No matter what job you are applying for, odds are there will be many other candidates with similar qualifications to yourself. Fortunately, it’s very common these days for applicants to be asked “what makes you unique?” – not just in interviews, but also on application forms as well.
While the question might initially leave you scratching your head in confusion, in fact it provides the perfect opportunity to express what makes you stand out from the crowd and to showcase how your accomplishments fit with a particular role – as long as you’re prepared, of course.
1. Why Do Interviewers Ask “What Makes You Unique?”
Interviewers ask this question because they are actively looking for specific differentiators to note down when sieving through candidates, in order to pick the best person for a job. While everyone might seem similarly qualified on paper or have the same hard skills, the way an applicant answers will give a sense of their soft skills, such as communication, creativity and preparedness/organization, all in one go.
2. How Do You Answer “What Makes You Unique?”
As you ponder what makes you unique, examples of areas to focus on can help inspire your answer, so before you head to you next interview, consider the following points.
2.1 Research about the company and job
The first thing to do is research the company and reread the job description thoroughly. While the question might seem to be all about you, the hiring person really wants to know how your singular attributes will benefit the company. For example, if the job description mentions certain skills or experience, say, working in a distributed team, you could speak about your ability to facilitate remote working and maintain communication across different time zones.
2.2 Gather input and insights from others
Sometimes, it can be hard to assess your own talents, so consider asking past employers, colleagues or even friends for their input and insight on your unique strengths. If they can give you examples of when these came to the fore, great! If not, you can still take the feedback they give you and reflect on your working history to find concrete incidents when you displayed the attributes.
2.3 Analyze your background and previous experiences
Generally, it’s useful to take a few moments to re-examine your past roles and pull out the success stories or achievements that were distinctive to you. What would you say particularly distinguished you at previous companies? Are there any anecdotes you can recall that are pertinent to the role you’re applying for? Try to be as specific and concise as possible, really nailing down relevant experiences that will interest the interviewer.
2.4 Acknowledge your unique personality traits
Are you always being praised for how organized you are? Does the boss admire your critical thinking? Do friends comment on your interpersonal skills? Once you’ve acknowledged your unique personality traits, you can begin to think about how they apply to the company where you’re interviewing. For instance, if you realize you are very capable of adapting to changes, bring up an example at your past job when this was the case then explain how it could benefit you in future roles.
2.5 Gather proof and data for better demonstration
Qualitative evidence is great, but if you can back it up with quantitative sources, too, that’s even better. Perhaps what makes you unique is your ability to effectively coordinate teams, in which case can you give an estimate percentage of how productivity rose thanks to your intervention? Or is there another metric that would demonstrate how your coordination skills benefited the company? Having a few figures to hand will always be an impressive complement to descriptive examples.
2.6 Practice the answer
Once you’ve done all the hard work of analyzing the job description, gathering input from others and identifying your unique personality traits, don’t let it all go to waste by stuffing up the delivery. Practice your answers so they are confident and succinct, with no mumbling or waffling. Rehearsing will also allow you to turn bland statements into more thoughtful talking points – are you making clear why your special skills and/or experience should be noteworthy to the hiring manager through referencing specific scenarios and tying them back to the current interview?
2.7 Don’t overshare or lie
It might be tempting to get carried away with your self-promotion, but bear in mind two cardinal rules: don’t overshare and don’t lie. If you aren’t prepared to give, one or two something unique about yourself examples, you can sometimes get flustered or confused about the nature of the question, giving rise to stories that have absolutely no relevance to the job, or a desire to impress the interviewer by telling them about skills you don’t have. The former will likely bemuse a hiring manager while the latter may cause problems for you down the road if you are unable to deliver on the promised skills.
3. Sample Responses to the Question “What Makes You Unique”?
The whole purpose of coming up with discussion points about what makes you unique is that, well, they should be unique to you, but here are some examples to get you started.
I would say what makes me unique is my rapid adaptability to changing circumstances and the proactive way I implement new working patterns. During the pandemic, several members of my team struggled with the new normal of virtual meetings and communicating through message boards, rather than the traditional method of short chats across the desk.
Since I was quick to adopt the changes, I had more time to consider why others were struggling and actually helped them overcome some of their initial frustrations with using Zoom and Slack to communicate. It made me realize that I’m quite good at problem-solving issues within a team and supporting others when it comes to engaging with new technologies.
I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with charitable organizations across the world, helping to provide education for children who wouldn’t normally have easy access to it.
Before moving into sales, I originally trained as a teacher, and I think the interpersonal skills and clarity of communication I utilized in the classroom have transferred across really well to my new career. Sure, I’m not dealing with children anymore, but the ability to engage and develop a rapport with different people has certainly helped me, not least in exceeding my monthly sales targets.
Ultimately, I was put in charge of managing certain objectives because I had a grasp of some of the concepts being discussed on the developer side and was therefore better able to liaise between the customer-facing part of the company and the internal team charged with implementing client requests.
4. How to Answer “What Makes You Unique?” in 150 Characters
An interviewer almost certainly won’t ask you to restrict yourself to exactly 150 characters to describe what makes you unique – the counting alone would be a headache – but it is common to see this kind of question on written application forms. Essentially, you’ll want to distill the answers you’ve practiced for in-person discussions into a soundbite that can be discussed in greater detail at a later date if you are invited for an interview. Taking the examples above as starting points, you might write:
I excel at adapting to new work processes, to the point where I can help others utilize new technologies by problem-solving their challenges.
I’ve worked with charitable organizations globally, which has benefited my ability to engage and develop a rapport with both co-workers and clients.
I’ve taught myself several programming languages, which has made it easier to interact with IT developers to deliver customer projects.
- How do you answer what makes you unique for freshers?
Fresh graduates or people new to the job market won’t have years of experience to draw upon for their answer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with a compelling response. Perhaps you spent some time volunteering with a community organization, had a part-time job while in school or took extracurricular classes – these experiences can also be mined for attributes that are attractive to employers, such as a self-motivated attitude or a desire to learn new skills.