Interview Question: "Tell Me About Something Not on Your Resume"

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Image by Brooke Pelczynski © The Balance 2019

When you’re interviewing for a new job, interviewers want to go beyond what you have shared with them on your resume.

One way for an interviewer to gain this perspective is to ask you an open-ended question such as, “Tell me something about yourself that isn’t on your resume.”

If you get this question, it's an opportunity to choose the most compelling information to share that is not obvious from your resume. It is often asked as a follow-up to one of the most common interview questions, "Tell me about yourself."

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

Your resume states the facts, but the interviewer wants to know about the person behind the work history. This will help your interviewer determine whether you’re a good match for the job and the organization.

To uncover this information, interviewers ask different questions to get an in-depth view of your qualifications for the job, as well as of your personality.

Ultimately, they want to know that you’re not only able to carry out the duties of the job, but that you’ll fit in well with the team and the corporate culture.

How to Answer Interview Questions About What's Not on Your Resume

For the applicant, questions that dig further into your background provide an opportunity to share more about the personal qualities and attributes that would enable you to be a successful employee if you were to be hired.

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Watch Now: Tips for Answering "Tell Me Something Not on Your Resume"

There are several different ways you can answer the question.

Option 1: Share a strength that isn’t on your resume. Before every interview, itemize the core strengths that you want to convey during your interview. This type of question can provide an opening to emphasize an asset that is not transparent from your resume.

For example, public speaking might be an important requirement in the job for which you’re being considered. You may not have had the opportunity to speak in front of groups during your work history. However, you could respond that you were on the debate team in college, excelled at presentations as part of group projects in school, gave a talk at a volunteer dinner, or won a marketing competition as an undergraduate. Or perhaps you want to emphasize your commitment, willingness to go the extra mile, and creative problem-solving skills.

Option 2: Share an intangible strength. Your resume should already list the accomplishments and the skills you used to generate these achievements. However, subjective assets like personal qualities are harder to incorporate into a resume, like your work ethic or loyalty.

Option 3: Explain why you want the job. Employers are often just as concerned about your motivation for taking on a particular type of work as they are about your knowledge and skills. So this kind of question provides an opportunity to explain why the job is so appealing to you.

You can emphasize why you were inspired to apply for the job. You can also explain that you are willing to invest a great deal of energy if hired. For example, if you are applying for a fundraising position with a medical research facility, you could mention that you developed a commitment to medical research because your mom or dad was a physician and had shared stories about how difficult it was for their patients with debilitating diseases.

Option 4: Share something personal. Finally, you can take this opportunity to share a hobby or interest that might positively reflect upon your character or make you a memorable candidate. This approach will make the most sense if you have already been able to convey your job-specific assets and motivations sufficiently. 

For example, if you are applying for a job that requires a great deal of intellectual firepower, then you might share your passion for chess, or if physical risk-taking is required, you might mention your interest in rock climbing.

Examples of the Best Answers

In my previous position as office manager, I discovered that the company was spending thousands of dollars per year on office supplies that no one used. On my own time, I went through previous orders and determined which products were used most and least often, and then negotiated a more favorable contract with the vendor that covered our most-used supplies at a discount. I then changed our ordering system to reduce waste. This saved the company $8,000 during Q1 alone.

Why It Works: Presumably, this accomplishment didn't make it on to the candidate's resume. This is an impressive answer — the end result saved the company money (something every employer desires) and also shows that the candidate is a self-starter, strong negotiator, and clever.

For me, this isn’t just another administrative assistant job. I love that by working at an animal shelter, I’ll be doing my part to care for animals who need help the most. Ever since I was little, my family has adopted and fostered cats and dogs. I currently have two dogs, both of whom I’ve adopted from local shelters.

Why It Works: This shows the candidate's passion for the position, and demonstrates that the candidate is interested in this particular job (not any role that comes along). 

You can see from my resume that my sales team exceeded its annual goal by 15%. One of the keys to that success was my willingness to go out on more sales calls with staff to help close deals with major clients. It meant more late evenings catching up on my administrative tasks, but it was well worth it.

Why It Works: This answer reveals a personal quality — the candidate's work ethic — that might be hinted at on the resume, but likely isn't stated as clearly.

I attribute my sales record to my competitive nature. I’m always looking for new challenges. Last year, I competed in my first triathlon and I’ve been hooked ever since. In my free time, you can usually find me training. I also value the peace and focus that I’ve gained through my efforts to continuously improve.

Why It Works: This answer gets personal, but handily shows how the candidate's interests link to positive work traits.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Keep it relevant to the job: You can get personal, but don't over-share and don't stray too far from skills and traits that show how you're suitable for the role.

Be sincere and authentic: Part of the reason interviewers ask this question is to get a sense of your personality and how you'll fit in on the job. So give them an honest answer that shows who you are.

Share your strengths: As mentioned above, one of the best strategies for answering this question is to share either an intangible strength or one that isn't mentioned on your resume.

What Not to Say

This question may be open-ended, but that doesn't mean any answer is a good one. Here are some things to avoid in your response:

Rambling or talking for too long: Take a second before you begin speaking to gather your thoughts. You don't want to monologue for several paragraphs in your response. Keep your response clear and organized as much as possible. Storytellingcan be a valuable interview tool, but it should be seamless — and speedy. Don’t tell your interviewer that you’re about to tell them something. Get right to the point and respect their time by being concise.

Reciting your resume: Your interviewer has your resume and is interested in hearing something a bit different. You can give an overview of your career, but make sure it goes beyond the facts in your resume by highlighting why this path interested you. And make sure to focus on the high points. Don't dwell on the early stages of your career, which might not be relevant to the position you're seeking now.

Over-sharing: It's fine to talk about hobbies and passions, but keep in mind the interviewer is really most interested in your job performance. Stay away from overly personal responses or sharing interests or hobbies that reflect poorly on you as a candidate.

Anything negative: Stay upbeat during the job interview. Avoid saying anything less than positive about former bosses, co-workers, or employers. Otherwise, hiring managers will assume that you’ll give them (and their employer) the same treatment. No one wants to hire someone who’ll talk about them behind their back later on.

Your prospective manager may assume that you’ll talk about them the same way – or that you’re the problem. 

Unprofessional behavior: While this question offers you the opportunity to connect more deeply, it’s not an invitation to drop your guard or behave unprofessionally. Keep your language, demeanor, and stories safe for work. 

Possible Follow-up Questions

Key Takeaways

Be strategic: Highlight qualities that'll boost your candidacy.

Keep company culture in mind: One of the goals in your response is demonstrating that you're a good fit for the company culture. 

Avoid unprofessional answers: Do not over-share or ramble. Even though this question has the potential to get personal, it's still a job interview.