your technical competency anyway. Whatever you choose to say, be prepared to talk about it in length, because they will ask.

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The interview is a chance for the interviewer to see whether or not you will fit with the team and if they would enjoy working with you for 50 hours a week. You probably won't know the culture in the company and what your coworkers do in their spare time so it is best to be honest and hope that you fit. I was put forward for an agency where they specified that the candidates must like Irish Whiskey, they were wearing their heart on their sleeve, in many respects, as that gives a clear indication of the culture.

aufather summed is up nicely. Be honest, its for your benefit as well. Your going to have to spend a lot of time with these people if you land the job.

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50 hours a week?!? Are you working in China? –  FolksLord Jun 19 '12 at 18:11
Haha. Hmm. I am guessing your working week is shorter? :( –  DBUK Jun 20 '12 at 8:21
should you mention a bunch of tech activities you enjoy, like how "I love building java applets in my free time" ?

if you do that for hobby, you could mention it. but you'd better have some examples and some insights into applets. you would want to back up your statement with evidence

should you focus on non-programming activities to show you are well rounded?

if you have other hobbies, you should mention those too. you might wind up with a company that embraces that type of activity; if not a company, maybe a couple of people. having friends at your workplace is great

Does it show passion to say programming is a hobby, or does it sound disingenuous?

back it up if you have a programming hobby. it doesn't sound disingenuous.

if, on the other hand, it makes you fell that way, you can mention both types of hobbies. if you still feel that way, don't mention that hobby (but you're losing ground there...)

my cv says i like "gaming with friends". some find that odd, but i like how it sounds and it's true.

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Sometimes the hobby determines the acceptable relation between your work and your free time. Someone who loves wandering and mountain trekking, or is jogging on regular basis, will probably find permanent overhours and working during weekends not acceptable for long term, and if this is what the company expects, it'll be best for him/her and the company not to sign the contract to avoid future conflicts and dissapointments.

On the other hand, coin collectioning doesn't interfere with overhours and additionally requires more money, so such worker will be probably more willing to accept overhours and additional payment for them.

Not having any hobbies except programming means normally, that someone is a geek (it's a positive word in that context) interested in newest technologies, he/she will with pleasure stay longer at work, but only if he'll have something interesting, inspiring, creative and new to do. Doing routine work for such person may be even more unacceptable than for anyone else.

Saying about your hobby you give the very important information about yourself, your expectations to the recruiter. 'Wrong' hobby (from the recruiter's point of view) may cause you don't get the contract, but such contract would be probably not adequate for you, if you'll be working for someone not accepting your hobby.

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There are better questions to determine whether weekend work and regular overtime are acceptable to the candidate. I can't think of any plausible scenario where this would be the purpose of "what are your hobbies"? –  user16764 Jun 19 '12 at 13:44

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