We asked managers and HR experts their advice on how to effectively answer one of the most common interview questions, “What makes you unique?“
Ron Auerbach, MBA
Career Coach | Author, Think Like an Interviewer: Your Job Hunting Guide to Success
This is really a twist on the interview question, why I should hire you. The key here is what makes you different from the rest.
So many, if not all the applicants, will have the same things as you. But what is it about you, as a person and/or as a professional, separates yourself out from the rest?
This is where a deep self-evaluation is so important. And where knowing your competition also comes into play. So knowing how you stack up against them is something that’s necessary, plus knowing your own self.
Perhaps, you have an approach that is unlike or different from how others handle or see things.
FYI, there was one time when I was interviewing for a job and got called in for a group interview. One candidate was asked how he’d handle something. He gave the standard answer that most would use. But I had disagreed with what he had said and had another take on the situation. So I provided my logical justification for a completely different approach.
Maybe you have something in your background you will not commonly find among the other candidates.
For instance, when I was an undergraduate student in college majoring in economics, I had taken anatomy and physiology through the College of Nursing. I was the one and only business major in the class. So students were primarily nursing and pre-med students. This is something that helps separate me out from others.
Another thing that helps show I’m unique is most business graduates go through the College of Business. I chose to obtain my economics from the College of Liberal Arts. That provided me with a broader education, like having taken art history and astronomy.
So what’s necessary is talking a very hard and deep look at yourself to identify your skills, personality, experiences, ways of thinking, etc. And knowing your competition and what most, if not all, of them will bring to the table. Plus, understanding what the employer, hiring manager, or recruiter will be looking for in applicants and new hires. So you want to be very specific here, not general! Details make all the difference and really matter!
CEO, DNA Worldwide, LLC
There are three ways to prepare your answers to this question:
Purpose Statement: Identify what you believe in, what your values are, and what is meaningful to you in life. You can then discuss how you align your daily choices and make decisions based on fulfilling YOUR purpose. Describe how you consciously make choices and decisions that align with our purpose.
Self-awareness: Define your authentic self. Self-examination and introspection will help you recognize and define your feelings, physical state and belief systems. Demonstrate your conscious intent to be the best you can be based on your individual and unique attributes and how you are consciously working to improve yourself. Know yourself and how you differentiate yourself from others. It’s not vanity or pride, but rather necessity to show up as your authentic self.
Social Awareness: Ask others if they think you have some unique qualities. This will boost your self-awareness, whether you are surprised by how someone answered this question or disappointed that no one recognizes anything very unique about you. Then you can revisit a self-assessment to improve how you can differentiate yourself from others.
Show up as your authentic self. Don’t try to be someone else or someone you think others want you to be or think you should be.
Founder, Amplio Recruiting
Recruiters/hiring managers ask this question not to find out about your one-of-a-kind attributes but rather to evaluate your level of self-awareness and your understanding of the job’s requirement.
As such, the job description is your best reference point when attempting to answer this question. You want to consider the needs of the employer so you can tailor your answer in a way that shows you are the most suitable candidate to help meet these needs.
To answer this question satisfactorily, you need to think about:
- A positive personality trait related to the job e.g. you are a good communicator, you have strong leadership skills, you are patient, empathetic, innovative, creative, etc.
- Your past experience and the transferable skills you acquired that uniquely qualify you for the job.
- Your past professional wins e.g. awards, recognition, and task-related accomplishments in the workplace.
Now, you want to take these pointers and put together an answer that will convince the recruiter or hiring manager that you are a perfect fit for the job. For example, if the role requires you to lead a team of people to facilitate project completion, a possible answer could be:
“What makes me unique is my strong transformational leadership style, which has helped me to successfully oversee diverse teams. I am capable of setting clear goals, motivating my team to buy into the company’s vision and deliver results, and I set high standards of integrity for my team to emulate. For instance, in my past role as a senior project manager, I lead a team of 10 employees from different departments and we were able to complete a product launch two weeks before the deadline. The product ended up generating the company $1m in annual revenues.“
In the end, the best answers to this question are those that address the employer’s pain points and demonstrate how your skills and experience can solve these.
