How To Answer “What Makes You Unique?” – Sample Answers Included

By Jeff Gillis

Have you ever gotten a question like this in an interview?

It’s becoming a fairly popular question to ask, and while it might seem like this question has very little to do (if anything) with the job you’re interviewing for, there’s a very good reason why the interviewer is asking it.

That also means there’s a right way to answer it, and a wrong way.

Let’s start out with why the question is being asked….

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Why Do They Ask You “Tell Us What Makes You Unique?”

First off, it’s being asked specifically to throw you off guard!

It’s a question that most interviewees don’t prepare for, so when they’re faced with it, they’re stumped. What do you say?

Do you tell the interviewer about all your double joints and how you can fit your entire body through a tennis racket?

Do you confess your unending love for candy dispensers shaped like novelty forest animals?

Do you talk about your strange dietary habits where you spent the entire four years after college subsisting only on crackers, soda and beef jerky?

While it’s true, those are all incredibly…uh…unique answers, they’re not the answers your hiring manager is looking for.

Let’s go back to why the interviewer is asking the “What makes you unique” interview question.

While it’s true some might actually want to know if you can fit your entire body through a tennis racket (especially if you’re interviewing for the circus) odds are the real reason behind the question is the interviewer is trying to assess who you are and what you think is important.

An interviewer can tell a lot about a potential hire based on their answer. They want to see what you emphasize and how you work that into your answer.

What you have to realize is that the interviewer isn’t actually asking you to tell them what makes you unique…at least not entirely.

Confused? Don’t be.

Here, let’s play a little game.

How To Answer “What Makes You Unique?”

Take a minute and think of all the answers that pop into your head.

What are they?

Are they quirky traits that set you apart from your friends and family?

Are they odd habits that you’ve had since childhood that nobody else seems to have?

Is it a skill you’ve always wished you could share on late night television but never gotten the chance?

Okay, now let’s try that question again, but this time, I’m going to run it through the ‘What the interviewer is actually asking’ filter. Are you ready? Here it is:

“What about you makes you the best candidate for this job?”

Ooohh! I am betting you that the list of answers that just popped into your head is totally different from the first list of answers you came up with.

Rather than figuring out what makes you unique, think about what value you bring to the company. Now your list might include valuable things like “I’m highly motivated by a challenge” and “I enjoy working with a team to bring a project to completion.”

This question is meant to find out what makes you valuable both as a person and in the workplace…and why those differences set you apart from the other candidates.

Remember, an interviewer’s number one job is to find the best candidate for the position they are hiring for…and your job is to prove to them that you’re the perfect candidate!

Now that we’ve figured out exactly what the hiring manager is asking…how do you answer it? By doing a little prep ahead of time.

Answering “What Makes You Unique” on a Job Application

Your first encounter with this interview question may come when you are filling out a job application.

It is not uncommon for a company to ask you something along the lines of, “In 150 characters or fewer, tell us what makes you unique.”

You really don’t need to overthink this. Everything that we’ve said above still applies if you want to get the maximum benefit from the answer you give – you just need to ensure that you use the allotted characters you have in an economic way.

The hiring managers don’t want a rambling essay, they want clear, concise thoughts (which is why they put a character limit on it in the first place). And so one major thing to avoid is rephrasing the question in anyway or using a lot of filler words (that don’t add any real value to the answer).

The most important thing to remember is to try to focus on unique skills that you have that are the most relevant to the position you are interviewing for.

And use the following tips to further help with crafting your answer.

Top 5 Tips For “What Makes You Unique”

1. Do your Homework

Start with the job listing itself. Look at what skills are required and match those up with the skills you know you have. Make sure when you answer the question that you work those skills into the conversation through examples.

2. Self-Assess

After you’ve gone over the job posting and your related skills, spend some time asking yourself what sets you apart from other candidates and write those answers down. Come up with a list of skills that you think are unique to you that make you a valuable addition to the company that weren’t listed in the job posting.

3. Reference the Past

Share actual examples from your own work history to back up your answers. Make sure your stories are short, concise, and end on a positive note. Share with your hiring manager not only what makes you unique, but how you used that uniqueness in a positive, constructive way.

4. It’s Not All About You

Yes, it’s your interview, but really, it’s all about the company and how you can help them. Do your research on the company ahead of time and come up with solid ways your unique skills and talents can benefit them. Yes, getting the job would benefit you, but ultimately, it’s really about them.

5. Be Unique

Yes, this question is all about how you’re unique, but it’s all too easy to fall into less than unique answers that your interviewer has already heard a million times.

