“What makes you unique?” Nail the common interview question

a person preparing to answer what makes you unique in an interview

You updated your resume and the time you spent crafting your cover letter paid off. Your interview is set.

While you might be tempted to relax after all that effort, remember, the interview is your time to shine.

It's an opportunity to bring your work experiences to life and show your prospective employer what makes you the best candidate.

One of the most common interview questions is: What makes you unique?

With a bit of preparation and self-reflection, you can ace this question and we’ll show you how.

Table of contents
Why they want to know ‘what makes you unique’?
Focus your answer and show what you will bring
Use transferable skills to show what makes you different from other applicants
4 tips to impress your potential employer
How to convince them you can do the job
Sample answers for ‘What makes you unique?’
The secret to preparing for an interview – The Greatest Hits Exercise
Which examples of something unique about yourself should you pick?
Frequently asked questions

Why they want to know ‘what makes you unique’?

You will hear this question asked in different formats. An interviewer may ask ‘Why should we hire you?’ or ‘What makes you different from other candidates?’

So what are they getting at?

They are on a mission to find the candidate that will best meet the needs of the role. They want to understand the unique elements of each applicant’s background and how they can take this position to the next level.

When you are asked this question, it shows that the recruiter or hiring manager is trying to learn more about you beyond your resume.

Take it as a sign of their interest and the perfect chance to show that you are more than just the sum of your previous role. It's an opportunity to demonstrate why you're the ideal candidate for the job.

Now you know why employers ask this question, let's look at strategies you can use to answer it.

Focus your answer and show what you will bring

Choose relevant skills and qualities

While there are many unique and positive traits about you, it's important to focus on things that are most relevant to this job description.

Provide concrete examples of the skills or personality traits you possess that will lead to your success in this particular role.

Need help thinking of what you’re good at? Check out this article with exercises to help you answer that question and understand what key skills you have.

Understand the job role and research the company

This is huge! On the surface, the ‘what makes you unique’ question may sound like it’s all about you. But in fact, it’s about you in the context of the role and the company.

The greater your understanding of the job and company values, the better prepared you will be to highlight your unique qualities that will resonate with this employer.

Review the employer's website, including: About Us, Mission, News, and social media channels to develop a firm grasp of the qualities they require in a candidate.

Most job descriptions will ask for 50 different things, but you can usually group these into 3 to 5 major skill areas (hard and soft skills).

By taking time to understand the organization and referencing this in the interview, you demonstrate initiative and genuine interest.

Include examples

It’s important to paint a picture of your abilities with success stories. Your resume lists your skills so be sure you can back them up. Come prepared with examples related to the skills required.

If you are seeking a management position, explain how you have handled stressful situations or how you thrive as a team leader.

Behavioral interviews are common, so be prepared. They'll ask questions like:

  • Tell me about a time you encountered a dissatisfied customer.
  • How did you learn from a mistake you made?
  • Give me an example of a project you completed under a tight deadline and how you handled it.

In asking these questions the hiring manager is trying to visualize how you could be successful in this job based on your experience. They want to hear how you put your skills to use and how you grow and succeed despite challenging situations.

Be yourself

It’s tempting to say what you think an employer wants to hear, but if you embellish, it’s easy for employers to discover this. It's best to give honest answers, be yourself and not feel the need to exaggerate.

Use real-world examples. Focus on your unique skill set, highlighting qualities like strong communication skills (check out these tips for effective communication), account management, and business development.

Sometimes having a solid grasp and track record of success with common skills is exactly what they're looking for.

It’s your unique experience in developing these valuable skills that matter.

Discover your professional traits and how you are different

If you're not sure what makes you unique and what your most significant strengths are, F4S is the tool to help.

Our professional and personal development platform helps people understand their workplace motivations.

Start by taking the free assessment. It's more than 90% accurate! After taking the assessment you will have instant results that measure traits that influence your excitement around certain tasks.

You'll understand preferences like whether you prefer being solely accountable for tasks or if you like shared responsibilities—or somewhere in between. Find out your communication and decision-making preferences and much more.

find out what makes you unique with the F4S dashboard
F4S dashboard

By reviewing your F4S assessment, you will gain valuable insights about your unique motivations and be able to formulate success stories that show those motivations in action.

See how you compare to high performers in this role

If you really want to blow the competition away, use your F4S report to see how you rank against other people in similar roles. Click on the XFactors tab to benchmark your results against our sample of Entrepreneurs and Business Builders across the globe.

F4S analytics shows data related to what makes you unique at work
Your XFactors show your data that is as unique as your fingerprint

You'll see where you fall in the average range, as well as areas where you are above average. This can be leveraged in your interview to show areas where you thrive and how you can put that to use if hired.

You'll also see areas where you could use some improvement. While you don't need to share this in the interview, it is helpful for you to know areas where you might need to strengthen your skills.

Then you can set a goal (maybe to land your dream job) and enjoy a free coaching program with our career coach, AI Coach Marlee. You'll get personalized coaching based on your traits and your goal. 90% of users complete their goal by the end of our hyper-effective programs.