Chief People Officer, PacificMarket International
What makes you unique? For me, some of the top answers that come to mind should demonstrate authenticity, credibility, and passion. Being authentic, unique and showing your passion helps you land new opportunities.
- Ultimately, you want to be your authentic self. Show a potential employer how your skills are uniquely differentiated from others, while also sharing your passion, along with supporting work examples and accomplishments. Do all three, and you have a chance to stand out with hiring managers.
- Share your voice and passions. What are your superpowers? Share your knowledge and passions that shape your point of view.
- Your voice is a unique character that differentiates your personal brand. When you let others know what is in your heart and mind, your personal brand and passion will shine through.
- Don’t be a staged house. Self-awareness versus self-promotion is what builds your credibility and differentiates you. Your purpose and differentiation will shine when you are authentic and transparent.
- You want to paint a broad, but authentic picture of your experience and strengths.
- Share examples of how you have learned and transformed. Demonstrate significant learning and growth from your experiences.
- Practice your elevator pitch. Practice answering questions prior to the interview. Be succinct and focused and ask informed questions based on your research.
- Find ways to stand out, not just fit in. What are the attributes that make you stand out? Ultimately you want to show how your skills are uniquely differentiated from others along with supporting work examples and accomplishments.
- Tune into your EQ. Standout professionals earn opportunities because they know their subject matter and industry. Learning to lead, motivate and inspire others requires its own brand of expertise. Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a proven indicator for overall success; it fosters better work performance, healthier relationships, and sound stress management. Provide examples of where you have demonstrated EQ.
Executive Vice President, KNF&T Staffing Resources
Focus on something that is applicable to the position you’re applying for or that speaks to your work ethic. Focus on your upbringing – something that has created a strong sense of independence, responsibility, and personal accountability.
For example, a student that has had the opportunity to travel might focus on their ability to book complex travel arrangements and confirm details such as transportation, transfers, and accommodations, all while ensuring that time differences and cultural sensibilities were taken into consideration.
If a particular trip involved staying with a local family, the candidate can highlight how he/she accounted for cultural differences, like researching an appropriate gift for the family or adjusting to how their culture observed time (is on time considered showing up 5 minutes early or 30 minutes late?).
Draw the parallel for your interviewer. A candidate who reveals that they know how to navigate cultural nuances is much more likely to appropriately assimilate and become a long term asset in an organization.
Greg Kuchcik, SPHR
VP of Human Resources, Zeeto.io
When I hear a manager, interviewer, or HR person asks “What makes you unique?“, my HR brain translates that into “Why should we hire you versus the 200 other people that applied?“.
First, I’ll say that often times, I’m most impressed with candidates that ask the question back or in a similar manner. Every candidate should be asking why they should want to work for any given company and make it a two-way interview relationship between supply and demand.
As far as how to answer the question I’m typically looking for it to sync with the specific job. Try and avoid being too simple or vague such as “I’m a free spirit who’s the soul is the only one of its kind“. Also, try and avoid being too irrelevant to the job such as “I’m the 5th cousin of Michael Phelps and swam Lake Eerie 34 times.“
Technically all of these things make you unique, but most time the interviewer is looking for job-specific uniqueness. A good answer for a statistician might be something like “I majored in mathematics but minored in business. This makes me unique as I not only can relate to the complexity and detail of a statistics role, but I also understand how that relates to bottom line revenue.“
This indeed would be a unique skill that a company would be lucky to have. All-in-all you want to show some creativity and communication skills by being put on the spot with a tricky question yet bring it back to the position you are discussing.
HR Manager, Fixwerks
When asked “what makes you unique?” during an interview, the type of response we’re expecting depends on the role that you have applied for.
For instance, if you’re interviewing for a sales role, a salesperson should be able to entice anyone to purchase anything, no matter how mundane the product is. So, you can showcase how you would sell an everyday object such as a pen to us.
