This is a truly evil interview question.
When a recruiter or a hiring manager asks you “what makes you unique?” during a job interview, what they’re really asking is:
“What makes you more commercially relevant than the other 20 candidates that I have to interview this week?”
To answer this question effectively, you must look at the situation from the recruiter’s point of view.
Let’s say you need to hire an Operations Manager. What’s your first move?
You Place An Ad On Seek.
Over the next few days, 250 applicants’ resumes flood your inbox. You begin screening and discover:
- 100 of them didn’t apply for the right job. Goodbye.
- 50 of them were “off” in some way. You got a “funny feeling” about them. Flick.
- 50 didn’t make the cut because they were too high risk, or had weak experience. Culled.
The remaining 50 candidates get ranked by your Applicant Tracking System in descending order of preference. You invite the top 30 for an interview, and 20 of them accept.
It’s day #3 of interviewing and candidate #17 is sitting in front of you, dramatically furrowing his eyebrow at your latest stroke of recruiting brilliance.
“Hmmm, what’s unique about me? That’s a great question. Well…”
You glance at your watch and wonder about all of the interesting things you could be doing right now. Kicking the ball with your kids. Grilling a steak with your mates. Going for a walk in nature. Running 10K to the sound of a good podcast.
It’s 533pm. You clear your throat. The candidate perks up:
“Well… I’m very good at improving processes, you know? I also work hard and take pride in my work.”
You Get My Drift.
The job market is competitive. Recruiters are busy. The world doesn’t need another operations manager who can merely improve processes. Working hard in 2021 is not a source of competitive advantage – it’s a reason not to get fired.
So, how to answer the dreaded “what makes you unique?” question during a job interview?
The answer is not easy.
You need to demonstrate how you’re able to solve a specific pain point in the market in a way that other candidates with similar levels of experience can’t.
Easier said than done, I know.
This is why I’m not providing you with a templated response. The Internet is full of those, but they won’t help. There are no shortcuts available (but I did write a good article on how to answer video interview questions).
To answer this question with impact you’ll need to do some work. Homework. Soul-searching, even.
For the 2 people who are still reading past this point (let’s face it, this blog can’t hope to compete with the serotonin avalanche that is your Facebook feed), here are my instructions.
Study The Space.
Start by researching the industry you want to target. What challenges, opportunities and setbacks is it facing? Next, research the companies in the space. Imagine that you’re the CEO of one of those companies.
- What keeps you up at night?
- What – and who – are giving you headaches?
- What is preventing you from getting promoted?
Now, look at the intersection between your skillset and your personality. Some questions to consider:
- What makes you, you?
- What makes you do things the way you do them?
- What natural curiosities have you followed to end up where you are today?
- What forks in the road have led you to your current role?
Find The Intersection.
Finally, join your world and the employer’s world.
In other words, what mix of skills, worldviews, values, motivations and outlooks do you bring to the table in a way that will ease the pressure on your next boss?
Your answer to that question will be the perfect response to the dreaded “what makes you unique?”