If your interviewer asks you the question “What Makes You Unique?” consider it a gift. Your answer to this question in a job interview is an opportunity to shine. If you’ve read this article, your answer will leave an indelible impression and possibly land you the job!
In this article, we explain why an interviewer asks this question in the first place and how you can craft an honest, thoughtful, and impactful answer. We show you how to differentiate yourself from the other candidates to be an excellent communicator. Lastly, we give you some examples to help stimulate your creative juices so that you can prepare your interview answer.
Let’s say you are looking to hire someone to fix bugs on an e-commerce platform. You have narrowed down the field to five candidates, all of whom have the required coding skills for the job. How can you determine who is the best candidate for the job?
As the hiring manager, you will look for a differentiator, something that one candidate has that the others do not. And that differentiator will be something that is directly related to the job at hand.
In this case, one of the candidates also has experience managing user complaints in their prior job. They understand the concept of beta-testing and also have experience communicating with clients. This differentiator might land them the job because they don’t just know how to code, they also understand the user’s perspective.
The point here is that to answer the question, “What Makes You Unique,” you have to find out what it is about you that is valuable to the employer and is something other people do not have. Figuring out that special something requires research.
The job description will provide you some idea of what skill set the company is looking for, but that is only half the story. To find out how you fit into the equation requires learning more about the culture and the work that the company does.
The company website will give you some idea of where the company is heading, but talking to an insider will give you an even better perspective.
You could ask your HR contact to put you in touch with someone within the company before your interview who would be willing to chat for a few minutes. Another approach is to visit the company’s LinkedIn page or search social media to see if you can contact an existing employee.
Once you make contact with an employee, discuss your background with them and ask them how they think you can add value to the work of the company. Once you know what it is about you that is valuable, it is time to sell that to the hiring manager by crafting the answer to the question, “What Makes You Unique?”
It can help to rephrase the question so that your answer really delivers what the employer wants to hear. For example, using the scenario introduced earlier, the question could be rephrased as “What specific experience or skills do you have, other than those on the job description, that makes you the ideal candidate for the job?”
Yes, this question is longer and more complicated, but it nails down exactly what you need to say.
In the scenario of the IT candidate who is being hired to fix bugs, that candidate has experience listening and responding to user complaints, which is not on the job description. That means their last role developed their communication skills with customers and gave them a richer perspective that could lead to better fixes and better products.
Once you pinpoint your unique personality traits, you can begin developing the answer to “What Makes You Unique?”
Here is an example of an answer using the same example of the coder who also had front-facing user experience.
“In my last job, I had the opportunity to talk to the product users and find out exactly what they were experiencing with the product. That allowed me to write the code that really responded to what the users wanted from the product. It gave me a better perspective on how solutions should be created that deliver exactly what the user needs.”
Here’s why this is a good answer.
The candidate shows that they have something of value to the employer that other candidates may not have.
Direct experience dealing with users in their past role gave the candidate a broader perspective that they can apply to bug fixes—they understand their job from the coding to the user (the back end and the front end).
The candidate shows that they have both hard (coding) and soft (user management) skills.
Because of this dual perspective, the candidate can create a better product for the employer.
The bottom line is that the candidate has differentiated themselves and shown that they are a better value proposition than other candidates.
You might struggle to think of what characteristics make you unique. But everyone has a different background and different experiences. Try asking a family member, a mentor, or someone you ask for career advice what unique qualities they think you have that might serve you in your job search?
Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you brainstorm.
What made you pick your chosen career or job sector? Do you have certain skills or interests that drew you to that profession? Are there any that are unusual?
What do you do in your spare time? Are there activities that you are passionate about that might make you more appealing to the hiring manager?
Have you traveled somewhere unusual or had an experience that has given you a different perspective on something that is relevant to the job.
Does your personality make you a good fit for the job? For example, are you a natural people person? Do you connect with certain people for one reason or another.
Have you developed recent new skills that are relevant to the job?
Your own answer will be different to the example answer of the IT bug fixer, but here are some general guidelines to follow.
Be confident in what you say, and support your points with real-life specific examples. The ability to know and understand yourself is a unique characteristic in itself.
Ask a mentor or someone you trust for feedback on your answer. Someone who knows you well can provide valuable insights. Moreover, we never see ourselves in the same way that others see us, and we tend to be overly critical.
Consider both hard skills and technical skills. For example, you might be an excellent team leader or organizer—those are soft skills. Or, you might be excellent at playing the piano or cooking—those are technical skills. Both are valuable to employers.
Few of us are comfortable when analyzing ourselves, much less talking about ourselves. But, remember, the interview is a time when you have to sell yourself, and doing so is expected. So that you can feel more confident in your answer, here are the main traps to avoid:
Explaining your uniqueness is a time to present yourself positively and in a way that implies you are the best candidate. Therefore, you should emphasize your virtues, not areas that need improvement. Save talking about your weaknesses for another common interview question, “What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?”
As the interviewee, it’s a fine line between talking about your virtues and sounding arrogant. This is when talking about something directly related to the job helps. That way, you are addressing a need of the employer rather than talking about an irrelevant aspect of your personality or work experience.
Asking a trusted friend or mentor to assess your answer can help you to avoid sounding arrogant.
Craft an answer that gives the pertinent information succinctly. Don’t ramble on or start oversharing, and make sure you give a real-life example. The interviewer can always ask follow-up questions if they need to. If they do, this is a good sign and shows that you have piqued their interest.
There’s no point lying in an interview, ever. The truth will always out and better you find out sooner rather than later if you are a good fit for a job. Otherwise, you could be let go down the road, or you may end up leaving with few job opportunities.
If you are still struggling with this question, here are some sample answers to inspire job seekers to find unique answers.
“I’m not afraid of failure. In fact, I think failure is the path to learning. In my last job, I encouraged other team members to think outside of the box and to come up with ideas that they initially thought wouldn’t work. But you never know when someone else will tweak that idea and come up with a real, testable concept. That type of courage and teamwork is the foundation of innovation."
“People tend to come to me for answers. Whether it be a customer or a team member, I’m the go-to for problems. I was promoted to sales manager because I produced results and was a hard worker, but it was also because my colleagues and reports would be open with me about mistakes or problems. I would always be patient and find ways to fix things rather than panicking and rushing to a bad decision. A measured and empathetic approach always saves money in the long run.”
“Before I became a CPA, my friends would constantly ask me to check their portfolios or ask me whether they should buy this stock or this mutual fund. They trusted me before I had any credentials because I was so immersed in the world of accounting and finance. I had a full-time job advising my peers before I ever joined a company. I lived and breathed finance.”
If you've landed an interview, your job application was top-notch. Now, your interview prep should match that effort. The bottom line is that you can’t go wrong if you follow these three rules when answering the question, "What Makes You Unique?"
Identify a quality or specific skill that you have that would add value to the employer.
Use an example to spell out how that quality will benefit the employer.
Seek feedback from a trusted individual on your answer before your interview. That way, you avoid sounding arrogant to recruiters or lacking in confidence.