Career

How to Answer “What Sets You Apart from Other Candidates?”

In this guide, we’ll be covering how to answer the classic interview question, “What sets you apart from other candidates?”

A lot of job seekers, especially the first-timers, may have a tough time answering this question. There’s that concern of not wanting to be too overconfident or too unsure of yourself.

Here are some useful tips and a few examples of how you should answer.

Ron Auerbach, MBA

Ron Auerbach

Educator | Career Coach | Job Search Expert |
Author, Think Like an Interviewer: Your Job Hunting Guide to Success

This is another way to phrase the commonly asked interview question, “Why should we hire you?”.

The key to responding is making sure your answer is very specific

The keyword in the question is you. So it’s not why we should hire somebody else. It’s why you, in particular, should be the one who gets that job rather than somebody else. Thus, a very common mistake job seekers will make is being too general rather than detailed.

Now this question requires you to really know yourself and your competition. So you want to know how you stack or measure up vs the others who would typically be applying for that same job.

A very helpful strategy I recommend is to create a checklist.

Take a piece of paper and draw a line straight down the middle of the page. On the left side, list the various things you bring to the table. A checklist of what makes you somebody who’s qualified and would be a good fit for that position. On the right side, do the same for your competition.

When you’re done with this, look at it to see how you compare. Where do you fall short? Where to you exceed the competition? This will be extremely helpful in answering why the company should hire you over the rest of the applicants.

For example, maybe your average candidate will have to say 3 years experience while you have to say 5. Perhaps their experience would be in something similar but not exactly that kind of industry or environment. Your experience in it is definitely something to mention in your answer. Maybe your approach to something is different from how most others would handle it. If you feel this is helpful and shows you’re an innovative thinker, creative, etc, then definitely point this out in your response.

The point here is you want to be looking at the hard and soft skills you and your competition have. And comparing your personality and character traits to those of your average competitor. So make sure you’re looking at the total package!

This also includes your personal values and upbringing.

For example, perhaps most others will not have faced certain challenges you needed to overcome. Highlighting this and how it made you stronger, better, etc is something you should do in your question response. And if there’s anything unique to you vs the rest of the competition, point it out when you feel this will make them lean more towards yourself vs another candidate.

The one thing you definitely want to avoid is bad-mouthing your fellow candidates!

That’s being very mean and disrespectful, which will hurt you in a very big way. You also do not want to cross that line into arrogance or cocky. So tooting your own horn needs to be mixed with some humility.

Related: How to Answer “What Interests You About This Position?” in a Job Interview

Timothy G. Wiedman, D.B.A., PHR Emeritus

Timothy G. Wiedman, DBA, PHR Emeritus
Associate Prof. of Management & Human Resources (Retired)

As a former hiring manager at two different ‘Fortune’ ranked corporations before entering academia and becoming a management professor, I often used open-ended questions at the beginning of interviews to get candidates talking. Further, I found it was generally a low-stress way to relax applicants since a wide variety of “good” answers are possible.

But I never asked, “What sets you apart from other candidates?” because (in my opinion) that question seems to imply that applicants know some details regarding the qualifications of their rivals. Instead, I’d ask something such as: “Why should we hire you for this position?”

Match your skills to the company needs

When filling any vacancy, most employers seek the best “fit” that they can locate after considering the characteristics of the applicant, the position to be filled, the culture of the work team that has the opening, the types of customers that the firm serves, and the organization’s overall mission and philosophy. In essence, the hiring managers need to find a missing ingredient to complete a complex organizational “recipe.”

A candidate needs to tell a potential employer what he or she can deliver (in terms of education, aptitude, experience, skills, abilities, talents, interests and aspirations) that might uniquely match the requirements of the vacant position.

And even if applicants don’t actually have full-time work experience in the business world, they may have a high school or college experiences that could be considered highly beneficial to a potential employer. A few possible examples might be:

  • students who excelled at competitive endeavors (e.g., musical performances, chess tournaments, science fairs, forensic competitions, martial arts, etc.).
  • students who were elected president or vice president of their student congress.
  • students who were elected captain (or co-captain) of any varsity sports team.
  • students who were elected to leadership positions in any large student organization.

Positions of this sort provide an indication of persistence in pursuit of a goal and/or leadership abilities. And hiring managers seeking new-hires with long-term potential may value those traits.

Charlette Beasley

Charlette Beasley

Careers and Workplace Analyst, FitSmallBusiness.com

When interviewers ask a candidate how they stand out from the crowd, they’re giving the candidate the green light to dish out their best sales pitch.

Candidates must avoid common responses like ‘I’m good at communicating’ or ‘I work well with others’

They are general responses that don’t tell the interviewer much and can often be duplicated by other job applicants. Candidates should instead strive to provide a response that’s not only relevant to the given position but also touches upon their expertise and unique background.

