How To Answer “What Sets You Apart From Other Candidates?” (With Examples)

By Maddie Lloyd - Apr. 28, 2022
Articles In Guide

When companies post a job opening, there’s a good chance that they’ll receive applications from plenty of qualified candidates. Hiring managers have to assess which candidate has the best skill set and attitude to succeed at their particular organization and on their specific team.

With that in mind, it’s important that you do everything in your power to differentiate yourself in a way that makes you memorable for the right reasons. One of your best opportunities to emphasize your uniqueness is the all too common interview question, “what sets you apart from other candidates?”

This article will cover why interviewers like to ask this question and the steps you should take to prepare and deliver your answer. We’ll also take a look at example answers to show all our advice in action.

what sets you apart from other candidates tips

How to Answer “What Sets You Apart From Other Candidates?”

To prepare an answer that will impress hiring managers and recruiters, you’re going to want to keep your focus on the most important thing: the employer’s interests. It’s a tip that works for pretty much all of the most common interview questions, so keep that at the forefront when you prepare answers.

Interview preparation for this question is fairly straightforward:

  • Research the job requirements. Read the job description carefully to identify the job requirements and responsibilities.

    Having a firm grasp of the minimum experience level will help shape your answer to include skills, qualifications, and personality traits that go above and beyond what’s necessary for the job or otherwise complement the job’s requirements.

  • Make a list of your own qualifications. Compare your skills and qualifications to the requirements you find in the job description. Pick a few of your strengths that relate to the job requirements, and use them as the core for your answer about what makes you stand out among other candidates.

    These can be professional skills, areas of expertise, personal qualities, or any relevant experience. Also, consider any impressive accomplishments from your past or career goals that speak to your commitment to the field.

  • Think of ways to out-do the other candidates. When gathering your information and listing your credentials, try to predict what other people might say. Think about what strengths other people see as valuable, and think of examples you can give that show how you can out-do everyone else in these areas.

    As a reminder, don’t actually mention the other candidates. Instead, think of them abstractly as people possessing the same basic skill set and background as the job posting calls for, but without that X factor that makes you stand out.

  • Consider what makes you unique. Think about what makes you uniquely perfect for the job. Try to pick out one or two qualities or experiences you have that are different from what other people might bring to the table, or things that are generally more difficult to find in potential employees.

  • Stay on topic. When getting ready to talk about what sets you apart from everyone else, remember to keep your answer relevant to the position you’re interviewing for.

    Think about what strengths are needed for the job and let them know how your skills and experience make you the best fit over all those other scrubs.

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Example Answers to “What Sets You Apart From Other Candidates?”

Remember to think about which of your experiences and qualifications make you a better fit than the competition. For instance, maybe you have a certification that makes you more knowledgeable about various technologies than the average person.

Use these example answers as a starting point as you prepare your own answers:

  1. Example Answer 1: Relevant Skills and Experience

    “I’ve had two years of experience working on similar projects, so I know what problems are going to arise and can prevent them from happening — saving the team time and energy to work on higher-value tasks.

    Additionally, I’ve shown the ability to take control of a project and make sure the team delivers tasks on-time and within budget. In fact, I created such detailed project plans in my time at XYZ Inc. that my boss asked me to create a department-wide template for all future project proposals, action plans, and other project-related documents. That ended up boosting the productivity of teams outside of my own, and it felt good to contribute to the company in a broader way.”

    Why it’s a good answer: There’s nothing fancy about this answer, but it’s effective nonetheless. This interviewee has walked the walk, and clearly defines what she has to offer the team.

  2. Example Answer 2: Unique Certification

    While there are plenty of other potential candidates who may share a similar academic background in renewable energy, I have multiple certifications from NABCEP and OSHA.

    These certifications indicate that I understand the risks and safety precautions need while on a job site, and I have a certified understanding of renewable energy practices that are used across North America.

    Why it’s a good answer: In their answer, this person has shown that while they have a similar academic history as many of the applicants, but they’ve also shown that they are uniquely valuable because they have certifications that put them ahead of other potential employees. This is the kind of thing that tips the scales for interviewers.

  3. Example Answer 3: Special Skill

    After working in HR for a few years, I discovered that my real talent lay in operations management. It started by streamlining the recruitment and onboarding process, which had the effect of reducing onboarding time by 22% while increasing new employee retention and satisfaction by 14%. Policy, planning, and strategy are areas where I excel that make me sort of unique among most mid-level HR personnel.

    With my blend of talents for talent acquisition and long-term, big-picture thinking, I would bring a novel approach to the role that would leverage my skill set in a way that aligns perfectly with ABC Inc.’s broader goals.

