Why is it that, to be accepted for management jobs in a large bank or strategy consultancy firm, you have to have a special hobby. And reading celebrity autobiographies or shoe shopping doesn’t cut it. It has to be an extraordinary hobby.
One that makes you stand out in the grey crowd. One that shows that you are one in a million. One that shows you have character.
Before I applied for my first job in banking, I wanted to show I was VP material, so I feverishly went looking for a special hobby. And I was not the only one. I talked to people who knitted, who hiked, or were Olympic champion canoeists. One girl I talked to had taken on acrobatics, and another one joined a miming group - just before applying for a traineeship at the bank.
Just having an extraordinary hobby is not good enough. You have to be passionate about it, you have to love it, and most of all you have to have achieved something in it. So if you have taken up table tennis, you have to at least make it to the finals of the national table tennis championships. And if you climb mountains for fun, you have to have a picture showing yourself on top of K2. From this picture, your future employer will conclude that you have character.
What sort of character is that exactly? It is never a nice or friendly character. It is never a creative character. It is a character that knows how to sink his teeth into something. It is someone who relentlessly goes for whatever goal without showing mercy, whether it is the top of K2, the finishing of a 305-page memo, or the firing of an entire IT department. It is someone who gets the job done. That is how character is defined. And that is exactly what they are looking for. Because they know those are the skills you need to survive the office jungle.
In order to prove that I, too, have character, I have taken on flea market shopping as my new passion. My accomplishment is the fact that I have decorated my small Amsterdam apartment with gorgeous paraphernalia for almost nothing. I know how to choose the shopowners that have no idea of the value of their goods, I negotiate fiercely on every penny, and I don’t care if the people in the antique shop hate me for being a total Scrooge. But does that really mean I have character?