Updated 5 March 2020
While all interviewers will have a set of questions specific to the role applied for, there are a few more abstract questions that are popular across the board. “What makes you unique?” is one of these, and it can come up in interviews for a wide range of roles.
It’s a very tricky question to answer on the spot, and thus often catches interviewees off their guard. Follow our tips below to prepare effectively for it and give a winning answer.
When interviewers ask you to tell them what makes you unique, they are trying to delve a little deeper into your character and personality. They want to find out what skills and qualities you value in yourself – and what you think is important in relation to the job you are applying for.
This question is not really about what makes you truly unique (the interviewer isn’t interested in your unusual party tricks or eccentric habits). They want to find out what sets you apart from other candidates in terms of the value you could bring to the company.
They may be interviewing a number of candidates with very similar experience and qualifications, so this question helps them to dig deeper into how you distinguish yourself from all the rest.
Interviewers also use this question to find out how creative a candidate is. Abstract questions such as “What makes you unique?” require candidates to think on their feet, and a good answer shows the interviewer that you have creative skills, which are valuable in all kinds of jobs.
Because this is a difficult question to answer well, interviewees often fall into traps when talking about what makes them unique. Below are a few common errors to avoid.
All the traps and mistakes above can be avoided by thinking about the question ahead of the interview and deciding how you will answer it if it does come up.
Below are some tips to help you prepare the best possible answer.
As outlined above, when interviewers ask what makes you unique they are looking for an answer that tells them why you would be an asset to their company, and the best possible candidate for the job. So you need to prepare an answer that tells them this.
The best place to start is with the job description. Go through the skills and experience required to get a thorough understanding of what is required from a candidate.
Then think about what you could bring to the role that other candidates may not. This may be specific experience, or you may have valuable additional skills not mentioned in the job listing.
Remember to always keep it relevant to the position applied for. Employers in different industries will be looking for different characteristics, so your unique ability should be aligned with the qualities needed for the role.
For example, for a management job you might want to demonstrate communication skills, strong leadership or a willingness to take risks. For a job in finance, you might focus on your discretion or your meticulous attention to detail.
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Look back over your past experiences and identify times you were particularly successful at work or were praised by your boss.
Perhaps you resolved an issue with a difficult client, or negotiated an impressive deal. Think about what you did in those situations and the attributes you drew on to achieve that success.
You could also consider attractive personality traits that friends or family have recognised in you. Perhaps you are known for keeping calm in a crisis, or are good at resolving arguments. Think about ways these attributes could help you to excel in the job.
Don’t get too hung up on the word ‘unique’. You don’t have to give an answer that is completely different to anything the interviewer has ever heard before.
Focus more on showing that you are an especially attractive candidate by telling them something interesting, and relevant, that may not come up at another point in the interview. Some interviewers might even phrase the question this way, asking you to tell them what makes you interesting.
Wherever possible, use specific examples from your work history to illustrate how you have used your unique abilities constructively. These will help to back up your answer, making it more reliable.
Strong examples also make it more likely that your interviewer will remember your answer – and therefore you – when reflecting back on candidates they have seen.
When you have decided on the unique skill you want to talk about, and have come up with some examples to demonstrate it in action, practise delivering your answer so that it sounds fluent, genuine and confident.
Here we have provided a few sample answers to the question “What Makes You Unique?”. Remember that these are just for reference. Your own answer should draw on your own personal talents and experience, and should be relevant to the job applied for.
“What makes me unique is that I really enjoy working in a fast-paced atmosphere with lots going on. In my previous role as an account manager I had a number of clients and would often be working on several projects at once, fielding calls and juggling tasks throughout the day. It could be hectic but I thrived on the adrenaline rush of managing all my responsibilities and delivering results. My manager often remarked on how I never seemed stressed when the pressure was on – instead it made me even more motivated.”
“I have a natural ability to get along with people that has helped me to stand out in previous roles. Because I empathise well with people from all backgrounds, I’m able to build up a good relationship with clients quickly, understanding what they want and how best to deliver that. My last job involved signing up new customers, often through cold calling. I enjoyed the challenge of having just a few minutes to try and form a rapport. I had a strong success rate and was regularly named top salesperson of the month.”
“My unique skill is that I’m creative-minded and that helps me to see things from a different perspective. In a previous job we had weekly team meetings, which were always held in one of the conference rooms and had begun to feel stale and unproductive. I know my best ideas usually come when I change my surroundings, so I suggested holding occasional team meetings outside the office. My manager agreed to try it and we started meeting in a nearby coffee shop, or the local park when the weather was nice. My manager acknowledged that the meetings became more positive and productive. She thanked me for my suggestion and it became a fixture that once a month we would leave the office for our team meeting.”
The interviewer might ask follow-up questions to “What makes you unique?”, so be prepared to expand further on your answer.
If you have chosen a genuine, interesting and relevant skill or quality, then further questions should not be a problem. If you struggle to answer any of the follow-up questions below, you may need to think again about the answer you have prepared.
The interviewer may ask this if they feel that your answer simply reiterates skills or experience that have already been established in your CV, job application or through earlier interview questions. Make sure your answer reveals something interesting about you that goes beyond the basic requirements for the role.
The interviewer may ask this if your initial answer seems irrelevant, or if you haven’t fully demonstrated how your unique talent would be of benefit. Makes sure you have a few specific workplace examples to back up your answer, and show how it would be of value to the employer.
Again, the interviewer may ask this if they feel your answer is not relevant, or if you haven’t explained fully how the quality you have discussed is of value to the company. Always keep that latter point in mind.
To sum up, here are the main points to remember when asked in an interview what makes you unique:
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