Hiring managers love to ask interview questions like, “what makes you unique?” or, “what sets you apart from other candidates?”
They do this to measure your confidence, but also to see how well you understand the job you’re interviewing for.
And there are a couple of key mistakes you NEED to avoid if you want to get the job offer. So I’m going to walk you through the exact steps for answering this question, with examples.
The first thing you need to do when answering this question is to make sure you understand the role. Study the job description as a part of your pre-interview research.
If you’re not researching the company… recruiters and hiring managers can tell. And they’re going to hire someone who’s put in the extra effort to learn about the job before coming in to interview.
So don’t skip this.
You’ll see how to use this in the answer examples coming up soon, too.
Once you’ve done your research, the next step to answering, “What sets you apart from other candidates?” is to point out the most relevant pieces of your background. What have you done that’s most similar to what the company needs in this job? That’s how to impress when answering this question (as well as questions like, “Why should we hire you?”)
So for example, you could say:
“I noticed on the job description that you’re looking for someone who can do a mix of data entry and data analysis. One piece of experience that sets me apart from other candidates is my expert-level knowledge of Excel. In my last role, I was responsible for creating multiple pivot tables each month to help us analyze complex data, so I think I’d have a unique advantage in this role and would be able to contribute more than other candidates.”
Always try to compare your background to the job and their needs.
Just like when answering, “tell me about yourself,” it’s best to keep your response professional and work-related.
Don’t respond by telling the interviewer you can chug a beer in 3 seconds, or you were born with 6 toes on one foot, or that you own 7 pet lizards.
It’s better, and safer, to just talk about your professional or business-related experience when answering this type of question.
There are times when the interviewer wants to see if you’re self-aware, humble, etc. (for example, when they ask, “what are your weaknesses?”)
This isn’t one of those times. When they ask interview questions like this, as well as questions like, “Why should we hire you?” they want a direct, confident answer.
They WANT you to brag about yourself a bit. So always end with confidence, and wrap up by directly telling them why they should choose you and what sets you apart.
You’ll see this in the examples in the next section.
Now that we’ve covered the steps and tips for how to answer, let’s look at real-world examples of what you could say when sharing your experience and explaining what makes you stand out from other candidates.
Sample Answer #1:
“I noticed on the job description that you’re looking for someone who can manage projects and communicate directly with clients, too. One piece of experience that sets me apart from other candidates is my background in software project management in a small startup, where I was asked to do exactly this – be the client-facing project manager, but also manage everything internally. So I think I’d have a unique advantage in this role, and would be able to get up to speed faster and contribute more quickly than other candidates.”
Sample Answer #2:
“One thing that sets me apart from other candidates is my background in customer service. On my previous team, I was able to create a number of SOPs and documents that helped us save time and streamline our client communications. I’ve found that the typical person in this role or function doesn’t have much customer service background, since it’s mostly a tech-focused role. I can come in and share that customer-facing experience, which I think can help the team perform better and save time.”
Remember to choose things that are unique to you, but also things that have the biggest potential to help the company! The more you can make your interview answers about them and their needs, the more job offers you’ll get as a candidate.
First, this isn’t the type of question where you want to draw a blank. You also don’t want to give a sarcastic answer like, “I don’t know who else you’ve interviewed. Isn’t this something you should be deciding?”
Don’t waste this chance to brag about yourself. Give a clear, direct answer. Anything else is a mistake.
Other candidates are going to be providing this type of answer, and you don’t want to be that one person who didn’t really answer the question.
The other big mistake you should avoid is not having done your research about the job. You can’t possibly share relevant experiences if you don’t know about their wants/needs.
Sure, you’ll be able to name one or two things that might make you different from other candidates, but you won’t know that it’s something that the employer cares about for this job. That’s why studying the job description was tip #1 in the steps for how to answer.
That’s a step you should be taking for any interview, not just for one specific interview question.
If you follow the tips in this article, you’ll have a great answer any time an interviewer asks you what makes you unique as a candidate, or what you can bring to their business that nobody else has, etc.
The information on this page has far more potential, too, though – you can use these steps and concepts for a wide range of similar questions, including:
So make sure to take the time to understand the concepts I’ve shared above. This is based on my experience as a recruiter for approximately 5 years, and will really help you get more job offers in your interviews – no matter what questions they throw your way.
Don’t just memorize a quick answer for what sets you apart from other candidates and then move on.
Think about the general pattern of the answer examples, and try to do more of that in many of your answers. This includes showing the employer that you know what their job involves, talking directly about how you can help them, and concluding with confidence.
(You do this by saying things like, “That’s why I’m confident I can come in and get up to speed very quickly in this role, and be successful here.”)
The more you can talk like this as a candidate, the more you’ll be able to convince employers that you’re the person for the job!
When the company goes to compare all of the candidates they met with, you’ll stand out… because you gave answers that were about the employer, not just about yourself.
There’s one more step you should take, too…
Nothing comes out perfect the first time, and you want to make sure to show passion and enthusiasm along with the job-related traits they want.
So as a final step – practice this question at home. You can practice in the mirror, or my favorite method – recording yourself talking with your smartphone and playing it back to hear how you sound.
Many candidates are going to be reading articles like this on the web as they prepare, but very few are practicing until they’re truly confident. So this is one other way to give yourself an edge!
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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