If you’re interviewing for a marketing role, you could perhaps pick a campaign that we have done before and tell us how you would have done it differently and what other ideas you can bring to the table as a fresh perspective.
Another thing that would really impress us is when a candidate shows that they’re aware of the key traits they should possess for the roles.
For example, the creative team should be open-minded and quick on their feet. On the other hand, account managers should be able to lead their members in an organized manner while still working collaboratively to encourage growth.
All in all, you should demonstrate that you have done your research regarding your desired role and fully understand what it entails. On top of that, it would be ideal if you’re able to illustrate how you’re fit for the role through examples and actual job experiences.
When you can substantiate your resume with unique real-life applications on the spot, we will be convinced that you are worth considering.
Cynthia Flynn, Esq.
Managing Partner, Hackler Flynn & Associates
If asked the question “What makes you unique?” in a professional setting, do not just recite items on your resume. After all, everyone has a resume – but these often give a one-dimensional view of a person.
Start by thinking about how you arrived at your current position, and start at the beginning.
Was there something in your childhood or young adult life that inspired you to take a certain path? Did you have mentors who helped you see the world in a different way?
If it is a comfortable subject for you, your family and upbringing can shed light on your motivations and aptitudes. If you worked in your family’s business from a young age, or are the child of immigrants, or traveled or lived all over the world, these experiences can set you apart.
Likewise, if you wish to share them, problems your family faced as you grew up – for example, divorces or bankruptcies – may have shaped the person you are today and motivated you to help others in the same situations.
Along the same lines, hardly anyone goes directly from point A (the dream) to point B (the goal) without encountering setbacks in their career. Some may have even been life-altering or catastrophic. What struggles have you faced? What walls did you run into? When you hit the wall, what did you do? Did you find a different way around? Who helped you, and who did you help along the way?
If you changed direction within your career or changed careers entirely at some point, you can frame this, too, as a strength and a source of individuality.
Finally, what are the reasons why you do what you do? What gets you up in the morning? Who do you hope will benefit from your work? And of course, what is your ultimate goal?
The answers to these questions will set you apart from everyone else, as everyone’s story is different.
The best way to answer this question is in the form of your journey, thinking both about your unique story/qualities as much as ensuring you present it in a way that the listener will get that you are unique.
To get there, ask yourself three questions:
- What are you good at?
- What do you actually want? (Often not the same as what you are good at)
- What does the person asking you if you are a unique need?
The first two questions will help you identify who you are in the space where you have to prove your uniqueness. The third will help you contextualize your answer so that the person listening understands you’re uniqueness. If you don’t have this third part, you could be the most unique person in the world but no one will care if they don’t understand.
Start by offering some initial background information – about the start of your life journey and some background points – contextualized to the reason you are being asked why you are unique.
From there, explaining how your life vision and path intersects perfectly with the opportunity at hand (the one you need to validate your uniqueness for) so the person asking the question can grasp what you’re explaining to them.
Career Coach, Employment BOOST
It is extremely important to answer these types of questions after some premeditative thought. Similar to the “what is your weakness” question, it is always beneficial to find something unique about yourself that can also be beneficial to the company.
Consider speaking about talents or skills that could further support the current business model or play into the company culture.
Use examples that show that you are a well-rounded candidate. By stating that your curious nature always leads you to learn new things could show that you are an ambitious candidate or stating that you tend to think outside of the box to find new solutions show that you are innovative and forward thinking.
With this resume question, we’re looking for a candidate to dive deep into their personality. I don’t need to hear what a whiz you are with spreadsheets, or how many words per minute you can type.
Tell me a story about your upbringing: a hardship you faced which forged you into the person you are today, a particularly strong role model you had, etc. If you don’t want to go all the way back into your formative years, how about a cause you volunteer for, or a hobby you just can’t wait to have time off to enjoy.
I want to know that the person I’m hiring has a personality. We want you to be a team member that will enrich our daily lives, just as we hope we’ll do for you. Show us what makes you, you!
