What makes you unique?
You probably have many qualities that set you apart from others. But when an interviewer prompts you to “tell us what makes you unique,” she doesn’t really want to hear about your winning smile or that you bake the best blueberry muffins in the world. She wants to know what sets you apart from other candidates for the role in question and why you are the perfect fit for the job.
So, how do you respond? Find out what you should say to wow your interviewer, as well as topics to avoid.
Your interviewer probably has a pool of talented and qualified candidates for the role she is looking to fill. By asking you what makes you unique, she really wants to know what sets you apart from other individuals who can do the job well, too. She is looking for the person who won’t just do the job well but will do it spectacularly well.
It may seem difficult to reflect on how you perform your work in a unique way, but that is not really what the interviewer is asking. She really wants to know how you will add value as an employee and what skills you can bring to the team. She is looking to find out what contributions you will make and what you will do differently from other competent individuals.
How you respond to this question can also inform the interviewer about your personality and how you might interact with the rest of the team. For example, if you disparage other candidates or current or past coworkers, even hypothetically—”I’m sure no one else you’re interviewing can do such and such”—you are demonstrating that you are a poor sport and might not fit in with the company. However, if you keep your response upbeat and focus on your value, experiences, and skills alone, rather than how they compare to anyone else’s, the interviewer will be more inclined to regard you in a positive light.
Whether or not the interviewer asks this question, you should prepare for it as though you know she will. Chance are, even if she doesn’t ask this precise question, she will ask something similar, and your preparation can inform your other responses. Here is how you can formulate a response that will make your interviewer stand up and take notice.
Start by reflecting on your work-related strengths and attributes. Take a few minutes to brainstorm everything the comes to mind. You might, for example, include qualities like “excellent listener,” “extremely fast worker,” and “amazing attention to detail.”
Actually write your qualities down on paper so that you have a list of potential responses.
Reread the job description. What stands out? What does the employer seem to emphasize? These are the qualities that you should emphasize, too, since they are clearly important to the hiring manager.
If there is any overlap in the qualities you have listed and the skills described in the job description, highlight them. Also, consider how the attributes you’ve listed might strengthen your performance in this role. For example, if a marketing position asks for excellent communication skills, go a step further and consider how being a go-to support system for your colleagues might demonstrate your strong communication skills.
From this exercise, create a list of attributes you want to include in your response.
Once you have selected a few key qualities that will set you apart from other candidates, comb your memory for anecdotes that demonstrate them. If you consider yourself adept at conflict resolution, for instance, you might describe a time you settled a dispute between two colleagues.
Next to each quality, jot down a brief anecdote or example. To save time, you might just list a prompt that will remind you of the story.
In addition to telling anecdotes, strengthen your response by incorporating specific data and numbers. Perhaps you grew your current employer’s social media following by X percent or caught Y number of errors. Including the figures shows that you’ve added concrete value to employers in the past and are likely to do the same with your prospective employer.
Remember to make your answer relevant by bringing it back to the job at hand. Discuss how the qualities you are describing will benefit the company. If you are talking about, say, how your social media prowess helped grow your current employer’s following, you might add, “I’ve seen how much you’ve already built up your Twitter account, and I think I can expand it even more.”
Since this question asks you to reflect on what makes you unique, demonstrate that you truly are unique by truly being yourself. That doesn’t mean swearing in your answer if that’s how you talk to your friends normally, of course, but make yourself more human by telling an appropriate joke, smiling, and speaking as candidly as possible.
The point is to be personable and approachable. Content matters, of course, but how you relay it is just as important. You are someone the hiring manager is considering as a potential team member, so you want to come across as an employee who will fit in well with the team.
Once you have developed a response, practice it a few times. It is a good idea to jot down your response in bullet points, rather than writing a full answer, because you don’t want to sound too stiff or rehearsed or lose your train of thought by trying to remember your lines. Practicing a couple times will give you the confidence to help you know what to say without actually memorizing a script word for word.
