By Austin Belcak (‘13)
Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he helps people use unconventional strategies to lands jobs they love along with salaries they deserve. Most recently, he’s helped people get hired at places like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook.

Man typing on laptop

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Have you ever made a single change to your resume that immediately led to more interviews and offers? As job seekers, we spend hours tweaking our resumes. We include this bullet, delete that experience, and customize the entire document in hopes of increasing our chances of landing the interview. But how do we know which changes consistently improve our chances? Was it consolidating everything on a single page or adding in the HTML course you took that led to landing the interview? And did that tweak help also help you land interviews at the next 5 jobs you applied to?

It’s hard to tell.

During my job search, I found myself asking that very question. What resume tweaks actually lead to more jobs? In order to find out, I collected data. Data from my personal job search that included 500+ applications and 50+ interviews, as well as data from the thousands of people that come across my desk looking for jobs. Along with some situational resume strategies, I also found one unexpected tweak that consistently drove a higher rate of interviews.

An Unexpected Relationship Builder

In the middle of my job search, I went to grab coffee with a friend who happens to be a recruiter on Wall Street. I was keen on finding a hidden gem, some piece of advice that would help me set my resume apart from the competition. What she shared ended up being one of the most effective pieces of job search advice I’d ever received:

“The interests section is easily the most important part of your resume. It’s the one place where you can quickly establish a personal connection with someone – don’t take it for granted, most people do.”

And she’s right. Most people don’t include an Interests section on their resume at all. When they do, it’s usually stuck at the bottom and leaves a lot to be desired. This is a huge miss.

When roughly 2% of online applicants land an interview, you need to take every opportunity possible to stand out. While the rest of your resume is rigid and professional, the Interests section is your chance to stand out, connect on common ground, and start building a relationship.

After having that conversion, I decided to try something a little crazy. I completely updated my interests, making them quirky and personal. Then I bump it up to the top of my resume, just below the Summary.  The results were highly unexpected.

During my next round of interviews, every single hiring manager mentioned something from my Interests section. It worked like a charm:

A General Manager at Microsoft noticed one of the authors I listed and we took off on a 20 minute conversation about his arguments.

Saltwater Fly Fishing piqued the interest of a VP at Google and we spent half the interview trading stories.

Finally, my personal favorite, an Account Executive at Twitter told me that “even if I wasn’t qualified, I would probably have landed the interview because everyone there shared my love for hot sauce.”

I felt like to cool kid at the party that everyone wanted to talk to.

Making Your Interests Interesting

There are a few subjects that pretty much every person enjoys talking about:

  • Food & Drink
  • Traveling
  • Hobbies
  • Sports (in most cases, but not all)

When most people include these on a resume, they tend to be very general, listing them almost as I have them above:

“Interests: Food, Traveling, Finding New Music, Golf, & Wake Forest”

While all of those may be true, it’s not very inspiring. I love most of those things too, but I’m not leaping out of my chair to start a conversation about it. We want to evoke emotions in the reader and we’re going to do that by getting highly specific about what we’re interested in. For example, rather than saying “travel” talk about a specific experience like “Traveling – my goal is to visit every country in Europe (41/48 so far! Croatia is my favorite).”

By making that simple change, you’ve substantially opened up the chances to starting a conversation. For example, I could easily ask what 7 countries you haven’t been to yet. Or maybe you luck out and the person reading your resume went to Croatia on their honeymoon. That is going to spark an emotional response! While “Travel” encompasses all of these things, it’s too general for anyone to care.

Here is the exact set of interests that I personally used on my resume when I was applying to Google, Microsoft, and Twitter:

Interests: ABC Kitchen’s atmosphere, Stumptown coffee, Malcolm Gladwell (David & Goliath), fishing (especially saltwater fly), foods that are vehicles for hot sauce (Cholula is my favorite), skiing, and ACC basketball/football

I’m almost guaranteed that something on that list is going to resonate with the reader because it covers so many bases. Pro Tip – mentioning hot sauce is basically cheating here. That was far and away the #1 conversation starter on my list.

Now It’s Your Turn

Before you apply to your next job, do me a favor and try this strategy out.

First, start by writing out your general interests. Write down as many as you can think of that fit into the categories above. Next, get specific about each one:

If you wrote “food,” mention your favorite dish, your favorite restaurant, or your favorite meal to cook.

If you wrote “music,” add in a few artists you like or the top 3 songs you’re listening to right now.

If you wrote “travel,” add in your favorite destination, tell someone to ask you about a crazy experience you had, or talk about your travel wish list.

When you’re done, add your updated interests to your resume. I personally added them at the top under my Summary section but if you’re not comfortable with that, you can drop them in at the bottom.

Now apply for that job and see what happens. I’ll bet a conversation sparks and you’ll be on your way to building that relationship and landing an offer.