    Why it’s a good answer: Notice that this interviewee briefly touches on the probable aspects of similar candidates without spending too much time on the matter. This is a subtle way of hinting at the fact that the interviewee is not only more qualified but more ambitious and forward-thinking.

  4. Example Answer 4: Impressive Experience

    Well, I started my own business out of college and I think taking on that entrepreneurial task gives me a unique perspective. Having to handle the business side of things while also working on developing a great product wasn’t easy, but that challenge helped me grow as a professional.

    I think a lot of people applying for tech positions like this don’t have as good a sense of why management does what it does. My experience would help me act as a liaison between these two equally important branches of the company.

    Why it’s a good answer: This answer brings in a relevant, impressive experience that shows this interviewee is genuinely one of a kind.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the interviewer had further questions to ask about the interviewee’s business which could translate into a much more memorable conversation than your average job candidate.

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Why Interviewers Ask “What Sets You Apart From Other Candidates?”

Interviewers ask “what sets you apart from other candidates” to learn more about what qualifications you value most in yourself, hear about experiences that make you uniquely qualified for the position, and identify reasons why hiring you is better than hiring a similarly qualified candidate.

To be clear: this question is not about the other candidates — it’s about you. Your goal is to discuss what skills you’ll leverage to help the company achieve its goals in a way that makes it easy for the hiring manager to imagine you already working in the position.

In a way, this question is a blend between “tell me about yourself” and ““what is your greatest strength”, but it’s asking for a slightly different answer. The hiring manager wants to know what you can bring to the company that no one else can.

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Tips for Answering “What Sets You Apart From Other Candidates?”

Now that you’re prepared with a few ideas, let’s get into how to answer this in the actual interview. Keep these interview tips in mind, and you’ll be one step closer to a job offer:

  1. Have work examples. Whenever you discuss a strength or skill, think about your work, volunteer, and/or academic history to come up with examples of how you’ve used these strengths.

    This isn’t exactly a behavioral interview question, but the best answers should still discuss past accomplishments.

    You’re trying to impress the recruiter or hiring manager, so come up with stories that show your qualifications in action.

  2. Be able to describe the project. Think of a specific time when you used these traits to achieve something at work or on a project. Describe the project, what you did to address the situation, and the positive outcome that came from your work.

    For example, if you’re detail-oriented, think of a time where your attention to detail made your work stand out as superior to other similar projects.

  3. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point. You don’t want your answer to be too long and risk boring your interviewer to death.

    Just pick out one or two specific qualities from your list to emphasize how perfect you are for the position. Start by telling them what you think they’re looking for, and how you specifically can satisfy that need. Above all, remember that your story should show them why you should get the job over everyone else.

  4. Focus on the employer. We know we already said this, but it bears repeating. You want to impress the interviewer with your amazing skill set…that they can use to further their goals. Never forget that last point, at any point in the interview process.

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Final Thoughts

Half of interview preparation is being prepared for the most common interview questions. Remember that the “what sets you apart” question is all about what unique value you can add to the company.

Don’t be modest — this is the time to be confident about your strengths and really sell yourself to the interviewer. When you’re giving them your pitch, be positive and remember to reiterate your interest in the company and the job itself.

How To Answer “What Sets You Apart From Other Candidates?” Tips

Cathy Lanzalaco
CEO, Inspire Careers

Remember to frame your answer to this question as selling the solution (how you can help the employer) versus the product you are offering (a list of your skills and experience). The purpose of this question is to help the employer understand how you will apply your skills and experience to help solve their problems.

If you have a difficult time articulating what sets you apart from other candidates, ask those you currently serve: your customers or clients, team members, boss, and peers. Sometimes others can see what we struggle to recognize in ourselves and it can be an important part of the full circle (360) personal branding process.

I also recommend that job seekers turn the table during the “do you have any questions” part of the interview and ask the employer the same question to gain more insight into the value differentiators of the company and its culture.

How To Answer “What Sets You Apart From Other Candidates?”

Ross Williams
Best Selling Author CEO of Williams Commerce Writing Services

Going the extra mile is a concept that pays off when distinguishing yourself from other candidates striving for the same position. This is the opportunity to show off what you did during the extra mile of preparing for this opportunity. Mentioning some recent news about the company or your personalized reason for wanting to work for the company may seal the deal when asked, “What sets you apart from other candidates?

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Maddie Lloyd

Maddie Lloyd was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog focused on researching tips for interview, resume, and cover letter preparation. She's currently a graduate student at North Carolina State University's department of English concentrating in Film and Media Studies.

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