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When you apply for a job, there's a good chance many of your skills and past experiences will overlap with other candidates. At the same time, each candidate has experiences and abilities that make them unique.
That's why hiring managers and interviewers ask a range of interview questions to determine whether you're the best candidate for the position.
One of the questions you may be asked is, "What makes you unique?" This is a tricky question, but a good answer will cover your personality traits, unique qualities, and transferable skills that are likely to make you successful on the job.
In this article, we'll cover what interviewers are looking for when they ask this question and how to formulate a unique answer that shows you're a good fit. We'll also provide plenty of sample answers, so you can see our advice in action.
Why do interviewers ask "What makes you unique?"
Interviewers ask this common interview question to assess whether you're the best person for the job. They already think you're a good fit, which is why you got the interview. Now they want to know what unique skills or qualities you have that make you stand out from the other candidates.
Your job is to show why they should hire you over other job seekers with similar experience. This is the most important thing to remember. It's not really about you or your hobbies. It's about why you're the best person for the job. Hobbies are better saved for questions like "Tell me about yourself."
This may sound depressing, but the point of the interview process is to find the best person.
Interviewers also use this question to find out if you're a good communicator. Abstract questions like "What makes you unique" require candidates to think of their feet, and a good answer will provide evidence of strengths and soft skills that may not come across in your resume and job application, but will help you do well on the job.
The specific examples you highlight when you respond show what you like about yourself and the quality of your communication skills.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't show your personality. This question is also used to determine whether you're a culture fit for the company and its culture.
How to answer "What makes you unique?"
Instead of answering: "What makes you unique, different, or odd?", craft your answer to highlight what makes you stand out from other job seekers.
"What makes you the best person for this position?" is the real question. It requires some thought, and if you don't prepare ahead of time, chances are your answer isn't going to be a good one. Use these tips to answer well:
- Research the company and read the job description: It's a good idea to research the company and carefully read the job description before your interview. The more you know about the organization's goals overall (and for the specific position), the easier it will be for you to connect your unique attributes and previous experience to the job. It can be helpful to think of what's special about you and how your characteristics will enable you to make a strong contribution to the company. For example, if the job description emphasizes the need for cross-team collaboration and you organize an event in your spare time, that's a perfect thing to highlight.
- Be job- and company-specific: You need to understand the role, the company, and what they value. For example, if you're joining a startup where employees wear many hats, it's probably a good idea to express that you enjoy learning new things and that you don't mind doing things that are outside your job description.
- Mix personal attributes, experiences, and interests with past experience: For example, if you are applying for a Product Manager job at Figma, you might mention that you have an unusual combination of interests, like machine learning and product design, while also sharing that you've worked in customer service. These traits indicate that you're passionate about what the company does and that you're comfortable talking to customers.
- Consider compliments you've received in the past: If you're struggling to think about what to highlight, think about what your prior managers or co-workers would compliment you on. You can also think about what qualities your friends or family appreciate about you. Don't be afraid to ask if you're not sure. This is a great way to give an honest and straightforward answer.
- Tie it back to the job: If you choose to use a personal trait or quality, make sure you tie it back to the job you're applying for. For example, if the unique thing you want to highlight is that you've been a digital nomad for a few years, you may want to explain that you're comfortable in new situations and love learning new things. Even the most unrelated hobbies, interests, and activites can often be tied to professional traits witha bit of work.
- Use stories and examples: People love stories. Telling the interviewer that you're a hard worker doesn't really cut it. While this isn't a behavioral interview question, you can still use the STAR method to construct your answer.
- Don't exaggerate to make your answer more impressive, boring can be perfect: This question isn't about how exciting you are, if all you can say is that you exercise consistently, that's fine! It shows that you're persistent and committed. The interview process isn't designed to hire the most unique candidate with the widest range of experiences. It's about finding the best person for the job.
Sample answers to "What makes you unique?"
The best answers to "What makes you unique?" are honest, brief, and delivered well. The goal is to share something interesting about yourself that highlights why you're the best fit for the job.
Prepare a few things ahead of time and be sure to tie them to the skills and qualities that are emphasized in the job description. Here's a few example answers you can learn from.
Example answer #1
"Something that distinguishes me from other content marketers is that I have skin in the game and have grown my own blog from nothing to over 200,000 organic visitors per month. In my experience, most content marketers are experienced with scaling SEO and a content program but don't have experience creating a strategy from scratch. My blog has allowed me to learn those skills."
Why it works: This answer demonstrates the candidate's ability to use content marketing to grow a blog from 0 to over 200k organic visitors without a lot of resources. This is highly valued as starting a content program is much harder than scaling an existing program.
Example answer #2
"I'm my spare time I like to do triathlons. I love settings big goals and achieving them and I find that the hours I spend training for them helps me grow in ways that I never expected. For example, I never knew that being fitter would make me able to focus for longer at work and that having to train so much would teach me about time management."
