Show off what makes you unique — correctly.

As you sit across from your interviewer for the first time, there is a good chance you'll be asked to answer the interview question “What makes you unique?”

Of course, several qualities can make you unique. Maybe you own five dogs and ten cats, or you like to fold your laundry inside out, or you absolutely love the thrill you experience when you're surprised by turbulence on an airplane. Or, if you're like me, you drive your beloved dog around the block five times just because you know she loves it. Yes, any of these qualities could undoubtedly qualify as unique — but you might want to check these responses at the door when going in for a job interview.

What employers really want to know

To correctly answer the question “What makes you unique?”, you need to understand what it is the employer or hiring manager really wants to know and why they're asking the question at all. First, as it's a relatively unexpected question, the interviewer wants to see how well you respond when you're put on the spot. Second, interviewers want to understand why they should hire you over the other candidates interviewing for the job. So, “What makes you unique?” is another way to ask, “What sets you apart from other candidates?”

And there is a right and a wrong way to answer the question.

How to answer the right way 

When it comes to answering correctly, there are three steps you can take to prepare and practice your answer. Just use the following tips:

1. Research the company, position, and job post

The more you research the job description, company, and position, the easier it will be for you to develop a list of traits you possess that align with the role. Get clear on the objectives of the company and how you can meet those objectives with the characteristics you possess. You can then figure out what makes you “unique” and how you would use that to solve those objectives.

2. Look at your past successes

Take a personal inventory of times in the past when you were rewarded or received praise on work projects or personality traits. The list you come up with can help in answering what makes you unique.

3. Be passionate

When two candidates have similar experiences and achievements, the one with the passion for the job is likely to win out. Be grounded, yet enthusiastic, with your responses — especially when it comes to showcasing how you're unique. Be proud of what makes you, well, you!

How to answer the wrong way

Now that you know what you need to do to impress with your answer, here is what you should definitely not do: 

1. Don't lie

It's never a good idea to lie about what makes you unique. If it isn't true, the employer will probably catch on eventually, and that will be awkward to confront down the road. Besides, lying during an interview is generally a big job-search no. If you get caught — and interviewees and candidates often do­ — you'll not only lose this opportunity, but you may also miss out on other positions outside of the company for which you're currently interviewing. It's a small world, and word travels fast among recruiters and hiring managers.

2. Don't overshare

If you answer “What makes you unique?” with something like the items listed in the introduction of this piece (pets, laundry, and airplane turbulence), it may be construed as oversharing and imply that you don't know how to keep things professional. Also, sharing too much personal information can be off-putting to an interviewer, so be selective in what you share when answering this question.

3. Avoid negativity

It's wise for job seekers to avoid negativity in general during interviews. You should be proud of what makes you stand out, meaning it shouldn't be a negative attribute. You want to focus on the positive and showcase how it will not only help you do your job, but also help you fit in with the company culture.

4. Don't run away (with your answer)

It can be easy to get wordy when describing what makes you unique. Instead, be concise and specific when you answer the question. Stay focused without going off on tangents, only focusing on the details that are relevant.

Examples of how a candidate can answer “What makes you unique?”

Use these sample answers the next time a hiring manager says “Tell us what makes you unique.”

Administrative Professional — Unique attribute: Time management

My natural ability to effectively manage my time is what makes me unique. I think it's essential to hone in on time management skills to support overall balance in the workplace and at home. I've found that doing so dramatically reduces stress and inefficiencies at work and improves my ability to follow through on my commitments in a timely manner. Also, by managing my time effectively, it allows me to better manage expectations for my peers, supervisors, and senior leadership team members. In my prior role as an Administrative Assistant, I was selected to develop a time-management presentation and train others on how to effectively manage time, given that the senior leadership team took notice that I was especially good at it.

Project Manager — Unique attribute: Communication

The fact that I am an avid communicator and continually work to improve my communication skills is what makes me unique. I've found that one of the biggest challenges on projects is the team members' inability to communicate effectively, which can cause unnecessary problems. As a result, I make it a point to speak about communication at the launch of every new project, which includes the importance of active listening. If we don't listen, then we can't communicate with each other from an informed perspective. I am a member of a local Toastmasters group and also take classes one to two times per year to hone in on my verbal and written communication skills.

Restaurant or Retail Manager — Unique attribute: Responding to negative consumer feedback

I can effectively respond to negative customer reviews and feedback to turn things back in a positive direction, which is what makes me unique. Every establishment is going to receive negative feedback from time to time. What's critical is how one responds to it. I use an approach customers find to be respectable by acknowledging their complaints and responding within 24 hours. I also really enjoy finding ways to make the relationship right again — which sometimes means a discount on their next purchase or a simple apology, which is a negligible price to pay to retain customers. In my last two positions, I'm happy to report that I was able to retain 99 percent of the customers who posted negative reviews or provided negative feedback in the store or online.

When answering the “What makes you unique?” interview question, use these example answers as guidelines. Find qualities that make you shine and also align with the job for which you're applying and then build a response around them. 

Be truly unique by standing out during your interview and showing that you are the best candidate for the job. Not sure how? Our TopInterview coaches can help! 

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