The horror that is the “Personal” section of the MBA resume

Woman taking cherry pie from ovenI just finished drafting my resume in the Johnson format. Besides the utter torture it was to format it in 11 pt Times New Roman in a Word doc using tables (I work on the side as a freelance graphic designer; I haven’t had my resume in Word since 2003), the worst part, by far, was figuring out what to put in that dreaded “Personal” section at the bottom.

I know everyone says to not stress out about this section. But then the next moment I hear that it’s the first part of the resume recruiters look at. And how am I not supposed to worry about this section, exactly??

I’ve never, ever had a “Personal” section on my resume. I always thought it was irrelevant, and I’d much rather use that space to talk about my professional qualifications than what I do outside of work. Plus, it’s no one’s business what I do with my free time, right? The last thing I’d want is for a recruiter to make unfair assumptions about me due to the content of that kind of section. I’d really rather avoid it, but it’s apparently expected. So I’m stuck.

I first looked for guidance in the form of other MBA resumes. I was not encouraged with what I found. They included items such as:

  • Avid golfer; current 8 handicap
  • FAA-certified pilot
  • Equestrian competitor
  • Ran [insert big city here] Marathon
  • Snowboarded in eight different countries

OK…I don’t know about all of you, but I don’t do these things. I don’t run, period. I also don’t ski or snowboard or play basketball, soccer, golf, cricket or any other sport. The closest thing I do to physical activity is hiking, and that’s the LA definition, which means walking lazily along a smooth and wide dirt path for a mile or so before you start to feel a little hot and then turn around to go back to your air conditioned car.

So I started to think hard about what I do with my free time. And, honestly, I spend a lot of my free time reading. And no, I’m not reading Victorian poetry or amazing pieces of literature. I’m reading…The New York Times. Slate. Mental_Floss. The New Yorker. A bunch of local SoCal blogs and a huge slew of tech blogs. The thing is, putting “reading” down on your list of personal interests is probably the most boring non-informational thing you could share, even if my reading goes beyond leisure.

I thought about including something like “animal rescue” or “animal advocacy” on my list. But I am completely paranoid of someone reading that and assuming that I am some kind of PETA militant or someone who lives with 20 cats.

Then I considered adding “cooking” or “baking”. I’ve done a lot of cooking in my life and am pretty much a foodie. But that also sounds bland and generic nowadays; it’s closer to “reading” than anything. “Baking” could possibly be more interesting, but once again, I’m worried that it will sound like I’m a woman who wears an apron and bakes cookies for her children in her 1950s kitchen. I do bake a lot, though. Let me know if you need any cookie recipes–I’ve tested out a lot on my officemates.

Frankly, the other stuff I do just sounds weird. I like to write, of course, and have written a good amount of poetry and fiction. But that seems…I don’t know…too “heavy” to include on a resume. Like maybe I’d actually really rather be a novelist but I’m looking for a regular job to pay the bills (which is not true). I also like to find/play indie/offbeat video games, which totally sounds weird. And it also sounds like I’m a gamer or something, which I’m not. Real gamers would kick me out of that club very quickly.

SIGH. I wish I did something relatively common and relatable, like photography or painting. That would be pretty safe.