How to Answer ‘Tell Me Something that’s Not on Your Résumé’

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Illustration of a woman and a man sitting at a desk with a speech bubble

More often than not, interviews will begin with the ‘Tell me about yourself’ question – regardless of your role, skills or industry experience. It’s a common interview question that breaks the ice and provides you with an opportunity to introduce yourself, your résumé and your interests.

But what do you say when the conversation is flowing, you’re feeling confident and comfortable, and the interviewer asks: ‘What should I know that’s isn’t on your résumé?’

It’s a curveball. It's not an interview question that jobseekers typically prepare an answer for, but your response can be critical for a successful interview.

Why hiring managers ask this question

The answer is simple: they want to get to know your character and motivations.

It’s important to make a good first impression, and interviewers will anticipate a well-prepared introduction. However, they’re far more likely to receive open and honest answers when candidates are relaxed and a good rapport has been established.

Hiring managers will wait until you appear comfortable before asking a curveball question – just to get a sample of how you cope with unexpected, high-pressure situations.

‘What should I know that’s isn’t on your résumé?’ can seem like an odd, or even deceiving, question on the surface, but it can actually serve as a great opportunity to showcase why you’re the perfect candidate for the role.

Do they want to hear about how much you love holidaying in Italy every summer? No. But they do want to hear about that time you excelled in your work and went the extra mile.

If you tend to experience interview nerves, it can be easy to follow the red herring ‘isn’t on your résumé’. Don’t be fooled: your answer should be related to your professional career or relevant experience.

How to craft a response

So, how do you answer this interview question? Here are some tips!

1. Highlight a quality, interest or achievement

When writing your résumé, it’s important to be succinct – but cutting your experience down to one or two pages can come at a cost. Choose a quality, interest or achievement that is relevant to the role but didn’t make it on to your résumé.

Have you been proactive with short courses or certifications? What do you consider to be your strongest attribute? Have you managed a project that was above your remit?

Asking yourself these questions before an interview will enable you to showcase how you could add value to their team.

2. Provide examples

Whatever you choose to highlight, it’s imperative to gather concrete and well-defined examples when preparing for an interview. Hiring managers want to hear how your claims are backed up with evidence.

While situation-and-result answers are common, you could also highlight positive feedback you’ve received in the past, provide contextual information or sample your work.

3. Relate to the job description

Make it explicitly clear to hiring managers that you could add value by relating your answer to the job description or the business.

Before your interview, you should always research the company. What are their values? What qualities do they look for in candidates? By educating yourself on the company and the role, you’ll be well-informed and better able to demonstrate how you will fit into the position.

Perhaps there’s a strong drive for collaborative people, or a role requires meticulous attention to detail.

4. Be concise

As with any response in an interview, your focus should be on quality, not quantity. If you start rambling or stray too much from your subject matter, you may be marked down for poor verbal communication.

Learning to recognise your ‘rambling signs’ is an important part of interview preparation, and practising in front of the mirror or with a friend can be a useful tool for self-awareness.

Long-winded answers can dilute your message – only provide the important information, but be prepared for further questions.

Example answers

Still not sure how to answer this question? Check out these examples for inspiration!

If you’re applying for a step up

Display your key achievements that clearly demonstrate that you’re ready to move to the next level in your career. Give a brief overview but be ready to dive into more detail if the hiring manager wants to know more.

In my last position, my manager and stakeholders praised me for my ability to be autonomous and take the initiative often. I feel very comfortable in the deep end – problem solving and decision making. For example, I had the opportunity to lead a global mobility project that I would consider to be above my remit. It was challenging, but by the end, I had completely rescoped how the company approached employee mobility. The project was well-received in management and demonstrated that I was capable of project management – so I am excited about the project management opportunities mentioned in the job description and would love to bring my previous experience to this role.

If you’re a career changer

Provide examples of new or transferable skills that will be useful in your new role. Don’t forget to mention any preparations you have made for transitioning roles, such as undertaking courses or certifications.

I decided to move away from software development and into a career in cybersecurity after the WannaCry ransomware attack. I began developing my technical skills by completing my OSCP certification and launched a blog about current malware technologies. Writing has become a huge passion of mine, and I know report writing is an aspect of this role. I believe blogging to audiences of varying technical levels has helped me develop the communication skills needed to write reports that are clear, comprehensible and digestible. If you would like to read a sample of my work, I would be happy to email over a link after this interview.

If you’re a recent graduate

Draw attention to an aspect of your degree that you found especially fascinating and reference any research that you undertook beyond the parameters of your curriculum.

While I was completing my BSc in accounting and finance, I became particularly interested in ethics and moral philosophy. My degree only scratched the surface of the subject, and so I decided to begin my own research. I’m always looking to learn new things and challenge myself and so during the summer, I undertook short courses in critical thinking and business law. Critically analysing business models, auditing practices and studying real-world examples was really thought-provoking. When I saw that business analysis was an important aspect of this role, I was very interested to hear more, as I believe my passion for the subject and knowledge of best practices would be beneficial.

If you have no work experience

When you don’t have any work experience, structure your answer around your character instead. Pay attention to the job requirements and list the qualities you have that would make you the ideal candidate.

Participating in drama classes and group performances has made me confident and comfortable with speaking to people and working as part of a team. I excelled in the improvisation activities – and as a result, I can think on my feet and react to situations effectively. For example, during an improvisation performance, I had to incorporate an essential plot-point that was required to achieve a grade. In the last five minutes, I was able to make a decision and act confidently, without prior thought. From what you’ve told me about the role, I can see that these skills will be valuable when providing exceptional customer service and working in a fast-moving environment.

So, there you go! Curveball interview questions can be tackled without scrambled answers and sweaty palms. Following common interview tips and entering into an interview feeling calm and confident will enable you to respond to anything unexpected with structure and evidence.

Have you been asked this question before? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments section below!