Lately, I’ve noticed a new recruiting trend — or maybe it’s an old one that has just started to gain new prominence: Hiring managers are asking job seekers about their hobbies.
They’re not asking in a normal, friendly way. They’re not asking because they want to get to know their candidates better. Instead, hiring managers are asking job seekers about their hobbies because they want to dictate to job seekers what they can and cannot do on their personal time while working for the company.
This is quickly becoming a pet peeve of mine.
We all have a certain amount of free time, a few hours at night and on the weekends with which to do as we please. Some of us like to spend that time with our families, while others do volunteer work. Maybe you garden, or you run an eBay store, or you make some kind of craft that you can sell for a few dollars here or there.
This shouldn’t be a problem — except it is for some hiring managers. They worry that certain hobbies can take the employee’s attention away from work or make them less available outside of normal work hours. In response, these hiring managers try to put limits around what their employees can do with their personal time.
It would be inappropriate for an employer to ask an employee not to have children because children are a distraction from work, wouldn’t it? It’s no less inappropriate for an employer to ask an employee not to pursue certain hobbies. What an employee does on their personal time is their business, and their business alone.
Instead or worrying about how a candidate’s hobbies might affect their work life, hiring managers should be talking to prospective employees about how they would excel on the job. That’s what really matters. Ask candidates what they plan to do to be the best in their field. Dig into their track record with previous employers. Discuss how they will make the most of their time at work to contribute to the success of the company.
There is only one way in which an employee’s hobbies are relevant to their employment, and it is this: An employee’s hobby shouldn’t directly hurt the business or use the business’s resources. No employee should pursue their hobbies during work hours. They should not be doing their hobbies on work computers or at work locations. They should not be doing hobbies that directly compete with the company’s business or use the company’s confidential information. (Of course, it’s also perfectly fine to expect an employee’s hobbies be legal.)
As long as an employee’s hobby doesn’t hurt the business in any way, the hobby is just that — a hobby. Whether your workers want to have big families or sell homemade tables on eBay, what they do off the clock is nobody’s business but theirs. If an employee is underperforming, the deficit should be addressed — not the hobby.
Your employees are free to manage their personal time in the ways that they choose. You should not force them to choose their jobs over the rest of their lives. You have to understand that your employees’ personal lives are just as important to their health and well-being as their work lives are. In fact, having hobbies they can pursue outside of work will make your employees happier and even more productive when they are in the office.
In the hiring process, you should only be asking questions about hobbies if you want to learn more about a job seeker as a person — not as a way to disqualify certain candidates.
That said, there is one final caveat to note: If you do choose to chat about hobbies, be careful to separate your personal feelings about a hobby from your employment decisions. Any kind of personal information about a job seeker can create bias and subtly influence the hiring process in negative ways — even seemingly simple information about their hobbies.
A version of this article originally appeared on Copeland Coaching.
Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at Copeland Coaching.