Adding activities and interests on your resume is like adding “references available upon request”; it’s just taking up space and distracting from your personal narrative. While I would say that’s the case for the latter since the expectation is that references will be asked for and given, the former still has value in some situations.
For the HR screener or Recruiter the activities and interests section is almost always useless, they just want to determine if you are qualified for the job before shortlisting for interviews. However, when the application gets to the hiring manager or other team members vetting your application, it can be the determining factor to land you an interview, and sometimes even the job offer at the end of the process.
The hiring managers and potential colleagues on the hiring committee have a say in the hiring process and sometimes the final say. They aren’t always following the same principals as their HR/talent management colleagues. To them, (if I generalize), they want someone who can not only do the job but will also fit well with the team. The activities and interests section on your resume is a good way to see if you may fit with the team. There is the risk of generating bias if your activities are political or religious in nature. This could certainly extend to seemingly innocuous things like sports, however I would argue this is a minimal risk. So, when/why to use it?
1. You are a student, new grad, or have limited experience.
In this case you make lack the experience and training to fill-out a full page or two, so adding things that you’re into can give you another line or two of content. The other bonus to adding these few lines is that it shows that while you may not have a robust resume of professional experience and training, you are pursuing things that are helping you grow as a person and/or brining yourself fulfillment and goals.
2. Some hiring managers do make decisions based on your activities and interests.
Not everyone in the hiring process will be an HR professional. There are many professions, industries or smaller companies that rely on whoever is available to hire the next candidate. They can often approach the process from a more “feel” and emotional perspective. They will look for someone who is capable to do the job but they want someone who they and their team can get along with. A team of hikers? If you love to hike and the other candidate does not, there’s a good chance you will get that interview and/or bonus points.
3. It’s better than flipping a coin.
Like the example above, if a hiring manager has 2 candidates who are otherwise equal on paper, how will they decide who to go with? Flipping a coin doesn’t seem like a professional/fair way to choose, but if the team has common interests and activities, there’s a good chance the candidate who has shared interests is going to fit better with the team.
4. It won’t hurt your chances (usually).
It is best for the activities and interests section to be at the end of your resume and only a line or two. At worst, the person reviewing your resume will think it’s unnecessary and ignore, at best, it will land you an interview and/or job offer over the person who doesn’t have one or indicate interests that fit with the prospective team.
That being said, activities that are overtly political or religious could harm your chances if there is something very divisive about it like being a die-hard Toronto Maple Leafs supporter may not go over well with a Montreal Canadians fan (of course there are far more real and divisive things out there, but I won’t list them here). However, you should stay true to your values, so if they aren’t shared by your prospective employer/team, do you really want to work there?
5. A safe way to add some personality to your application.
Many will argue that the resume is professional, which it is, but you are an individual and you should highlight a bit of your personality. Now, this doesn’t mean adding colour and fancy graphics to your resume, that is just distracting and not the personality we are talking about. Adding an activities and interests section gives insight into your personality and what drives you without distracting from the professional story you’ve outlined within the rest of the resume.
My activities include: bass guitar (yes, that's me and my favourite bass - Duff McKagan special), playing in a band (I'm in two - Vagabond Star and Midnight Mayday), running, exercise, movies and most importantly, spending time with my family.