How To Answer “What Makes You Unique?” (With Examples)

By Kristin Kizer - Jun. 14, 2021
Articles In Guide

Find a Job You Really Want In

You want the job, and you’ve scored an interview. Now what? If you’re serious about getting the job, you need to prepare for the interview.

This means researching what questions interviewers ask, coming up with some possible answers, and even practicing with another person. A little role-playing can go a long way toward calming your nerves and giving you confidence on the big day.

Especially when it comes to a question like “what makes you unique,” which might seem easy or tricky to answer depending on your background. We’ll cover what interviewers are looking for when they ask this question and how to formulate a great answer of your own. Plus, we’ll provide plenty of sample answers, so you can see all our advice in action.

Why Interviewers Ask “What Makes You Unique?”

The person interviewing you wants to know why you’re the best applicant for the job. They already think you might be a good fit because they’re interviewing you. It’s your job to tell them why you’re the best and quite probably the only person for the job. That means you need to stand out from all of the other applicants they’ve interviewed.

When hiring managers and recruiters ask questions, they’re most interested in what you bring to the role and why you would be a better choice than another candidate. This is a pivotal point to keep in mind when you answer questions. It’s not really about you; it’s about why you’re the best person for the job.

This question is very popular, and it’s quite tricky to answer. That’s why hiring managers ask it. It’s a question that typically throws people off their game a little. You know they’re going to ask about your assets and your faults. But did you expect them to ask what makes you unique?

Quick, off the top of your head, what answer would you give? Is your answer about your personality? Maybe you’ve thought of a strange quirk or an interesting hobby that you have. While those things are great, they’re not what the interviewer is looking for.

This is a personality interview question that can tell them a bit more about you, but it can also tell them what you value about yourself. What you see as something interesting in yourself tells them quite a bit about how you’ll be as an employee and as a coworker.

How to Answer “What Makes You Unique?”

Instead of hearing: “what makes you different, unique, or odd,” think of the question as what makes you a unique hire over your competition for the position. Suddenly, your answer about being able to touch your nose with your tongue seems wildly out of place.

What makes you a unique hire for that job position — that’s the real question. It requires some thought, and if you’re on the spot and haven’t prepared, chances are your answer is not going to be a great one. Hopefully, it won’t be the nose tongue thing, but still, can you do better? Use these tips to help:

  • Prepare. You’re doing it now, and that’s going to help you when it comes time to interview. Don’t just prepare your answers, but do some research in preparation, too. Carefully read the job description to determine what qualities are most necessary to succeed in the role.

    When you have an idea of what the specific objectives of the role will be, you can give an answer that alludes to your ability to handle those objectives without outright saying it. For example, if a job description emphasizes the need for cross-team communication, framing your uniqueness as an organizer of an amateur sports league would be perfect.

  • Be job-specific. Part of your research should be about the company and what they value. You should also learn about the role. If you know they’re a small company and the employees wear a lot of hats (figuratively speaking), then stress how you’re an incredible multitasker and willing to work outside your professional box.

    Remember that the interviewer is most interested in how your unique trait or perspective will be valuable for the company.

  • Consider compliments you’ve received. Think back on the strengths that have served you well in the past and what former supervisors have had to say about your performance. You can also drop the professional bit and just think about what qualities people most appreciate about you. Don’t be afraid to ask friends or family for ideas if you’re not sure.

    This is a great strategy if you’re not entirely sure what sort of answer the interviewer would appreciate most and you just want to give an honest and straightforward accounting of your uniqueness.

  • Use examples. What have you done that can illustrate your skills? For example, if you’ve had the opportunity to interview an A-list celebrity, you can use this to show how you did something that made you very nervous but afterward, you learned that we’re all people. It made you a more confident interviewer.

    Examples enliven those dull, single adjective answers. Telling the interviewer that you’re unique because you’re artistic and creative doesn’t prove that you have those traits in a context that the hiring manager can understand. While this is not a behavioral interview question, it still pays to highlight your strengths through examples whenever possible.

  • Tie it to work. If your “unique” trait is that you spent a year backpacking across Europe, find a way to tie it to the job you want. Maybe you can explain how you love learning new things and spent a year traveling to immerse yourself in new cultures.

    Even seemingly unrelated interests, hobbies, and activities can be tied to desirable professional traits with a bit of self-reflection. Ask yourself how those same unique characteristics have been an asset in professional as well as personal circumstances.

  • Boring can be perfect. If you think that you’re just not interesting enough, remember the question isn’t about how exciting you are. If you rush home every night to work on a hobby, that’s a wonderful answer. It tells the employer that you’re detail-oriented, passionate, and committed to completing projects.

    At the end of the day, the interview process isn’t about hiring the most unique candidate, but the one who impresses the hiring manager with their enthusiasm and capacity to do the job. Don’t overthink this common interview question — your accomplishments and experiences will matter a great deal more during the interview.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Answering “What Makes You Unique?”

Remember, what makes you unique is probably not something that’s going to cost you the job. But it could. Some of the following are things you don’t want to say in an interview – even if it is what makes you unique:

  • Something deeply personal. You don’t want to be too intimate with a potential employer or a hiring manager. You also never want to make someone feel uncomfortable. Just like when you discuss your interests or hobbies outside of work, you should aim to keep things surface-level unless the interviewer probes for more detail.