Highlight your capability to provide insights from a different perspective

If a candidate has worked in multiple industries, he or she can add significant value due to their ability to view the organization’s challenges from a different perspective, compared to another candidates’ one-sided approach.

For instance, a former accountant could interview for an investment management position at a brokerage firm. In his or her interview, they can make it clear to the interviewer that his or her prior experience will enable them to assess financial needs from both a historical and futuristic perspective.

They can also determine creative ways to meet such needs and implement efficient strategies to manage funds based on economic and market knowledge.

Alternatively, if a candidate has decades worth of experience in the same industry, he or she likely has had the opportunity to dive deep into some unique business challenges, strengthening their skills in a niche area.

Specific, niche experiences are always critical components of a candidate’s sales pitch in a job interview. They are less common than the more traditional skillsets and therefore, make it easier for the candidate to stand out amongst the crowd.

If he or she can convey a compelling case for how it will be valuable in the given role, this tactic can be an excellent approach to take.

Draw upon life experiences and challenges you had to go through

Lastly, if a candidate is a recent graduate with minimal work experience, they can draw upon life experiences he or she had in college, during an internship, or even through extracurriculars.

Candidates who are new to the workforce often bring a fresh perspective to an organization, and they are less ‘set in their ways’ compared to more seasoned professionals.

While a college graduate can share a unique skillset or philosophy they possess, they must convey an ability to drive innovation to the organization they are interviewing with.

Related: How to Get an Entry-Level Job with No Qualifications or Experience

Ultimately, the best way for any job candidate to stand out from the crowd is by creatively communicating his or her top qualities that will be most useful for the given position.

No matter what stage they’re at in their professional life, he or she must be specific, provide tangible examples, and distinguish a sense of humble confidence.”

Bryan Zawikowski

Bryan Zawikowski
Vice President and General Manager, Lucas Group

Show confidence in yourself without seeming overconfident or cocky

Given that, I advise candidates to use it as a pivot point, taking the opportunity to show humility while simultaneously highlighting the qualities and attributes you think give you the strongest chance of getting the job.

“Since I don’t know the other candidates you are considering, I could not say for sure what would make me stand out. That said, here are a few things that make me a strong candidate for this position…”

It’s hard to go wrong using this approach, so I absolutely recommend following this example when presented with this line of questioning.

Michelle Merritt

Michelle Merritt

Business Coach | Resume Writer | Executive Partner, Merrfeld Career Management

“What sets you apart from other candidates?” is a common question people struggle to answer, partly because it’s an unfair question. There’s simply no way for you to know very much about the other candidates.

The best way to provide a genuine answer that you’re comfortable with is to know what you’ve accomplished in your career and be confident in articulating these accomplishments.

This goes beyond listing sales numbers and the goals you met to get your year-end bonus (although data and metrics are encouraged). This is your time to share with pride what you’ve accomplished and a little about how you accomplished it.

This is also your opportunity to provide an example of a time when you went above and beyond in your career. This should all be shared in less than two minutes and without disparaging other potential candidates or professionals.

The key to knowing what you’ve accomplished is to continually take stock in what you’ve done so far. If you’re not actively searching for a job, make a list every quarter of what has gone right. If you’re actively searching, you’ll need to update the list more frequently. Ask yourself what you’ve done to earn a raise this quarter. These are likely the accomplishments that set you apart from other candidates.

Peter Wilfahrt

Peter Wilfahrt photo

Author | Entrepreneur, Versandgigant

As with many other interview questions, you can prepare for this candidate question. However, if you don’t have an answer immediately, it is perfectly legitimate to say in the interview that you are thinking about it before you answer. Of course, you should not sit on the chair in silence for two minutes and say nothing, but you may take a short time to think about it.

On the question “Why are you better than others?” you should always leave out other candidates. This may seem difficult at first, but it is not a question of you claiming that my skills are better than those of any other candidate. You may want to focus on yourself and the position you are applying for.

Here are three tips to help you find the right words:

Express your thoughts

If you’re thinking about the other applicants and that you probably don’t know who they are or what their strengths are you may also say that.

You don’t have to be able to give a perfectly formulated answer as if you were shooting from the hip. That only seems rehearsed and a little authentic. Also, you don’t want to aim for a direct comparison at all, but to show yourself and present yourself from the best side – without having to speak badly of others.

Address your strengths

This question usually aims at your strengths and abilities. The HR manager could also tweak the question and ask “what you are better at than others” or “what you can do better”.

Use this opportunity to highlight your strengths once again. Here too, however, you should not make any direct reference to other applicants. So, don’t formulate “I have more expertise and experience than anyone else”.

