31 Aug 2020

How to answer the interview question - "What makes you unique?"

We are going to lay out a simple plan on how you can prepare for this question, as well as provide a script that you can use as a template to shape your answer.

For the video version of this guide go here.

Why is this question asked?

The recruitment process requires companies to make hard decisions when it comes to making a hire. Employers must review multiple candidates, even for a single job vacancy. To help them reach a decision on who to employ, the interviewer asks this question to discover what sets you apart from other applicants. 

This question gives you the perfect opportunity to stand out from the crowd and show your value, especially when the crowd appears very similar on paper. 

How to answer this question

To prepare for this question you must discover why hiring you would benefit the company. 

Here’s how: 

1. Get clear on what makes you unique

2. Match your skills with the employer’s needs

3. Explain how your skills will contribute to the companies success

1. Get clear on what makes you unique

Don’t get hung up on the word unique. All we’re trying to do with this exercise is to show the employer that we’re a great fit for the job and we can bring value to the business. 

So, let’s reframe this activity to ‘Discovering your biggest strengths’.

First, make a list of all your strengths. 

Here are some questions to help you along:

• What sets you apart from other candidates? What are you good at? 

• What do you enjoy the most about your job? Or - what do you love to do?

• What comes naturally to you?

• Do you have a particular passion for the industry?

• What reasons do people come to you for advice or help with?

Talk to family and friends: Learn how others see you as unique or valuable by asking friends and family what they think your strengths are.

Review past achievements that demonstrate your skills

Have a think about any success or accomplishments you’ve had during your work experience and ask yourself:

“What skills or personality traits did I show that lead to these achievements?” 

An easy place to start is to remember a time when you solved a problem at work. 

To help you along, consider times in the past when you were given: 

• Praise or recognition 

• Additional responsibilities

• A promotion

• A salary raise

Get proof: It’s very important within your answer that you include accomplishments from your work experience that highlight your specific skill set. 

A very powerful answer will include achievements accompanied by data or measurable results. This will help demonstrate the value you can bring to the employer. 

Example answer: 

Suppose your unique skill is being dedicated. Instead of saying ‘I am uniquely dedicated to my job’, a better answer would include a time when you exercised this specific skill, backed up by data. 

MENTION SKILL: “I would describe myself as being very dedicated.”

GIVE EVIDENCE: “My dedication to my previous job as a Warehouse Assistant allowed me to always be a week ahead of schedule with incoming stock orders. I then used the additional spare time to map out process improvements to our supply chain, which resulted in a 30% reduction in costs for the company in 2019.” 

2. Match your skills with the employer's needs

At this point, you have a very clear understanding of where your strengths lie. Now it’s time to learn about the employer's needs so you can detail how you can fulfill them. 

You can do this by learning more about the requirements for the job.

Review the job description and make notes of:

• What skills does the company emphasise as must-haves?

• Are there specific personality traits mentioned? E.g. motivated, strong communicator, leader, etc. 

• What level of experience is required for the job?

• Are there any specific targets or objectives listed? 

• Do research on the company to learn about how your skills can benefit the organisation. By reviewing their social media pages, website, employee and customer reviews, you will get ideas for how you can contribute to the company’s success. For example, if you learn that the company has a vast interest in helping the community, discussing your volunteer experience connects you directly to the company's mission.

Example answer: After reviewing the job description you notice that the ability to learn quickly is high up on the employer's requirements. It just so happens that this requirement matches with your own skills and experience. In this instance your answer may look something like: 

MENTION SKILL: “I would say what makes me unique is my ability to quickly adapt while learning on the job.”

GIVE EVIDENCE: “Within my previous role as an administrator this skill came in handy. The company made the decision to move their recruitment process from a paper-based system to an online platform. This involved the implementation of an applicant tracking software system which I had never had experience with before.” 

“I quickly evaluated what I’d need to learn and spent my spare time building the skills in order to effectively use the new system. I picked the new system up quite quickly and was given the responsibility of training in our entire recruitment department, which I thoroughly enjoyed."

BRING THE CONVERSATION BACK TO THE JOB: “After reviewing the requirements for this role, the ability to think on your feet is an absolute necessity, and it’s an environment where I feel very comfortable in.”

3. Explain how your skills will contribute to the company's success

Once you’ve discussed your relevant unique skills and personality traits that led to past successes, it’s important that you bring the conversation back to the job you’re applying for. End your answer by referencing how your key skills and traits will allow you to achieve similar results for the company in the future. 

For example: Applying for a sales position and a key aspect of the job is developing new business. This could be a possible “What makes you unique” answer:

MENTION SKILL: “What makes me unique is my natural ability to get along with people. I find I’m able to build strong relationships with clients almost immediately, as I empathise well with people.”

GIVE EVIDENCE: “Within my previous job I consistently exceeded my quota for acquiring new clients, as I am quick to identify and understand the pain points of the customer.”

BRING IT BACK TO THE JOB: “I am a thorough communicator, an excellent listener and I have a strong record for building long-term relationships, all skills which I know will fit well with this current sales position.”

Final tips:

Practice 

Write out your answer and say it out loud. The more you practice responding to this question the more natural it will become. 

If your changing careers - focus on your transferable skills i.e. the skills you have developed from your experience that can be used across a variety of roles and industries.

Examples include:

• Being a team player

• Having leadership qualities

• Strong communication skills - written and verbal

• Problem solving

• Research and analytical skills

What to avoid:

Giving generic answers: The interviewer has already heard every cliche answer under the sun, so you need to go the extra mile in order to give a memorable answer. For example, rather than saying “I always go beyond what’s asked of me” you can say “I will always push myself to excel. Working on tasks that allow me to learn and grow is what I love most about my job.”

Quirky answers: This is not the time and place to explain your unusual party tricks or odd habits. Remember, the interviewer wants to learn more about your skills and experience that qualify you for the job. 

Remember that when you're asked the interview question What makes you unique?”, really the question you're answering is "Why are you the best applicant for this position?". So, go out there and make yourself stand out from the herd by showing what value you can bring to the company.

We wish you the very best of luck with your job interview!

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