Personalized insights for your goal

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Use transferable skills to show what makes you different from other applicants

Transferable skills are the competencies you gain in one job that help you succeed in other roles, such as communication skills. Differentiate yourself by summarizing your success stories based on your direct experience while highlighting your transferable skills.

Whether you're new to the job force, switching industries, or seeking a leadership role, leveraging your past experiences is vital. Your potential employer might not see how your volunteer experience is related, so it's your job to explain the correlation. If you've landed an interview, chances are they see your potential.

For example, transferable skills not related to a job role could include volunteering at a soup kitchen, caring for a loved one, or being part of the high school soccer team. Your goal is to explain how an experience provided you with an opportunity to develop skills necessary for the job.

Volunteering in itself shows you are a person with empathy, initiative, and community-mindedness. As a caregiver you could discuss how you enjoy being an advocate, and how you remain calm and patient, and have a strong desire to help others. Being on a sports team shows you are a team player and have the ability to think fast.

Get creative and show that your skills and experience are what makes you different from other applicants - in a good way.

Sometimes the tangents in our career path lead to amazing experiences. When brought together these are much more than the sum of their individual parts.

4 tips to impress your potential employer

1. Give concise answers

When candidates are nervous during an interview, they can lose focus and rattle on. Edit yourself by keeping your answers between 90 seconds and 2 minutes long.

If an interviewer asks a follow-up question, be sure to provide a precise answer. Remember, monologues are for theater, not job interviewers. If you feel yourself rambling, wrap it up.

2. Pick personal strengths related to the job

While you want to demonstrate how you are unique and let your personality shine through, remember, this is a professional setting. Avoid anything too personal and think of how your answer will reflect your capabilities on the job.

3. Focus on positive qualities

Be sure your unique quality is something positive. Maybe you never forget a face but you're not great with names. While this has strength, you want the interviewer to remember you for the right reasons.

You might instead focus on how you developed a team-building activity that helped remote employees bond.

4. Explain what makes you different

The point of asking what makes you unique is to differentiate you from others in a positive way. This goes back to the show, don’t tell adage. It's fine to pick a common skill like leadership, but you must paint a picture with words and explain your unique leadership experience. Perhaps it was mentoring an international team and how your experience studying abroad gave you the confidence and communication skills to work with a multicultural team.

How to convince them you can do the job

Before returning to the ‘what makes you unique’ question, let’s focus on a skill essential to any interview: The ability to articulate your experience in a way that is meaningful to an employer.

The employer already has a notion you can do the job or they would not interview you. Now, they need you to confirm their instincts were correct.

Specifically, the interview process needs to assure the employer that:

Sample answers for ‘What makes you unique?’

You know you'll be asked what makes you a better candidate than others, or some version of that. Here are some examples of responses that show you're an exceptional candidate.

1. Wedding planner example

My adaptability makes me unique. I have honed this over the past 5 years as a wedding planner. It's the most important day of some people's life, one they may have dreamed about for years. And I am entrusted with that dream. I manage last-minute details and ensure everything flows smoothly, just like a project manager.

For example, last month a bride had her heart set on an outdoor ceremony. I had been monitoring the weather and a week before I saw the forecast called for showers. I immediately called the couple and recommended they consider a party tent. They agreed.

Since it was last minute, I called vendors with whom I have long-standing relationships and they were able to secure a tent at the last minute at the peak of the wedding season. I ordered umbrellas for guests and made contingency plans for the valets to be closer to the tent entrance.

Thankfully, it was sunny for the ceremony, but it rained for most of the reception. Because of the tent, everyone stayed dry and had a great time. The guests commented on the beautiful event in spite of the weather. The bride and groom were really happy, left a great Yelp review for me, and have already referred me to one of their newly engaged friends.

My ability to remain calm, think on my feet, find solutions, and communicate with clients throughout the process shows I will thrive as a corporate event planner for your organization.

2. When the new job is a stretch or you are making a transition

My ability to quickly learn new things and be self-directed makes me unique. For example, in my last role as a data analyst, I stepped up to work closely with the account management team when they had a member leave mid-project. I spent extra time outside of work getting up to speed on that person’s workload and the history of the account, so I could help with the client side as well.

Early in my career, I spent several years in retail, so I have an excellent customer service background. While I enjoy the data side, this experience allowed me to see that an account management role would allow me to use my wide range of skills and serve as the cross-section of my data and customer service experience. I’m happy to say that the project was a success and I have been invited to collaborate on future projects to help with both data and client management.

By jumping in and going above and beyond my normal workload to dive into the role, I showed the team they could depend on me. That’s how I approach all my projects and why I would make a great account manager with ABC company.

3. When you’ve worked a variety of jobs

My experience across industries is what's special about me. I'm adventurous and I love to learn, which is why I've had such diverse roles. I've had the opportunity to work on several cross-functional teams and learn best practices with each role. Working at a tech startup with 10 people was fast-paced. No two days were alike, and I wore different hats depending on what was needed at any given moment. When I transitioned into a large hospitality company I took those skills and found success with streamlining operations and ensuring guest satisfaction.

