How to Answer “What Makes You Unique” in a Job Interview
The average number of people that apply for any given job is 118 and only 1 in 5 will be called to interview.
Increased competition for skilled job seekers means standing out from the crowd in the all-important interview stage is more important than ever. While many candidates will crumble under the pressure of a high-stake interview situation, it’s important to remember why you’re sitting in the hot seat.
Being called to interview is no mean feat.
Your prospective employer clearly sees potential — your job is to differentiate yourself from other candidates by demonstrating confidence in your abilities and allowing your best quality to shine through.
With this in mind, many interviewers will ask “what makes you unique” as an opportunity to understand what sets you apart from other candidates and to shift the conversation towards how your personal attributes will translate into your professional performance.
Join us as we explain why this question is so important and offer expert tips to help you walk into your next interview with confidence.
Why Do Interviewers Ask This Question?
Just as a prospective employer might ask you “What Animal Would You Be” to delve into your personal character, the “what makes you unique” interview question is designed to dig deeper and expose traits that you can’t capture on a CV.
Instead of viewing the question as an interrogation, the best respondents will use it as an opportunity to bring attention to highly-desirable qualities and interesting quirks that link to the role.
Crucially, interviewers ask this question to help candidates pitch their unique qualities and demonstrate your understanding of what the role will entail. Identifying candidates who have taken the time to think critically about the specific demands of a role is a common tactic to sift through applications.
How to Prepare for the Question “What Makes You Unique”
As is the case with most interview scenarios, preparation is key to answering this question successfully.
While it’s relatively easy to real-off generic answers that you think the interviewer wants to hear, offering a meaningful and honest answer requires careful planning and out-of-the-box thinking.
So, what steps can you take ahead of your next interview to help you nail this question?
Take Time to Reflect
Self-reflection is one of the most desirable attributes of any candidate. The ability to assess your personal qualities, identify your weaknesses, and celebrate your best traits is the perfect recipe for a rounded character who can hold their own in a professional setting.
Your first step should be to take a look in the mirror and ask yourself “what makes me unique?”
While it may feel peculiar to internalise your personal qualities, self-reflection is vital to help you think critically about your personality and identify traits that you could leverage to differentiate from the competition.
Refine Your Thoughts
One of the biggest red flags that an applicant is underprepared for an interview is long, drawn-out and ambiguous answers.
Setting-aside time to brainstorm your unique qualities and practising your delivery will help you provide a clear and concise response that catches the interviewer’s attention.
Crucially, employers want to see honest and confident answers that are relevant to the role. Avoid unnecessary ‘fluff’ and speak with conviction — most interviewers can read through orchestrated answers that don’t reflect your true personality.
Prepare a Range of Answers
Our #1 tip for answering the “what makes you unique” interview question is to identify multiple qualities that you feel comfortable talking about.
Too many candidates fall into the trap of preparing a textbook response that they struggle to squeeze into the natural flow of the conversation. Lots of interviewers will ask sub-questions inside other questions to test your ability to think on your feet and avoid robotic responses.
The best candidates will tailor their answer to fit with the context of the current conversation. They’ll draw upon loosely-prepared ideas to demonstrate why their unique quality separates them from the rest of the pack and how this is relevant to the role.
Practise Talking About Yourself
Striking the right balance between sounding confident and blowing your own trumpet is easier said than done. Many candidates struggle with this question due to the unfamiliarity of praising your personal qualities.
While it might feel uncomfortable at first, practise your response with friends and family to ease any anxieties around self-reflection.
It might also be useful to ask the people around you to share their thoughts on your character — this can sometimes uncover highly-desirable traits that you didn’t know you had.
Exemplar “What Makes You Unique” Answers
If you’re struggling for ideas or inspiration to begin your preparation, you might find it useful to analyse other people’s responses.
Let’s take a look at three exemplar answers and assess what interpretations an interviewer might make.
Answer 1: The Problem-Solving Account Manager
“I would say my most unique quality is the way I perceive difficult situations. After dealing with some fairly tough personal situations in my early life, I’ve become resilient to scenarios that many people would shy away from. I’m proud of my ability to find the positive in everything I do and take a ‘can-do’ approach to solve problems before they can grow into something more serious.
