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Career Corner: No Side Work Allowed

You have a right to indulge in your hobbies outside of work. – Courtesy photo

By Angela Copeland

Lately, I’ve seen something new. Or, maybe it’s just resurfacing. Hiring managers are asking job seekers about their hobbies but they’re not asking in the normal friendly way. They’re not simply trying to get to know the job seeker better.

No. Now, they’re asking about hobbies because they want to let the job seeker know what they can and cannot do in their personal time while they’re working for the company. Have you heard of this? It’s quickly becoming a pet peeve of mine.

We all have a certain amount of free time. Most of us have a few hours here and there at night or on the weekend. We may choose to have a big family that we spend time with. We may do volunteer work. We may garden. We may run an eBay store. Or, we may have some other side hobby that generates a few dollars here and there. You get the idea.

The problem is, the hiring manager is trying to put limits around what the employee 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. Don’t you agree? In the same way, it is inappropriate for an employer to ask an employee not to pursue certain hobbies.

Instead, ask the employee how they will excel at their job. Ask them what they plan to do to be the best in their field. Find out what the employee will be doing during work hours to help contribute to the success of the company. Find out about their past track record.

The one time where it makes sense to worry about an employee’s hobbies is this. The hobby should not be pursued during work hours. It should not be done on a work computer or at a work location. It should not compete with the company’s business. It should not require the use of confidential company information. And, the hobby should follow local laws. These all make sense. Your hobby shouldn’t directly hurt the business or use the business’ resources.

Aside from these things, hobbies are just that – hobbies. Whether yours is to have a big family or to run an eBay store, what’s done off the clock is nobody’s business but yours.

If an employee is underperforming, the deficit should be addressed, not the hobby. It’s the employee’s responsibility to manage their personal time in the way that they choose. The employee should not be forced to choose their job over the rest of their life. Both work time and personal time are important pieces of our individual lives. Having hobbies outside of work most likely makes us happier and even more productive during work hours.

If you’re hiring, only ask questions about hobbies if you truly want to learn about the job seeker. But, beware –personal information can create bias in your process.

Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at

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