You do not have to state that you’re the best of the best and know everything. It’s better if you say, “With my deep knowledge and experience, I can help your company reach Z in the X and Y areas.

Refer to the requirements of the job

Your answer should be as specific as possible and focus on the tasks of the position and the requirements for the job.

In other words, why are you made for the job? Does responsibility play a major role? Then use examples to explain your sense of responsibility and how you intend to use it. Is creativity required? Then highlight them and make your added value for the employer clear.

Pro-Tip: Self-confidence is good, but please don’t exaggerate.

Sarah Doughty

Sarah Doughty profile

Director of Recruitment, TalentLab

Like any other interview question, the first step to crafting an impactful answer is to understand why the question is being asked. In many cases, there can be a few different reasons an interviewer might ask that question. Be prepared to run through several reasons why a question might come up.

In own words, compare skills and capabilities with the requirements of the role

This way, the question tests candidates’ analytical ability to quickly synthesize information, prioritize the key requirements and rapidly match previous experience or natural skillsets to address the list. Be sure to prepare for any interviews you attend by asking yourself this question, and mentally preparing to address the main functions of the role with your own experience and skills.

Remember that employers always hire to solve problems, so ensuring you will be the right person and capable of developing durable solutions will be top of mind throughout the interview.

Make a ‘pitch’ as to why you would be a good fit

A secondary reason an interview might ask this question would be to test a candidate’s salesmanship or influencer potential, particularly for client-facing or leadership roles. To answer this question effectively, you want to consider the basic sales concepts of features and benefits.

Candidates can prepare by writing out a list of their top relevant skills or ‘features’ that they will bring to the role. Similar to any sales process, follow-through by connecting the features to the benefits they will create for a future employer.

An example might be that a candidate has several years of past success in a similar role, and the benefit would be bringing that valuable experience and knowledge to the new team, acting as a mentor to junior staff as needed.

Related: How to Answer “Why Do You Want to Work Here?”

Jon Hill

Jon Hill

CEO and Chairman, The Energists

A lot of candidates mess up on this question. They give me generic answers like, “I’m a hard worker” or “I’m very ambitious”. Those aren’t the kinds of answers I’m looking for. I mean, do you know how many ambitious, hard-working candidates are out there? That hardly separates you from the rest of the pack.

Be objective with facts and figures

When I ask this question, I’m looking for facts and figures. I want to hear how you were the top performer in your department for a year straight. I want to hear about the awards you’ve won. I want to hear about how you worked three jobs to pay your way through school and still received straight A’s.

I don’t want to hear you list off vague adjectives. Give me numbers. Impress me with your achievements, and don’t be afraid to brag a little bit.

Steve Pritchard

Steve Pritchard

HR Consultant, Anglo Liners

Highlight your experience or advanced level of education

If you have qualifications, the experience you have gained off your own back or an advanced level of education relevant to the job you’re applying for, speaking about one of these is a great way to answer this question.

For example, if you are applying for a job as a secretary and have a certificate in data management or IT communications, these added skills will set you aside and show the hiring manager that you have an added foundation of knowledge and skill compared to some other people who have applied for the role.

On the other hand, if you’re applying for an in-house graphic design role in a company and have a portfolio of freelance work you have done independently, make sure the hiring manager knows about this. This demonstrates initiative and a genuine passion and enthusiasm for the job you’re applying for, which will make you stand out from at least some of the competition.

While you are explaining this additional work you have taken on, elaborate on what extra things you have learned as a result of doing this work; maybe it’s taught you to work to stricter deadlines, deal with difficult clients or learn a whole new software. These are all traits that a company would love to have in an employee.

Wendy Webster

Finance & HR Manager, Ramblers Walking Holidays

Consider traits that the employer thinks can be useful to the company

All candidates should be prepared to answer this question, and in preparation, they need to consider traits that the employer is likely to value. What special skills or traits do you bring to the table which would be genuinely useful to the company?

Many employees overcomplicate this answer because they are looking for something which just isn’t there.

Remember that setting yourself apart from the competition doesn’t mean that you have to be one-of-a-kind, you just need to have your own niche to appeal to the hiring manager.

Even if you don’t believe you have any special experience or qualifications, turn to your personality. Perhaps you are an incredibly empathetic person; this will seriously count in your favor if you’re being interviewed for a job in a customer service department because you can explain how you are able to recognize a customer’s problems and listen to them with empathy and understanding.

Another candidate may have a diploma in communications, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are a better fit for the job if they can’t deal with people over the phone and lend a sympathetic ear.

Marc Pitart

Marc Pitart Casanova

Co-Founder, CV Online

There are different approaches to answer this question if you encounter it in a job interview. Supposing that this is a position/internship you really care about, the first step to successfully answer starts way before candidates attend the interview.