I’m confident in my ability to translate this pro-active approach to conflict-resolution into my professional life. I believe my desire to find solutions in the face of adversity will help to neutralise difficult scenarios with clients while remaining respectful and considerate to all involved.”
What Does This Tell an Interviewer?
The candidate is clearly confident in their ability to approach situations that many people would avoid. The reference to previous life experiences provides a tangible reason to support why the candidate possesses this quality, as well as providing an opportunity for the interviewer to ask additional questions about these experiences.
The link to the responsibilities of an account manager demonstrates a competent understanding of what soft skills are required and how the candidate can leverage their pro-active approach to deliver competent conflict-resolutions.
There’s a risk of the candidate sounding like a disruptive character who revels in negativity. The candidate must be receptive to this by communicating a clear focus on resolving conflict, not fuelling it.
Answer 2: The Empathetic HR Manager
“My friends often tell me that my stand-out characteristic is my ability to read people’s emotions and handle complex social situations. Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been aware of the people around me and cared about their wellbeing. I dabbled with the idea of becoming the doctor when I was a kid, but my biology teacher had other ideas!
That said, I like to think that I never let go of my dream to help others and protect their wellbeing.
As an HR professional, I have the opportunity to read people’s emotions, understand how they’re feeling, and offer dedicated support. The opportunity to share my passion for people at an organisation that takes employee wellbeing as seriously as your firm would be extremely fulfilling.”
What Does This Tell an Interviewer?
This candidate demonstrates a genuine passion for people. The tone is incredibly human and the childhood anecdote gives an authentic insight into how the candidate found their way into this field of work.
Additionally, the reference to the employer’s commitment to supporting wellbeing is a sign that the candidate has done their homework and would be a strong fit for the company culture.
There’s a risk of the candidate sounding too good to be true. The humorous reference to their limited biology knowledge provides a modest touch to complement the personable focus of the overall description.
Answer 3: The Competitive Salesperson
“If I had to pinpoint one unique trait about myself, it would be my obsession with mastering relatively obscure games. Whether it’s becoming the grandmaster at Tetris or practising the Rubix cube until I could do it blindfolded, I’ve never been satisfied with playing for the sake of playing. I guess you could view it as a negative trait, but I’m driven by the idea of practising something over and over until you’ve perfected it.
After growing up as the youngest of five highly-competitive siblings, I’ve always taken games seriously, no matter how big or small they might be.
I love the fact that I can transfer this desire to win into my work. The world of sales is all about refining your approach and mastering your subject matter to sell a product or service in the best possible light. I’m a big fan of your commission-based approach which incentivises employees to focus on marginal gains and promotes a healthy spirit of competition across your sales team.
While I take my work extremely seriously, I’m aware that it’s sometimes important to take a step back and view things with a level of perspective. I’ve grown to learn that winning isn’t everything and the odd loss here and there can actually be a valuable lesson for the future.”
What Does This Tell an Interviewer?
This candidate is undoubtedly hungry to put their best foot forward and drive more sales for the business. The reference to gameplay and a repeated focus on mastering highly-specialised disciplines lends itself perfectly to a sales role.
The candidate demonstrates emotional maturity by identifying that a competitive upbringing has fuelled their character — something that will continue to mature in a sales environment.
Additionally, referencing the employer’s commission-based model indicates that the candidate’s competitive nature is a strong cultural fit that will reflect in their performance.
The word “obsession” has some negative connotations that aren’t always conducive to a productive or healthy work environment. The candidate’s concluding remark about leveraging losses as learning opportunities is extremely valuable to balance the response.
So, What Makes You Unique?
The ultimate purpose of this question is to celebrate your individuality — a generic response isn’t going to get you anywhere.
Between now and your interview, take some time to think critically about past life experiences, your relationships with friends, and your attitudes towards work. Reflecting on who you are as a person will help you identify all of the weird and wonderful things that make you, you.
Crucially, be confident and don’t be afraid to express yourself. Interviewers love to see candidates who show a genuine passion for something and expose interesting quirks that you can’t communicate through a CV.
Build Confidence for Your Next Interview With Exactimo
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Whether you’ve already secured an interview or you’re beginning the application process for the first time, learning how to perfect your interview technique will dramatically increase your success at landing a top job.
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