I'm originally from France. I grew up in a small town on the west coast. When I was 17, I decided to leave France and go to university in Canada.
While my family couldn't afford to pay for college in the US, Canada offered great education for a fraction of the cost, while allowing to get closer to my goal: experiencing the American Dream. I had always been fascinated by the entrepreneurship culture in North America.
I studied engineering at McGill University, one of Canada's leading universities. Despite studying engineering, my interest lied in business, finance, and entrepreneurship. While I always knew I was going to start a business of my own at some point, my dream job after college was to join a prestigious consulting company. I wanted to learn as much as possible about different industries and how large and successful businesses are run.
My last summer before graduation was in 2008 at the peak of the Great Recession and financial crisis of 2007-08. Most banks and consulting companies that typically hire college students for summer internships canceled or significantly reduced their programs. The competition was fierce. The pressure was on.
After a long series of interviews, I ended up with three exciting offers and decided to join the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which was ranked the third-best company in the country to work for by Fortune in 2009. I had managed to land what was then my dream job.
A few months later, while talking to one of the recruiting managers at BCG, she mentioned that they offered me an interview because my resume stood out from the thousands they had reviewed. I had a very unique interest that they didn't even know existed.
I guess not everyone plays underwater hockey. (Yes, it's a real thing! It's pretty much like ice hockey where players push a puck into goals using sticks. The difference is that you wear snorkels and fins and have to hold your breath for a really long time.)
Since childhood, I had always been passionate about being underwater. I started scuba-diving when I was 12, then moved on to free-diving and spearfishing before discovering some other strange underwater sports: rugby and hockey. I even ended up playing underwater hockey competitively in Canada for a few years.
While my passion for being underwater got me my first job, it also taught me three important lessons:
No matter how busy life gets, make time to pursue personal projects, interesting hobbies or things outside of school/work that you really care about.
Seize opportunities to differentiate yourself from the rest of your peers. For example, when I was in high school, I was given the option to study a second foreign language. While most people chose Spanish or Italian, I decided to challenge myself with Russian.
Highlight your unique skills. Make sure you add a section on your resume and mention your interests on your LinkedIn profile. Another creative way is to create a blog showcasing some of your achievements.
Now that I'm on the other side and interviewing candidates, I always try to find people with unique passions and hobbies. Whether it's a sport, art, or a cause, I find that people who are passionate about something outside of work tend to perform better and improve the culture of the company.
This has proven to be extremely successful at my current company. One of our top developers is a semi-professional volleyball player. One of our top sales reps is an underground DJ, while our Customer Success Manager is an avid ice hockey player. (I'm trying to get her to switch to underwater hockey--with no success so far).
From my experience, bringing individuals with unique interests together creates a more fun and intellectually-stimulating culture. It pushes everyone to be more curious and outgoing. It makes people talk more with each other and build long-lasting friendships.
It's helped me attract and retain top talent, and it's made my office a better place. Give it a try and see how it works for you.