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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

5 Simple Steps for Answering “Tell Me Something Not on Your Resume”

two people shaking hands in an open office before a job interview with a third person standing next to them
Bailey Zelena; Westend61/Getty Images

Some interview questions come in pairs: “What are your biggest strengths?” and “What’s your biggest weakness?”; “Tell me about a time you overcame an obstacle” and “Tell me about a time you failed”; “What is your management style?” and “How do you like to be managed?” But the complement for the popular “Walk me through your resume” might surprise you when it comes up.

The interview is going really well. You’ve got a good rapport with the hiring manager, you’re getting your key points across, you’re speaking clearly and confidently—and then comes this question:

“What should I know about you that’s not on your resume?”

And you’re stumped, because huh? If you tailored your resume (and you should have), you made sure all your relevant qualifications for this specific job were on your resume. And anything that didn’t quite fit likely made it into your cover letter. So what are they asking for here? And what should go into your answer?

I know the feeling, so I thought I would break down this question for you so that answering doesn’t seem quite so tricky.

Why interviewers ask

On the surface, this question seems weird. After all, you’ve worked hard to condense all your relevant information onto a single page so that everything the interviewer should know is on there!

But hiring managers ask this question to get a sense for your personality and character, rather than just your work experiences and accomplishments.

They’re also giving you a chance to tell them something that’s important but doesn’t fit within the traditional resume format—like what drives you or what you’re passionate about outside your 9-to-5.

How to answer

These steps should make it easy to craft a strong answer.

1. Choose what you’re going to talk about

There are three basic “themes” for your response that you can choose from.

  • One of your positive traits or skills. Think: your creativity, your enthusiasm, your tenacity, your dedication, or any aspect of your personality that makes you you—but might be hard to get across on a resume. Or maybe you have a skill that didn’t seem relevant when you applied, but now that you know more about the role you see that it could be helpful.
  • A work or non-work experience that reveals something awesome about you and your accomplishments: For example, maybe you’ve climbed a few major mountains, which shows how persistent you are when you put your mind to it.
  • Your motivations or overall goals: Maybe you want to work in hospitality because you want to recreate the same sense of joy and wonder you’ve experienced on vacations for as many guests as possible. Or perhaps this position will help you gain the skills you need to grow into your dream role a few years down the line.

Go back to the job description and/or consider what you’ve learned about the company or job during the interview process. Ask yourself what qualities or experiences set you up for the job that may not have come up in your application or elsewhere in the conversation.

2. Introduce your answer topic.

This could be as simple as, “I’d like you to know about my graphic design skills,” or, “One thing that’s not on my resume is the charity event I coordinated a few years ago.”

3. Add the relevant details.

If you’re recounting an experience or anecdote, give a very brief summary of what happened, including the most important and relevant details. If you’re talking about a skill or personality trait, consider backing it up with a brief anecdote.

4. Say why you chose your answer.

Your resume is only one page, so presumably there are thousands of things about you that aren’t on your resume. Why did you choose to talk about this one? Does it show what kind of employee, teammate, or person you are? Did something come up earlier in the interview that illuminated how you could bring even more to the company than you previously thought?

5. Tie your answer back to the job or company.

Even if it feels obvious to you, explicitly connect your response to the position you’re interviewing for. Maybe what you shared shows that you’ll be super dedicated to the job or that you can help the company solve a problem they’re currently facing. Perhaps it shows how good of a teammate you’ll be or that you bring a unique point of view to the table.

What not to say

Here’s what to avoid:

  • Talking about anything you’ve mentioned before. If it’s on your resume, don’t say it! Regurgitating what’s on that paper will make you seem unimaginative, or worse, like you don’t understand the question. The same goes for your cover letter.
  • Sharing anything that’ll raise a red flag. For example, you might be desperate to get this job because you’ve been unemployed for six months—but telling the interviewer that? Not a good idea. You may come across as wanting any job, rather than being passionate about this job.
  • Complaining or being overly negative: This question isn’t an invitation to share how you must escape your current job because of your toxic coworkers or how past bosses have complained about your “direct” communication style. Keep it positive and relevant to the job.

Example answers for “Tell me something that’s not on your resume.”

Here’s the above advice in action!

Example answer about a past non-work accomplishment

“Well, one thing you won’t find on my resume is the time I had to administer emergency CPR. Last year, I was at a lake when I saw a young girl who looked like she was drowning. I was a lifeguard in high school, so I swam out, brought her to shore, and gave her CPR until help arrived.

“Although this was—hopefully—a one-time event, I’ve always been able to stay calm during stressful situations, figure out a solution, and then act on it. This characteristic would make me a valuable member of your company. After all, obstacles are inevitable, especially in a startup environment.

As your account manager, I’d use this trait to quickly and effectively resolve issues both within the team and externally. And if anyone needs rescuing at the office beach party, well, I’m your woman.”

Example answer about a skill

One aspect of my background that I didn’t include on my resume is my performance and improvisational experience. Throughout high school and college, I was in at least one play or musical a year, and since college I’ve been part of a comedy troupe that posts sketches on YouTube and TikTok and puts on improv shows. Earlier, you were talking about how the social and content teams want to put out more videos but you were struggling to get employees to consistently volunteer to be on camera. As a former—and current—theater kid, I’ve got you covered. I’m comfortable on camera—whether it’s scripted or more off-the-cuff—and eager to try out anything. I’ve also learned a lot about what resonates with online audiences, so I can offer some input there.

Example answer about your motivations

This isn’t something I talk about a lot, but when I was in my first job as a software engineer, I lost my father to a heart condition. He was young and it was sudden. We didn’t know he had any heart issues at all. The health tracking your wearables are already capable of, and the features that you’re working on, are huge parts of why I applied. I love coding, but since then I’ve always wished I could do work that might help people avoid what my father and my family went through. It would mean so much to me to be able to work toward helping people detect health issues like my father’s.” 

Regina Borsellino also contributed writing, reporting, and/or advice to this article.