Image courtesy of Mateus Campos Felipe
What makes you unique? This is one of the most common interview questions in the book. Answering this question is less about identifying what makes you unique, and more about identifying what makes you uniquely qualified for the job.
Your interviewer wants to know what you bring to the table that they won't get with any other candidate. You have no idea who else is interviewing for the job, so how do you even begin to craft an answer?
Here’s how to make your answers simple, relevant, and memorable enough to make an impression.
4 good ways to answer the question
1. What makes you a unique fit for their culture and values
Before your interview, read the job description, the company’s about page, and the company’s social media profiles. What seems to be the common theme? What sort of personal and professional characteristics fit their culture and goals?
Let’s imagine you’re applying for a social media role, and you know the company is really interested in community outreach. Your answer to what makes you unique? could include your knack for finding connections in unlikely places or examples of volunteer work you’ve done in the past—all should true, but tailored to what you know they’re looking for in a candidate.
What makes me unique is my ability to make connections wherever I go. I have a good friend I met while standing in line at the grocery store. Another I met because she was the barista at my regular coffee shop, and now I invest in her new coffee roasting business.
2. How your experience and accomplishments make you unique
Another way to answer this question is in terms of your unique performance or achievements. The interview is your chance to shed some light on your proudest achievements, so take the opportunity to talk yourself up—especially in concrete numbers that’ll impress your potential employers.
Applying for a marketing position? Talk about the engagement rate that a successful campaign garnered—and how you outperformed your colleagues. Management? Maybe one of your own initiatives led to a wild boost in productivity or efficiency.
I've achieved a lot in my short career. I moved up quickly in my last company, and that experience exposed me to bigger accounts than my peers were exposed to. I had a great mentor who really pushed me, and I worked hard too. I've sat at the table with the CMO of Coca-Cola and the VP of marketing at Volvo, and I contributed in meaningful ways.
3. How your personality and interests make you different
You can also answer the question of what makes you unique in a way that shows off your personality! After all, having the skills is certainly important, but you’ll also want to show them that you’re a good fit for the company culture. One that values curiosity, balance, and innovation will value employees with well-rounded interests and pursuits.
Maybe you’re learning a new instrument in your free time or perhaps you traveled to some destination that opened you up to new experiences and perspectives. Hobbies and interests like these demonstrate that you’re a well-rounded and ever-improving person.
I volunteer teach ESL at the community center, so I have a knack for training and instruction, which you won't find in a lot of junior software developers. I've found that this has helped me in past roles talk to other departments about what I do. I'm also comfortable public speaking.
4. How your non-traditional background makes you unique
Perhaps you don't have the traditional resume of someone likely to interview for the job. Maybe you have changed or are changing careers, maybe you have a degree in another field. This is an advantage.
Perhaps you have a finance degree and you're interviewing for an operations role. Your financial know-how, ability to plan for the future, and attention to detail will serve you well.
You'll find that I'm more numerate than most traditional operations professionals. And coming from finance, I really know how to work with the bottom line in mind. And let's be honest, I'm comfortable talking about money. That's rare...anywhere.
3 ways you should never answer the question
1. With something vague—or irrelevant
Don’t just say you’re unique because you’re creative—you have to show them how you’re creative. On the flip side, don’t spend five minutes talking about your summer abroad in college or a movie you watched. Keep it tight.
2. With negativity
Talking about what makes you unique shouldn’t require putting others down. Keep your answer positive.
If you’re searching for a new job because your old position was less than ideal, don’t bring that negativity into your interview. I was the first person to decide I couldn’t that toxic workplace anymore, is not a helpful answer.
Don't say that there's nothing that sets you apart from other candidates. It's not helpful to the interviewer, and it's not true!