All job-seekers have to face opinion-based questions once in a while, so it’s worth spending some time thinking about your approach to these sorts of questions before attending your next job interview.
In this article, you’ll learn exactly how to best answer this particular question, as well as a few common mistakes to watch out for.
Variations of This Question
This job interview question can be asked in a variety of ways, including:
- What is unique about you?
- What makes you different from other candidates?
- Tell me something unique about yourself.
- What are some of your unique qualities?
- What’s a unique ability you have?
- What makes you special?
What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know
While every job has a certain set of requirements, recruiters and hiring managers are always on the lookout for unique skills, attributes, qualifications, or any other ways a specific hire could benefit the company.
The question is also designed to offer insight into who you are, and what you most value about yourself.
How to Answer: “What Makes You Unique?”
1. Describe One of Your Most Novel Traits or Skills
First, mention something different about yourself that relates to the role you’re interviewing for.
The interviewer will be listening for clues about your background and skills. Remember, they want someone who will add value to the company, so your unique ability or trait should be relevant to the job.
Before your interview, go through the job description and search for clues as to what they’re looking for, then you can tailor your answer to go along with a useful trait or skill.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- For a job working with the public: You thrive on fast-paced work and a busy atmosphere
- For a job working with the sick: You’re naturally compassionate and good at building rapport with others
- For a job working independently: You have developed excellent time-management skills and can manage many tasks over the course of the day or week
Here’s an example:
“I have an entrepreneurial mindset and am excited by the idea of trying new things. I don’t back down easily when faced with obstacles and like to think of out-of-the-box solutions.”
2. Tell a Story to Demonstrate Your Chosen Trait or Skill
Next, add some context through a short story or anecdote.
This is important because it shows your interviewer you’re not just making something up or telling them what you think they want to hear, which adds credibility to your answer.
Share an example of how you developed or used your unique trait or skill. You can use an example from your personal life as long as you can relate it back to the job later in your response.
Adding to our previous ideas:
- Your previous manager noticed how you always keep your cool and “do the next thing” even when faced with many tasks at once
- You spent time with an elderly patient who didn’t have any family to visit them
- You used the Pomodoro technique to keep yourself on task as a freelance writer
Here’s an example:
“I ran my own SEO marketing company several years ago. In this field, I always had to be a step ahead of the competition. I spent many late nights working on my client’s websites and applying the latest SEO tactics. It was a great learning experience.”
3. Explain How It Will Benefit the Role You’re Applying for
Finally, talk about how your unique trait will enhance the team or company.
This highlights exactly why the interviewer should choose you over other candidates. By explaining why your unique trait or skill is beneficial to the role, you’re also qualifying yourself for the job.
Refer back to the job description to describe where your strength fits in. You want to be specific about how and why your chosen characteristic or skill suits the position.
Here’s where you might connect the dots using the ideas above:
- Customer service position: You’ll stay calm and manage your responsibilities under pressure
- Patient advocate role: You’ll create relationships with patients to understand and pursue their best interests
- Web development job: You’ll know how to schedule your time to meet deadlines and ensure high-quality results
Here’s an example:
“While I’m not able to run my own company anymore, I’m looking forward to lending my abilities and skills to this startup. I’m sure my ambition and creative thinking will be an asset as the company grows and changes over time.”
Putting It All Together (Example Answers)
Sample Answer #1: ESL Tutor
“After college, I spent some time teaching English to children in China and Laos. I learned many strategies for communicating with others even though we don’t share the same native language.
I worked with several children who knew no English at all, so I had to try different approaches. Over time, I developed skills in using body language and integrating games to build their vocabulary.
My skills in communicating effectively even when there’s a language barrier will serve me well in this role, where I’ll be working with people who speak a variety of native languages.”
Sample Answer #2: Personal Trainer
“I have experience with and compassion for people who need to work harder to go about their daily tasks.
My sister has some physical disabilities and she’s been part of the Special Olympics for years. She inspires me because she always does her best. Her perseverance has helped me not to take my own health and fitness for granted.
My compassion allows me to work well with people who need the services of a personal trainer but might not have the same natural abilities I do. I’m able to put myself in the shoes of people who want to get fit but have some obstacles in their way.”
Sample Answer #3: Delivery Driver
“I’m quite adaptable and can change my plans without any trouble. I’m good at making sure I can fit everything in without getting overwhelmed, even when my tasks pile up.
At my previous job, sometimes there were last-minute changes to the routes and I always took it in stride. In fact, my manager knew I was the one to call if there was an unexpected added delivery because I wouldn’t get frustrated.
My ability to roll with the punches will extend to this delivery job. I’m very confident in my ability to handle the workload without getting stressed or anxious. I can manage to take it all in stride.”
How NOT to Answer
Don’t Answer with a Generic Trait or Skill
Avoid saying you have a common trait (such as always being punctual) or skill (like typing for a front desk job) that anyone applying for any position would have.
This isn’t the type of answer that will likely stand out in the mind of the interviewer because common traits don’t differentiate you from other applicants.
Instead, choose a trait that’s relevant to the job you’re applying for, and make sure you have a story or example to back it up.
Don’t Talk About a Trait or Skill That Contradicts the Job
Be careful not to choose a unique characteristic or skill that serves little to no benefit to the role.
The employer wants someone whose strengths will lend themselves well to the role, not someone who would perform better in a completely different type of job.
For example, if you’ll be working with a team or behind the scenes, don’t say you do your best work alone or talk about how outgoing and customer-oriented you are.
Don’t Make Your Story Too Personal
It’s best to keep your story professional, and ideally something the interviewer can relate to the job you’re applying for.
They aren’t interested in your private life; they’re looking for an answer that shows you’ll be an asset to the company.
You can sometimes get away with using a personal story as long as it can be used to explain why your unique ability or trait will be beneficial to the job. Otherwise, stick to something more professional.
- Learn some of the variations of the question
- Talk about a trait or skill that makes you different
- Share an anecdote to flesh out your answer
- Describe why this will make you an asset to the company
- Don’t say a trait or skill that isn’t actually unique
- Don’t respond with a contradictory trait or skill
- Don’t share an irrelevant personal story