  • Don’t be negative. Make your answer as positive as possible. Even if it has to do with a negative event, then explain how it made you better or you overcame it. But really, this is the sort of softball question that doesn’t require you to dive into your weaknesses or mistakes, so take advantage of the opportunity to stress your strengths instead.

  • Skip the odd human tricks. Your weird party trick might pop into your head first – quickly discard that and move on to something legitimate for the workplace. Save the stupid tricks for the office holiday party.

  • No show and tell. If your unique answer sounds like a kid giving a show-and-tell presentation – skip it. Remember that all interview answers should be kept fairly brief, and this one more than most. A few quick sentences are all you need to sketch what makes you a unique candidate.

  • Nothing. You’ve got to come up with some answer to the question. You can’t just say, “Meh, I’m exactly like everyone else.” You can do better than that, and you know it.

Tips for Answering “What Makes You Unique?”

You want to answer questions in a way that the employer wants to hear. If they ask for your faults, you’re not going to say that you call in sick a lot.

You’re also going to come across as disingenuous if you try too hard. For instance, if you say, “I tend to work too hard.”

The best way to answer questions is to think about what you’d want to hear if you were the interviewer and then be as honest as possible. These tips will help you craft your answers and keep you on track when you’re in the job interview:

  • Be succinct, don’t ramble

  • Try to answer quickly but don’t interrupt the interviewer

  • Try to keep answers work-related and not about your personal life

  • Know what the company wants from its employees and mirror their language

  • Keep eye contact as much as possible

  • Watch out for non-verbal nervousness, looking at the ground, shaking legs, etc.

  • Listen to the question; don’t anticipate too much

Example Answers to “What Makes You Unique?”

Okay, we’ve tried to set you up to create your own answer to what makes you unique. Honestly, your answer needs to be all about you. That’s the whole point of this question in the first place. But if you need an idea prompt, maybe these awesome answers will help you come up with your own amazing response:

  1. I am an avid fly fisherman and have been doing it my whole life. I learned it from my father, and it taught me that attention to detail, patience, and perseverance are important qualities. When things are difficult, I’ve learned to keep my head down and focus like I do when I’m fishing or tying a fly. I can get through and usually catch my fish.

    This answer does a great job of showing the interviewee as a person. It paints a picture of a solid, well-adjusted person with strong family ties. Then it displays some characteristics that could be crucial for the job at hand.

  2. I am a marathon runner and triathlete. I love setting big goals for myself and achieving them. I find that these personal challenges help me grow in ways I would never have expected. And the sense of self-satisfaction is incredible.

    This interviewee doesn’t try to tie their uniqueness to work at all, and yet, it happens on its own.

  3. I don’t have a college degree, like most people in this position and probably most people you’re hiring. Instead, I have worked my way up from a customer service job to management. I’ve learned the ins and outs of every job along the way, and that’s what makes me an excellent manager. I know this business as few people do.

    Wow, right? This answers the question perfectly. It is what makes them unique. They turned something that they know doesn’t look great on paper into a huge positive.

  4. I am a foster parent and am currently fostering two wonderful children. I also have two kids of my own. I’m always busy and often mediating fights, but it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life.

    This managerial candidate shows that they not only can manage on the job, but that it’s ingrained in who they are. There’s also a note of genuine compassion in the response. Finally, they love this type of work and choose to have a life in which their skills are put to use on a daily basis.

  5. I have a degree in archeology but never worked a day in the field after college. I know this sounds odd, and it’s my true passion, but turning it into a job felt like taking the joy out of it. Instead, I use my analytical skills and attention to detail to dig into financial reports.

    Suddenly, the job of a field auditor for an accounting firm sounds more interesting. Again, taking a point that sounds out of place on paper and turning it into something that makes your candidate outstanding is exactly what this question is designed to do.

  6. I’m a people person. I thrive in social environments and find that people are naturally drawn to me. This is my happy place.

    A simple statement might not mean much if the person were applying for a job as a night janitor, but it means a lot for a potential customer service representative or a party planner.

  7. I was in politics when I was younger. When I was 18, I was elected mayor of my hometown. This made me the youngest mayor ever elected in our state, but I decided politics wasn’t for me. I enjoyed working with people and loved the entire election process. It was the best education I could have given myself at the time. Now, I love to teach others and share my story so they can go for their dreams, no matter their age.

    Can you guess what position this person is applying for? Yes, they are a teacher and what an incredible story. Even if they weren’t elected, just the gumption to go after a dream and learn from it is something that can benefit the students in a fresh and novel way.

Let’s also cover example answers for specific job opportunities:

  1. For a deadline-driven job

    I think my capacity to remain calm in stressful situations is what makes me unique. From my first high-school job flipping burgers to my last job working as an editor for a newspaper, time management has always been an important factor in my work. Past supervisors have commented on my ability to keep a cool head under pressure, which makes my coworkers, as well as any clients present, feel more confident in our ability to get the job done on time.

  2. For a customer-facing job

    I’ve been told that my ability to hold conversations with anyone from anywhere is what makes me unique. Whenever I move to a new neighborhood, whether that was in Madrid, Buenos Aires, or right here in San Jose, I make it a point to meet and know my neighbors. I like to be a source of aid for those around me, and it really makes me smile to help someone find a solution.

Final Thoughts

Now that you have your “unique” question answer ready – you’re good to go, right? Not a chance. There are a ton of questions you might run into during your interview. It’s good to prepare for all of them equally. Consider your answers to these questions, too:

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Author

Kristin Kizer

Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.

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