At the startup, we were focused on survival, aggressive business development, and securing investors, whereas at the hotel company, I worked in account management for longer-term projects. Before that, I spent time in customer service for a telecom company. I’m grateful to have had these different experiences because it has helped me understand the environment I like best and allowed me to work with diverse teams on projects of all sizes.

The secret to preparing for an interview – The Greatest Hits Exercise

Success stories are the secret sauce of a great interview and this question ‘what makes you unique’ is no exception.

Understand yourself and be able to tell your story

This is an exercise called Your Greatest Hits.”

This will give you a quick visual depiction of approximately 30 success stories and is a great prompt for those behavioral, “Tell me about a time when” questions. They are based on the premise that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

On one sheet of paper write 10-15 skills, for example:

Select 5 skill areas represented in the job description plus soft skills and other skills applicable to your field or industry.

For each of these skill areas, write 2 – 3 CAR stories meaning:

Challenge - what was the challenge you encountered?

Action - what were the specific actions you took to address the challenge?

Results - what were the positive results?

The answers to these should be 90 seconds to 2 minutes long and demonstrate how you used that skill. Pull examples from every area of your resume including jobs, volunteer work, research, hobbies, consulting work, etc., but focus the majority of your stories on your relevant past experience.

When doing this exercise, don’t write out long answers. You know your experience and should not memorize the answers – rather use the keywords and phrases to jog your memory.

For example:

Adaptability

  • C: Wedding Planner for outdoor ceremony/reception in FL in July; forecast called for showers
  • A: Encouraged couple to consider party tent; called frequently used vendor and secured tent days before the ceremony; worked with other vendors to adjust to a new configuration for the reception. Ordered umbrellas.
  • R: Sunny for the ceremony, but it rained most of the reception. Tent in place, dry guests, good time had by all. The bride and groom were happy and guests commented on the beautiful event in spite of the weather.

Practice saying these success stories aloud

It will help you smooth out the flow (get rid of ums, pauses, likes), identify areas where you need to come up with a better example, and in the process increase your confidence. You are showing this employer how you could jump in and contribute right away to their organizational objectives.

Which examples of something unique about yourself should you pick?

Now that you know how to tell compelling success stories in an interview, which skills and abilities should you pick?

  • Let the job description be your guide. Focus on the 2-3 skills that represent the essence of the job. Is it teamwork and data analysis? It may be a mix of hard and soft skills.
  • When deciding which one, think about feedback from your manager and peers. Which skills or personality traits have you been praised for?
  • The role you play in most teams hints at what makes you unique. Maybe you are the mediator and conflict management is your differentiator.
  • The accomplishment of which you are most proud. Include what helped you achieve it and how it relates to the greater themes in your career and personal life.

Final tips on what makes you unique

When interviewers ask what makes you unique, it’s a great opportunity to highlight your strengths and provide supporting examples. By preparing and thinking strategically about your answer, you can reinforce why you would be a great addition to the team.

Remember to send your thank you email immediately following the interview. This is another opportunity to remind the recruiter what's special about you and what makes you the best candidate for this role.

In the end, the biggest differentiator in interviews is being able to articulate your abilities. Have confidence in your past experience and your future potential!

Frequently asked questions

Why do job interviewers ask, "What makes you unique?"

Employers ask this question to understand how you stand out from other candidates and what unique qualities you can bring to the role. They want to know how your skills, experiences, and attributes align with the job and company.

How can I effectively answer the question, "What makes you unique?"

To answer this question effectively, you should:

  • Choose relevant skills and qualities that align with the job description.
  • Research the company and align your answer with the company values and needs.
  • Include specific examples of your skills and qualities in action.
  • Be genuine and honest, avoiding exaggeration.
  • Tailor your answer to fit the context of the role and company.

What are transferable job skills, and how can they help me stand out as a unique candidate?

Transferable job skills are competencies gained in one job that can be valuable in other roles. Even experiences seemingly unrelated to the job can showcase skills like communication, leadership, and adaptability. Highlighting these skills can make you stand out as a well-rounded candidate. This shows your skills are relevant if you are making a career change.

How can F4S help me answer "What makes you unique?" in an interview?

F4S is a professional and personal development platform that offers a free assessment. This assessment measures traits that influence your motivation and preferences at work. The results can help you understand your unique qualities and formulate success stories that showcase those qualities.

How can I continue to build my confidence for interviews?

Practice is key to building confidence. Review your success stories, practice answering common interview questions, and consider seeking feedback from friends or mentors. The more you prepare and practice, the more comfortable and confident you'll become during interviews.

Discover what makes you unique and nail your next interview

Take the free assessment so you can speak with confidence about your skills and traits. Understand where your strengths are so you can find success and your dream job. With a greater understanding of what makes you unique, you can prepare for your interview and shine a light on your skills and talents.

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