Identify what you would bring into the team and highlight it

By reading the job description and finding out more about the department or team they would work within the case of being selected. Finding out what work is the company or department doing and how are they doing it and then spot how does it align with the candidate’s experiences.

One tip that works systematically for candidates in our company is selling their work as if they’d be consultants, selling the work they would do, specific actions they would carry, after having done an analysis of the companies current work. This has to be precisely done, without criticizing the current work they are doing.

Find the sweet spot between opportunities to tap and complementing their current work.

William Taylor

William Taylor

Career Development Manager, MintResume

Show off your capabilities without being snooty

As a recruitment specialist, I’ve come across several candidates who overexaggerate when mentioning their skills. Plus, their body language makes them appear snobbish.

Focus not just on your words, but also on your non-verbal cues.

Use this opportunity to mention your skills, expertise, and past experience that are relevant to the job you’re being interviewed for.

For example, if you’ve applied for the position of a manager, mention an incident where you displayed remarkable leadership skills. Similarly, if you’re applying for the position of a digital marketer, mention your conversion rates, successful campaigns, ROI, etc.

Tell them some of your strengths.

Mention things that are generally more difficult to find in potential employees. For instance, everybody says they’re a great team player. But, how does that make you different? Maybe you can say something like, “Due to my multi-cultural upbringing, I can easily relate to and get along well with people from diverse backgrounds, which makes me an excellent team player”.

Shawn Breyer

shawn-breyer

Owner, Dough Hackers

Finding team members that are well rounded and ambitious can be difficult. Yes, every manager wants someone who can perform their job well technically. They also want someone who is able to develop outside of that particular role and help the business more.

Focus on your qualities that show that you will be a great long term investment for the company

Maybe you spend your time and money going to training to learn about leadership, business process development, project management, financial management, etc. This shows the employer that you are someone who cares about investing in your future and that you will be going above and beyond just doing the tasks that you are hired to do.

Alayna Frankenberry

Alayna Frankenberry profile

Marketing Manager, BlueSky ETO

When I ask a candidate what sets them apart, I’m looking for specifics

I don’t want to hear vague responses listing personality traits. After all, how can the candidate be sure that they’re more punctual, hardworking, or detail-oriented than the competition? Instead, I like to hear specifics about past projects and experience that relates to our work.

If an SEO writer tells me about a piece of content they wrote that currently ranks in the first position for a highly valuable industry-specific keyword, that’s something that truly sets them apart.

In this example, not only does it show me that they can deliver results, but since this is something publicly available, I can do a simple Google query to verify their claim. So an industry-specific, measurable, and verifiable answer is the best possible response.

Yaniv Masjedi

Yaniv Masjedi

CMO, Nextiva

Exude confidence grounded in facts

If you launch into a memorized pitch about what makes you unique, that’s not really what I’m looking for.

I’d rather hear you say something like “I really don’t know who else you might be considering or what their qualifications are, but I can tell you that I think this is a very good fit for my skill set, experience, and my personal goals. I’m very interested in moving forward.”

Gareth Davies

Managing Director, DSM Stainless Steel Products

One of the best ways to answer this question is to actually talk about your qualities as a person and how they will have an impact upon you as an employee at the company.

For example, if you’re able to adapt quickly and pivot into a different process quickly, tell them that you can do that.

As a business owner, honesty is really appreciated because without it, we could hire a person and they are terrible at the job and so they have just wasted their time and ours. We then have to find someone new and they have to find a new employer all over again.

If this honesty is apparent, it’s actually an appealing quality in and of itself. this means that you can be trusted to admit your weaknesses and take responsibility for your actions.

Kenny Trinh

Kenny Trinh profile

Managing Editor, Netbooknews

Show that you are an active listener

When I’m interviewing a new hire, I’m always looking for someone who is an active listener. For me, that means someone who pays attention to the person interviewing, not just by their answers, but also by their body language. So in a way, you answer it (What sets you apart from other candidates) by not answering it.

I remember just a month ago when I was looking for a new person for my team. I was interviewing 4 people, but I knew from the start I only had to pay attention to 2. So I did.

The first had minimal experience, but during the group interview, she was the one giving the best answers, the one sitting up straight and looking at me intently, the one listening to the other candidates as the gave their answers. I can really see her drive, her attention to detail, her intense desire to nail the interview.

Then there was another potential candidate. She had the best experience, very qualified. During the interview though, I can see she didn’t have the ability to listen well. She would sometimes slouch on her seat or lean back on the backrest, sometimes looking at her nails while occasionally looking up as other candidates answered. Not good.

As you may have guessed, I hired the first one. So for me, one trait that would set apart a candidate from another candidate is their ability to listen well.

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