What makes you unique? The big question in recruitment.

Sophie Heatley, Content Writer · 16 Dec

There it is again, that horrific ‘U’ word. The one that sends the majority of us into some kind of existential frenzy or early mid-life crisis. Despite the sheer terror attached to the single line, ‘What makes you unique?’ is an employer’s best friend.

When hiring a new employee, especially for large corporations, you’re often fishing an individual out of a pool of potentially hundreds of applicants. Employer and employee alike need to know what makes people stand out.

Employers want to hire the crème-de-la-crème of the job market just like employees want to be the icing on the employer’s recruitment cake.

An interviewer can tell a lot about a potential hire based on their answer to: ‘What makes you unique?’ Here is how employers and recruiters can extrapolate the best bits from employee responses to help find the next best addition to their team.

Why use the 'U' word?

Timesaver

One of the main reasons interviewers should ask what makes the candidate unique is that they need to find out who the candidate is in a short space of time.

Interviews can often be as short as 10 minutes. Recruiters don’t have much time, especially when they need to get through hundreds of applicants.

‘What makes you unique’ gets to the nitty-gritty without beating around the bush.

Pressure Test

The notorious ‘U’ also throws the interviewee off guard. This might not seem like a positive thing for the candidate – apologies – but for the employer, this is a good way to judge how well the interviewee deals with uncomfortable situations.

Employees need to know that they are hiring an employee that can work well under pressure.

While it is completely normal for interviewees to be nervous during an interview – in fact, it’s a good thing if they are, because it shows employers that they care about the job they’re applying for – if they’re so thrown off by the mention of unique that their response is mainly silence, this flags up their inability to deal with pressure early on in the recruitment procedure.

Prep Test

Well-prepared candidates will have a good response to this question, a question which can invite some delightfully curious responses: ‘I can balance on my head with my eyes closed’, ‘I can make a delicious roast’ or ‘I once nearly got trampled by elephants in South Africa’.

Indeed, very unique – but not responses that you need to hear as an employer (these can be saved for the annual staff blast).

Have they done their homework?

Likewise, it’s also a good way to test how well an interviewee is able to filter their response so that it suits the job spec.

The question should allow the candidate to not just flaunt what they think makes them interesting, but what value they can bring to the company. The candidate shouldn’t only show what makes them valuable as a person, but as a potential member of the corporation.

In this way, ‘what makes you unique’ is a great way to find out if the candidate has truly done their homework. This will be clear if they list things that match your companies ambitions, rather than just ticking off a mental list of attractive traits they might have.

‘What makes you unique?’ should elicit a response which correlates with the abilities needed for the job, not just any interesting features of their personality.

What is more, regarding how someone assesses the particular job role, someone can be incredibly talented in their sector, uniquely so, but their unique talents don’t necessarily align with the job they’re applying for.

A quick insight into past experiences

Along the same lines, it’s an interesting way to encourage candidates to talk about their past professional experiences. Another way that employers can phrase the query is: ‘tell me about a time where you had to think outside of the box’.

If an employee can prove they think outside the box, this is a great sign for employers. It shows how the employee’s uniqueness can be used constructively in the workplace.

This is ideal for a recruiter thinking ahead to how they will integrate the newbie into already established management strategies.

Efficiency

While drawing on past experiences is a good sign for employers that the candidate is experienced, employers should also watch out for candidates who overshare. Waffling on is not a good trait – it shows a lack of ability to be concise and to communicate efficiently.

Employers want to get a good idea of the candidate's skill set and their ability to self-assess. It’s a great skill to be able to be specific. Ambiguous responses show a lack of self-assurance.

As an employer, you should not look for ambiguous or generic responses in interviews.

So, to help employers remember why this question is an invaluable one in any interview, we’ve summed up the importance of it with a few simple, er… unique letters:

The code of unique recruitment:

U – Unbeatable in their field

Unique means that they have something that the other candidates don’t. Asking what makes someone unique is giving them the chance to truly shine and prove that they are unbeatable in their field of work.

N – Not put off by pressure

Unfortunately, the workplace does come with a lot of pressure and anxiety from time to time. It’s never pleasant, but recruiters do need to know that they’re hiring people who can deal with a little stress – not that interviews aren’t stressful enough.

A solid answer shows the ability to deal well with uncomfortable, burdensome questions. This might be useful when dealing with difficult clients in the future.

I – Interested in the job they’re applying for

This is also a good question to see how enthusiastic the candidate is about the job. A good response shows they’ve done their homework, they think their unique abilities make them right for the role, and they’re sure of this!

Q – Quality responses shows good preparation

Q is for quality of response. Just like the latter point states, this is a great question to pull out because it shows how prepared the candidate is for the interview. Quality over quantity – you, being the employer, don’t want an essay, you want a ‘BAM’ response that’ll leave you thinking ‘this kid knows his stuff.’

U – Unambiguous

Employers don’t want to play guessing games. In an interview, the candidate should lay themselves bare. What makes you worth the risk? Why should you be hired? Because you’re unique for this, this and this reason. Bish, bash, bosh.

While, as an employer, you want to look for someone who will integrate well and conform to the company standards, you also don’t want to hire someone who is a bit of a sheep, only follows the herd, and doesn’t really have anything to see for themselves.

E – Energy

Don’t think that this is a repeat of I. Discussing uniqueness in an interview is a conduit to revealing how enthusiastic the employee will be in the future if they join the company. A good energetic response, shown through their interest and confidence, is a reassuring and welcomed sign for employers.

Likewise, positive energy shows that the candidate is grateful for being invited to the interview in the first place and highlights how they potentially feel about themselves.

What’s more, employers should look out for whether the employee talks enthusiastically about themselves.

It’s an honest remark that most people don’t particularly enjoy talking about themselves, but employers need to trust that the candidate has enough self-confidence to sell themselves before they can trust they’ll be able to sell the company’s image.  

If your candidate is ticking all the above boxes, you may just have found your next hire.

What makes your company unique?

While this article probably isn’t going to make candidates like you anymore, hopefully we’ve been able to show you why it’s important to bring up the 'U' word – even if it does make your interviewee squirm. Gulp.

As a final note to employers though, make sure you know what makes your company unique too! The ball is not always in your court – employers should be just as prepared for queries in interviews as the candidates.

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