I was surprised today when I opened the New York Times and read the following in an article called "The Dos and Don'ts of Looking for Work":
Q. Is it possible to provide prospective employers with too much information?
A. Absolutely. Ms. Ivey said that personal details about hobbies, marital status, political affiliation and religion had no place on a job application.
I agree with the "absolutely" answer to that question: there is absolutely such a thing as too much information in a job search, and for the New York Times interview I discussed that phenomenon in the context of the now infamous Vayner video resume, in which the applicant's taped montage of himself lifting weights and hitting the dance floor resembled a Saturday Night Live routine.
However, everything after the word "absolutely" makes me scratch my head a bit. Maybe I'm just getting old, but I don't recall ever mentioning marital status, political affiliation, or religion in that interview, so I'm not sure how those worked their way into the Q&A above, and in fact my opinions on those subjects are quite different from what's written there. More importantly, when presented in the right way, hobbies absolutely DO have a place on the resume and in interviews, as long as people aren't boneheads about it. It's always an honor to be interviewed by the New York Times, but I do want to clear up that paraphrase above.
Regarding hobbies: I've been telling people for years that they should include hobbies and activities on their resumes and give recruiters and interviewers a sense of who they are outside of work and school. (I've heard far more real-life examples where it helped than where it hurt.) I feel especially bad about the wonderful Notre Dame law students whose resumes I critiqued just this past week during our mock interviews — I told every one of them to leave in or even add activities that were important to them, and only in a few cases did I recommend taking some out. So all you Domers, please don't take out your activities just because of that interview in today's NYT.
Regarding religious affiliation: I'll always let you include that you're involved in your school's St. Thomas More Society or that you do community service work through Hadassah, for example, and any employer who wouldn't hire you because of those affiliations wouldn't be a good match for you anyway. Let's take Notre Dame as an example, where many, if not most, students are involved in Catholic organizations. Are they supposed to hide the fact that they're Catholic? That would be silly, and rather difficult. As with all things in life (and that includes resumes and interviews), use your judgment. Listing activities like the St. Thomas More Society is a far cry from writing, in the "Personal" section of your resume, that you believe Jesus Christ is your Savior, that George W is a war criminal, or that Meat is Murder. Those are completely over-the-top examples, and most people know better than to do that.
Good judgment is also a matter of how you use the real estate of your resume. For example, you don't want to make your personal interests and assorted non-work-related activities the main focus of your resume. This isn't a MySpace profile, after all. (And when you're interviewing for a job, take down anything from MySpace etc. that you wouldn't want your employer to see.)
Good judgment also means not fudging your activities or anything else on your resume. Don't list "travel" if you haven't ventured outside the northern hemisphere ("travel" is too generic to be useful anyway). Don't list skiing if you took one class as a twelve-year-old. Don't list Word War II history if, when asked what book on the subject you would recommend, you say that you've only watched the History Channel. For any piece of information you offer up for discussion on your resume, be prepared in the interview to elaborate on any one of them for a good minute or two.
On the subject of marital or family status, I do agree that marital or family status is not something to list in a resume (as in, "married," "single" "divorced" "two kids," "child bride in illegal polygamous sect"). It's fine, however, to list or mention that you enjoy coaching your son's peewee football league. If a company interpreted that activity as a sign that you wouldn't be sufficiently committed to the job, you don't want to work there anyway. (See a pattern?)
Regarding political affiliation: I have blogged here before about political affiliation and how that can play out on the job market. I don't think it's always a bad thing to list things like Federalist Society, College Democrats, or whatever the case may be. It really depends on the company or firm or non-profit organization you're applying to. In fact, because some companies, firms, and non-profits do have strong political cultures, it can sometimes be a bad idea NOT to leverage your common affiliation.