When a hiring manager poses the question, “What makes you unique?” in an interview, people’s minds usually drift to thoughts of their random talents, like naming all fifty states in alphabetical order. I’ll let you in on a little secret: this is not the type of answer they’re looking for. Even the most seasoned candidates can get thrown off by this question. Here’s everything you need to know in order to nail your response.
Rest assured, this isn’t a trick question. Hiring managers and recruiters are genuinely interested in what sets you apart from other candidates applying for the role. This is an opportunity to take the stage and explain what separates you from the competition - especially when everyone looks the same on paper. Employers also use this question as a way to evaluate your level of self-awareness and how strong your communication skills are.
Delivering a thoughtful, compelling response is a chance to showcase that you’ve reflected on the requirements of the role and can clearly articulate why you’re the best fit for what the company needs. After all, if you can’t communicate your value, how can you build a convincing narrative around why the company should hire you?
So, how do you formulate a powerful response that demonstrates your worthiness as a candidate?
Keep everything in context
You could probably produce an entire award-winning checklist of traits and qualities that you deem unique and valuable. However, when asked, “What makes you unique?” in an interview, you need to craft your response in a way that speaks specifically to the position you’ve applied for. In order to do this effectively, it’ll require you to invest time in researching the company, the role, the hiring manager, and any other relevant tidbits that you can leverage in your conversation.
Always take a deep dive into the job description to gain a clear understanding of what your responsibilities and deliverables would be, the type of experience they’re calling for, and the soft skills they attribute to the ideal candidate for this job. By having a firm grasp on the company’s values and what their goals and challenges are, you’ll be able to build an answer that vocalizes how you fit within the context of the role.
“I get by with a little help from my friends ♪♫♬”
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to reference The Wonder Years theme song. But, this is good advice to build upon, as getting outside input from a few trusted individuals is a great way to get your ideas flowing. Enlist the help of past colleagues, managers, or trusted friends to provide some input on specific times where you exemplified certain strengths that led to positive outcomes. Some of the answers you receive will serve as a spark of inspiration and help you establish the initial framework needed to piece together a strong response.
If you’re someone looking to make a career transition, there is still a way to highlight your skills and experience in a captivating manner. Exercise some creativity and consider your value beyond just your job title. Learn how to spin your previous experience to meet the criteria of the new role. For example, rather than referring to yourself as a customer service specialist, describe yourself as someone who proactively promoted new products, provided customers with assistance on new orders and invoices, and addressed client complaints efficiently and professionally.
When you look at it from this perspective, you can adapt your skills accordingly. Managing conflict or communicating a complex project to a team are the same skills you'd call upon when interacting with customers. Provide concrete examples. If you're talking about problem-solving, use a specific instance where you utilized this skill to successfully diffuse an issue. Even if you’re attempting to transition into an entirely different industry, the hiring manager will be looking for candidates who can think critically and apply their knowledge in new and innovative ways. Remember, always provide proof through storytelling by using specific examples of times when you successfully used certain skill sets.
Another plan of attack to consider is bringing samples of work with you. Maybe you’re looking to land a tech job, but you were previously in marketing - bring along training certificates you've earned to your interview. Or maybe, you’re looking to land a new copywriting gig. If you don’t have any published samples of your work, either draft a few samples for your meeting or showcase something similar, like a grant proposal you wrote at your previous job that can demonstrate your mastery of language and proficiency in taking complex concepts and translating them into easy-to-digest explanations. Don’t be afraid to create a mock marketing plan or bring your tablet and scroll through your portfolio, so the hiring manager can get a first-hand glimpse of your capabilities.
Piece It Together
When delivering your answer, it shouldn’t sound like you’re reciting a checklist of all things that make you a noteworthy, standout candidate. Instead of rattling off items as if you’re reading your grocery shopping list, your answer should be strong, succinct, and give a powerful overview of your strengths. Here are some examples of how to phrase your response:
“My ability to empathize and form genuine connections with people is what makes me unique. In my previous role as a sales executive, I exercised this skill to uncover viable prospects and create new business in untapped markets by quickly identifying and speaking to people's challenges and pain points. This allowed me to establish relationships built on trust and it helped me exceed my quota by 110% in the last two years.”
“What makes me unique is my exceptional organization skills. In my previous role, I created a new system of managing and tracking task assignments. By doing so, it streamlined our messy workflow and improved productivity levels by 17%"
Practice makes perfect
Simply reading this article doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly nail your response to this question. The key to delivering a powerful pitch is doing a little brainstorming session, reflecting on your strengths, and practicing a few different answers out loud. Believe it or not, the more you practice, the more confident you’ll be - not to mention, the more natural you’ll sound.