Why it works: First, triathlons are hard, and if someone has the will to complete them, there's a good chance that they're also going to have the will to do well on the job. The interviewee did one better by tying the specific things they've learned from the sport to work.
Example answer #3
"Unlike most people in the position and probably most people you are interviewing for this engineering manager position, I never went to university. Instead, I have worked my way up from being a manual QA tester, to a software engineer, to a senior software engineer, and now to engineering management. I've learned everything on my own, and take pride in being an excellent manager. I'm particularly passionate about upskilling my staff and teaching non-technical employees how to code."
Why it works: This answer perfectly answers why the person is unique and turns something that might not look great on paper into a huge positive. They've tied their personal career experience into the role and highlighted a key part of the job that they're passionate about.
Example answer #4
"Something that distinguishes me from many other salespeople is my experience in customer success and marketing. Dealing with customer's everyday taught me about how salespeople can often be too aggressive and cause customers to resent the company from the getgo, and being a marketer showed me the importance of sales relaying information to marketers to improve campaigns."
Why it works: This answer demonstrates the candidate's ability to work across functions, their understanding that an aggressive sales process can increase churn, and the importance of sales helping marketing with messaging. This is a valuable and rare skillset to have in sales. Salespeople who understand this are more likely to convert prospects who will be good to work with, less likely to churn, and they can even help improve marketing efficiency.
Example answer #5
"I'm really passionate about managing remote teams well, and I run a personal blog that summarizes strategy and management principles from books like 7 Powers, Good to Great, and High Output Management."
Why it works: While many people say they're passionate about management, there aren't a lot of people who invest their free time into researching and writing about it. Employers love to hear concrete examples when candidates say they have a passion for something and the candidate has done that.
Example answer #6
Why it works: The candidate highlighted that they have a lot of valuable skills that most product designers don't have. If they are applying for a job at a startup, these skills could be extremely valuable as startup employees often have to wear many hats. Even if they're applying to a big company where they probably won't use the skills day-to-day, the knowledge can still help as they've highlighted.
Example answer #7
"I've worked at large companies like Google, scale ups like Stripe, and early stage companies like VEED.IO. This mix of experience means that I'm comfortable at all stages and can scale as the company scales."
Why it works: This answer highlights a unique career path that allows for long-term success at a company of any size. When you share stories that demonstrate your ability to operate well in multiple environments, employers get excited about the prospect of bringing you on board.
Common mistakes to avoid when answering "What makes you unique?"
While these mistakes probably won't cost you the job, they could. Here are a few things you want to avoid when answering "What makes you uniques?":
- Sharing weird or deeply personal quirks: You don't need to tell people you bite your nails in a job interview.
- Generic responses: "I'm a hard worker" doesn't give the interviewer much to work with and doesn't show that you're an exceptional candidate.
- Rambling: It's important to keep your answer brief while still sharing an example or two of what makes you unique. Long-winded answers are hard to follow and can leave the interviewer thinking that you're unique trait is "talking too much."
- Negativity: Make your answers as positive as possible. Even if you want to use a negative event in your answer, make sure to highlight how it made you better or how you overcame it.
- Stretching the truth: It can be tempting to fabricate your answer to perfectly match what the interviewer wants to hear, partially if you're caught off guard by the question. But it's always better to stick to the truth.
Tips for answering "What makes you unique?"
The first thing you should do is research the company and analyze the job description to produce an itemized list of skills, knowledge, experiences, and personal qualities that would make you the ideal candidate. Some of these qualities will be easy to spot in the job description, but others will be less visible.
One good way to make sure your answer hits is to read about the company's values and read, listen, and watch interviews with the CEO and senior leadership.
Other tips that can help:
- Make a list of your strengths: Prepare the list before you go into the job interview, so you know what you want to share. Look at the job description and company values and match them with your skills, past experiences, and values. Then make sure to highlight the things that make you the ideal candidate.
- Be honest: It's tempting to claim skills or attributes that are most appealing to the interviewer, but if you lie or stretch the truth, it can become apparent quickly, and if you're caught lying you're unlikely to land the job.
- Understand what they're looking for: Chances are you have a lot of things that make you unique, but you shouldn't try to tell them everything. Use the job description to find out what specific things they're after, then briefly explain how you are the best fit for the job.
- Share concrete examples from past jobs: Reference past accomplishments and results that you are proud of that relate to the job. Be sure to use the STAR method to construct your answer.
Possible follow-up questions
- What is your greatest strength?
- What is your greatest weakness?
- Do you have any questions for me? Read our guide on the best questions to ask in an interview.
- Why are you interested in this position?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- What can you contribute to this company? This question is similar to "Why do you want to work here?" And will only be asked as a follow-up if you weren't able to articulate your value in your answer.
- Any number of behavioral interview questions. Be sure to use the STAR method when answering.
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