Be prepared for your interviewer to ask a variation of this question, and have ideas about how you might adjust your response accordingly. “What sets you apart from other candidates?” is essentially the same question, so you wouldn’t need to change your response at all. However, if your interviewer asks you something along the lines of, “How would you improve the company/team/specific project?” you could use some of the same content, using past examples to describe what you might do in the future, while focusing on the company goals and emphasizing your fit with the mission. In a response like that, you’ll also want to give concrete examples of what you see yourself doing at the prospective employer.
Your response will vary greatly according to your industry, position, and personal experiences. General responses might look something like this:
“I was the first member of my family to graduate from college, and that has always been a source of pride for me. I haven’t had a lot of the advantages many of my peers have had, and for me, I appreciate the perspective and sense of discipline having to work for my achievements has instilled in me. I’m an incredibly diligent worker and am able to keep my cool during difficult situations. For example, last year, my team was working with a particularly demanding client, and my colleague became very frustrated with him. I managed to temper his expectations, and we were able to negotiate a solution that worked for everyone.”
“My productivity has always been a source of pride for me. Often, I not only meet deadlines: I complete the projects well in advance. Managers and colleagues have always commended me on my quick turnaround with high-quality results. Last year, my ability to reduce a project timeline by two weeks led to the client establishing a more permanent relationship with the company.”
It is important to tailor your response to the industry and role in question. After all, the hiring manager wants to see how you are the perfect fit for the company and will improve it. With that in mind, these examples can give you an outline of how to respond to “What makes you unique?” for different jobs:
“As a software developer at X company, I built an app that changed the face of online dating. What enabled me to contribute to such a successful team effort was my diligence, attention to detail, and enthusiasm for the mission. I know I’ll bring the same qualities to Y project at your organization.”
“I believe relationships are the bedrock of a successful partnership. That’s why my people skills are so valuable in this line of work. I make the effort to really get to know my clients beyond the business transactions; that allows me to find the best solutions for their needs. At X company, I increased revenue by Y percent, and given your already stellar reputation, I’m sure I can expand your client base even further.”
“For me, graphic design requires more than a creative spark. I’m a self-starter who learned many of the programs on my own without any formal training. I think that makes me uniquely qualified to manage other designers since I know what it’s like to start from the ground up. It’s also made me adaptable and able to identify new ways of approaching a client’s mission and message. I’m very impressed with the work your designers have produced, and I’m eager to take part in and expand your campaigns.”
There are plenty of ways to give your interviewer a positive response that demonstrates how you shine in the workplace. There are also topics you should absolutely avoid. You should never:
• Discuss your personal life, unless it directly relates to your professional strengths. (You could, for example, describe an anecdote involving your kids if it seems relevant; you should not discuss a bad date.)
• Disparage other candidates, even in a general or vague way. This suggests a lack of confidence on your part in addition to sounding rude. Focus on you, not them.
• Give a silly answer without immediately following it up with a real one. (Read the room before giving a joke answer at all; if it seems like the interviewer would appreciate a little levity, go for it, but otherwise, just focus on developing a real response.)
• Answer a different question. You need to be responding to the question the interviewer asks, rather than the one you want her to ask.
• Ramble or lose your train of thought. Instead, keep it as short and sweet as possible. (This is why it is a good idea to practice a couple of times, so you don’t go off on tangents or get sidetracked.)
Interviews are nerve-wracking, and it can feel especially anxiety-provoking to face a question you are not expecting. Don’t be caught off guard!
Preparation is key to standing out in the interview process. Whether you are responding to the “tell me about yourself” prompt, describing your weaknesses in a positive way that emphasizes your growth, or figuring out what questions to ask when you’re winding down, we have advice for honing your approach and impressing the hiring manager. Check out 40 Common Interview Questions (and Answers!) You Need to Know and The Ultimate Interview Guide.