Tell Me Something About Yourself That's Not on Your Resume

How to answer this potentially tricky interview question

Business people talking in meeting
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When you’re interviewing for a new job, interviewers want to go beyond what you have shared with them on your resume. Why? Your resume states the facts, but the interviewer wants to know about the person behind the work history to 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

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


Watch Now: Tips for Answering "Tell Me Something 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. There are several different ways you can answer the question.

Option 1: Share a Strength That Isn’t on Your Resume

Before every interview, you should 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:

  • Sample Answer: "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."

Option 2: Share an Intangible Strength

Sharing some of the intangible strengths in your background is one solid approach to take. 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. You could say something like the following to emphasize your strong work ethic:

  • Sample Answer: "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."

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.

  • Sample Answer: "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."

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.

  • Sample Answer: "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."

What Not to Say in Response

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.

What not to say: "I can answer that question, but first, let me tell you a story from my childhood."

Storytelling can 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.

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.

What not to say: “In my spare time, I like to drink wine with friends.”

Unless you’re an oenophile who’s applying for a job as a sommelier, bringing up your wine hobby may seem less than an expression of commitment and passion and more like a confession that you’ll be too hungover to work on Mondays.

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.

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

No one wants to hire someone who’ll talk about them behind their back later on.

What not to say: "I’m leaving my job because my boss is a jerk."

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. 

What not to say: "I couldn’t %&^*ing believe that you were hiring! Holy @%&*, I was excited to apply. Let me demonstrate my enthusiasm with this anecdote involving borderline illegal or unethical behavior."

Hiring managers want to know that you understand the rules of behavior in the workplace and that you have high ethical standards. Don’t share any anecdotes that demonstrate the opposite.