Instead of saying “I’m a really hard worker,” say “I’m driven to complete a task, no matter how difficult.” Instead of saying “I’m a fast learner” say “I really enjoy learning new things and find that it’s easy for me to pick up on required skills.” Instead of saying “I always go above and beyond,” say “I truly enjoy excelling and pushing myself. I look forward to tasks where I can learn and grow.”

Practice ahead of time how you’d answer this question so your answers can sound smooth and confident.

By using your own personality and/or personal traits to give specific examples of how you’re different from the other job seekers, you’re helping to illustrate how you’re the perfect candidate for the job!

How NOT To Answer This Question

Now that we’ve shown you the best techniques to answer the “What makes you unique” interview question, we thought we’d go over some of the things you definitely need to avoid when facing this question.

1. Oversharing

Yes, the hiring manager really does want to know what makes you unique…but only so far as it applies to the job. Keep your truly personal details, well, personal. Remember, they want to know how your unique skills will help the company, not that you spend your weekends dressing your dog up in accurate period costumes and reenacting major historical battles.

2. Being Generic

We touched on this above, but it really does need to be said twice. While it’s tempting to rush through this question simply because it’s not easy to answer, don’t fall back onto bland boring answers with no example follow-ups.

3. Being Negative

This question isn’t an opportunity for you to trash on the other job seekers who are applying for the position. Don’t use this as a platform to tell the hiring manager why you’re superior to all those other losers in the waiting room because you’re the best thing to ever walk through the door.

Not only will it make you look petty and shallow, it won’t win you any points. The only unique skill you’re demonstrating when you do this is how big a jerk you are…and nobody wants to hire a jerk.

4. Don’t Get “Lost”

Keep your answer short, focused, and most importantly, relevant. Make sure you use targeted, specific words that highlight your skills and then follow those up with a specific example. Don’t ramble on or waste time talking about unrelated things or skills that have nothing to do with the job or the company you’re interviewing for.

5. Don’t Lie

We say this time and time again in these blogs, but it’s because it’s critical. Be honest! Don’t come up with a unique skill or trait you don’t actually possess just because you think it’ll get you hired. There’s nothing worse than being hired for a job you can’t actually do or talk about a skill you don’t actually have. Be honest!

3 Great Example Answers

To help you come up with your own answers, here are three examples of possible “What makes you unique” interview answers.

For a position that requires a team leader:

"I find that it’s easy for me to relate to a wide variety of people. For that reason, I really thrive in a team environment. I enjoy discovering each of my teammates skills and strengths and helping use those to determine which tasks they would be best suited for. In my last job, I was in a group that was tasked with completing a complicated task. Our team leader was easily frustrated and would often take that frustration out on other members of the group. At one point, we were doing more arguing than working, and I realized it was because our team leader was more interested in the hands-on aspect of the project than the management aspect. I sat down with him, and in a non-threatening way, explained what I’d noticed. Together we went over each of the members of the team and determined what tasks they would excel at. The next day we reassigned everyone tasks, created an open discussion format for raising questions and concerns, and set up a timeline for completing the project. Not only did we get the project done on time, but the next time we were assigned a project, I was put in charge and I loved every minute of it. I know the position you’re hiring for requires teamwork and participating in group projects and I would enjoy continuing to work in an environment like that."

For a job that requires ongoing education:

"I love a challenge, and as a self-motivated learner, I really enjoy going above and beyond when it comes to tackling new tasks and learning new skills. In my past sales job, we had a client for whom English was not their first language. I enrolled in online language classes on my off time and learned enough to become conversationally fluent with them. Not only were they touched by my ability to communicate with them in their native tongue, but my new language skill opened up a whole new channel for my sales team and we were able to increase our inbound marketing by 24%. I know this job requires someone who is open to learning and I’m not only open, I’m excited to continue to do so."

For a position where you lack the required skills:

"I bring to the table five years of customer service experience. My time in retail makes me a candidate with a unique set of skills that have been honed by face to face customer interactions. I am a thorough communicator, excellent listener, take direction well and excel in a team environment, all skills which I know will fit well with this current administrative position."

Putting It All Together

Remember, when you’re answering the dreaded “What makes you unique” interview question, what you’re really answering is “What makes you the best candidate for this job?” Keep your answers memorable, keep them focused and keep them relevant. Make yourself stand out from the herd by showing your value to the company.

And as always, good luck!


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About The Author

Jeff Gillis

Co-founder and CTO of Jeff is a featured contributor delivering advice on job search, job interviews and career advancement, having published more than 50 pieces of unique content on the site, with his work being featured in top publications such as INC, ZDnet, MSN and more. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.