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

By Maddie Lloyd - Jan. 28, 2021
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Picture this:

You’re in the middle of an interview, and you’re doing great.

You’ve answered all the most common interview questions with confidence and you’ve told the interviewer about your impressive skills and previous accomplishments.

You think the interview is about to wrap up, but then it comes: “So, what sets you apart from other candidates?”

You may think “How should I know? I don’t even know the other candidates. They’re probably better than me anyway…”

Hey now, don’t get down on yourself!

Just remember that this question is simply your chance to let the interviewer know what makes you special as a potential employee, and it’s usually only asked of finalist candidates. So if you do hear this question — congrats! You’re already way ahead of the competition.

To give a good answer to this question, you have to really believe that you’re the best person for the job, and you have to be able to explain why.

We’ll walk you through why hiring managers ask this question, how to formulate an answer, tips for the interview, and give plenty of example answers.

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

Interviewers ask this question to hear what unique qualifications you’d bring to the job. Interviewers are not asking you to talk about why everyone else sucks.

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The interviewer wants to know what strengths and experiences you feel are valuable and how they could benefit the company. This is your opportunity to let the interviewer know why you should be hired over everyone else.

Companies hire people to solve a problem, whether that problem is boosting sales or maintaining a brand — the problem could even be that they just need someone to scrub their toilets.

When you give your answer, show them that you can solve their problem better than anyone else. Impress them with proof of what makes you the best toilet scrubber in the field.

This question is like 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.

Don’t sell yourself short.

How to Prepare Your “What Sets You Apart” Answer

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. Make a list of the job requirements. Check to see if the company has a detailed list of their requirements in the job description.

    If they don’t, search similar job titles and look for job postings that clearly describe what employers are looking for when hiring people for those jobs — this could include personality traits, skills, or qualifications.

  • Make a list of your own qualifications. Compare your skills and qualifications to the requirements you find. 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.

    Sidenote: Don’t actually mention the other candidates. That would be weird. Just don’t do it, okay?

  • 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.

4 Interview Tips for Answering “What Sets You Apart?”

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. For every strength or skill on your list, think about your work, volunteer, and 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 against other 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.

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. And these skills will transfer well into making sure things get done here.”

    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 employees 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.

  3. Example Answer 3: Special Skill

    What sets me apart from everyone is my ability to manage my time efficiently. While in attendance at my university, I would meticulously create to-do lists each week, delegate tasks to various team members when working on projects, and break big goals into smaller parts in order to focus on them individually.

    Because of my time management skills, I have never missed a deadline and graduated Summa Cum Laude.

    Why it’s a good answer: This answer is successful because this person has described ways that they’ve used their time management skills in different scenarios.

    They have also told the interviewer that because of their ability to manage their time so well, they were successful in college and graduated with the highest honors.

  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.

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.

So now when we say “picture this…” you won’t break into a cold sweat and instead, you’ll be ready for the spotlight.

Take the hassle out of your job search & get an offer faster
Maddie Lloyd

Author

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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