Creative Director, JV Media Design
The first thing to remember about answering the “what makes you unique” question is there is no right answer to that. There are many ways an individual is unique. In reality, no two people are exactly alike, even twins are different. So the very nature of uniqueness is “one of a kind”. You already are one of a kind.
The best way to answer the question of what makes you unique is relative to the who is asking. If a new friend asks you this, your answer may be very different than if a potential employer is asking you this in an interview.
Employers really aren’t going to be interested if your response to unique is that you can roll your tongue! Employers are really looking more for personality traits and accomplishments that would set you apart from other candidates and be a benefit to their company.
Ashton T. Harvey
Creator, The Significant Edge
Over the years of working with startups and service providers helping many of them become market leaders in their industry. I would always start off our discussion with “What makes your idea, product or service different from everyone else in your market?”
This is a very important question to ask if you’re are thinking of starting a company or applying for a job especially if there are currently a lot of players on the field. The one thing you must never become in any industry or company is a commodity! When this happens you are now competing in a race you don’t want to be trapped in… the infamous race to the bottom. Who can offer the lowest price to get the same service done?
This is why answering the question “What makes you unique” is such a crucial question to understand and answer properly. In an era characterized by massive change and evolution, the name of the game in business is speed and quality.
How fast can you take your customer from point A to B with little effort and the shortest amount of time? Convenience is what you want to aim for when describing what makes you different or unique.
When people hear this question they immediately talk about the features and benefits of what they do… that the resume’s job. Your job now is to help them visualize what it would be like to have you work for there company!
If you follow these simple steps you can land a job anywhere you interview for.
- Evaluate and understand fully what the position entails. What are your key roles? What is it that is expected of you?
- Develop a strategy that you can bring to the table that will help you accomplish the task quicker and simpler. Companies are looking for people are proactive, not reactive. You want to be a person with ideas to make the customer experience better or the process simpler and more effective.
- The job is a “hard” skill and anyone can master a “hard” skill given time. One thing that is very hard to master is interpersonal “soft” skills. The ability to communicate effectively and work well in teams is huge
- Help them visualize what it will be like to have you work for the team. Your personality, attention to detail, and willingness to go above and beyond to support the team for the customer.
Overall the more you prepare ahead of time the simpler it gets to in essence sell yourself to the company. Understand that you are unique no matter what.
Your job is to help people see that through your interactions. Even reading this and other articles will help you create an edge over the competition. Personal development will help you hone those soft skills mentioned earlier.
I’ve been in a leadership position where I make the direct hiring decisions for who ends up on my team for 15 years now and have done thousands of interviews, there is always one type of answer that sticks with you, and it’s actually the secret to answering tough and subjective interview questions, such as “What makes you unique?”
The secret is to deploy radical candor. Be honest. Brutally honest. That level of authenticity speaks louder than words ever can. It shows why self-confidence and self-awareness are important in determining what makes you unique!
Whatever you do, at all costs, please don’t tell them what you think they want to hear. Some vanilla answer about teamwork will get you nowhere! Tell them the truth!
Sara Abate Rez
Brand Designer, My Personal Brand
The best way to answer “What Makes You Unique” is to share how your specific combination of personality, passions, expertise, and challenges make you different from anyone else in the world.
The way in which you approach your work and your method of communication will differ from another person who may have the same skill set. You need to show interest and enthusiasm for the company you hope to work with, along with what ideas and value you could add.
Essentially there needs to be a culture fit between you and the company, which often comes from your unique way of being you.
CEO & Co-Founder, LLG Events
I always advise students and young professionals to go beyond telling someone about their unique skills and abilities and show them instead.
This takes an added bit of time, thought and creativity, but it also shows your commitment and desire to contribute to the company.
For example, we shared this advice at a recent meetup we hosted for students and young professionals looking to enter the luxury events industry. We explained how we don’t like to read resumes because we like to see how a person thinks and experience the value they can add to our company.
A week later, one of the students who were interested in an internship with LLG Events approached us with an entire pitch deck about how she would design an event for us. That effort and dedicated piece of work is what made her unique and stand apart.