“What sets you apart from other candidates?” is a question that gets asked in interviews quite often. But despite this, it still trips up many applicants!
This in-depth guide will teach you how to approach answering this question in a way that leaves a great impression and improves your chances of getting hired.
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Why Interviewers Ask “What Sets You Apart From Other Candidates?”
There are many questions you expect to hear during a job interview. Conversations about your work experience and education are pretty standard. But then, you get hit with a curveball question like “What sets you apart from other candidates?”
Why is this question asked?
Hiring managers love to ask seemingly unconventional questions like this. It’s a chance to get to know you on a deeper level and go beyond the confines of a staunchly professional conversation. It provides insight into your personality and lets you have more of an open-ended discussion that’s not overly rehearsed.
The “what sets you apart” question seems innocent at first, but they can leave a lasting impression that ultimately makes or breaks your chances. What are interviewers trying to know by asking this question? Hearing what you think sets you apart from other candidates does a couple of different things.
First, it helps them learn what you can bring to the table. Your resume and application painted a pretty good picture. That’s why you’ve made it to the interview phase. But now is your chance to sell yourself and talk about your unique experiences and strengths.
They want you to sell yourself a little – talk about the things you’ve accomplished. It’s not about bad-mouthing other applicants. It’s about highlighting what you have to offer and relating how those achievements and skills will add value to the role and company. When you connect the dots of how your experience matches what the hiring manager is looking for, you’ll convince the hiring manager that you’re the best person for this position.
Your answer is also a fantastic opportunity to show that you’re motivated and driven. Obviously, hiring managers want people who have that inner drive to succeed and who know what is needed to get the job done.
Your answer to “What sets you apart from other candidates?” can be a display of confidence. Your answers show the interviewer exactly what you value in yourself and how you feel about your past experiences and current capabilities.
This question, among others, will also provide interviewers with information they don’t get from your resume or application. They’re looking for soft skills and strengths you might not have mentioned elsewhere. They also pay attention to how much you know about the company and the job you’re trying to get.
How to Answer This Interview Question
Questions like “What sets you apart from other candidates?” are multi-faceted. This one might seem like a straightforward way to list your relevant skills, but interviewers expect more than that. How you answer unveils more about you than you realize!
That’s why it’s crucial to self-reflect and have a fantastic answer prepared. Not sure where to start? Use these tips to come up with the best answer possible.
1. Research the Company
If you don’t do any research before going into your interview, you’re already missing out. Doing your due diligence is a must regardless of what questions you expect to hear. Going into an interview without knowing a decent amount of information about the company is like going in blind.
Don’t make that mistake!
Performing some in-depth research goes a long way. You want to learn more about the organization and its values. Look at all the obvious sources, such as the corporate website and social media profiles. However, it’s also a good idea to think outside the box to get a clear picture of the work environment.
For example, you can look at LinkedIn profiles of current employees, reviews, and more.
After you do that, study the job description and posting. Understand what the company is looking for and what the organization is all about.
You should also research your potential new manager and teammates to get a sense of their backgrounds and experience. Do they all come from Fortune 500 companies? Did many graduate from the same school or have similar degrees? If you don’t have the same background, be ready to present why your background would add a different viewpoint and how that would be valuable.
Research is a critical piece of the puzzle. It gives you the knowledge to talk about what sets you apart from other candidates in a way that improves your chances of getting hired. Use the information you learn to shape your response accordingly and make relevant connections to your own experiences.
2. Compile a List of Your Unique Advantages and Strengths
Here’s where you’ll need to do ample self-reflection. Most people don’t realize this, but applying for a new job is all about looking at your past and finding ways to connect the dots to your potential future. “What sets you apart from other applicants?” is a perfect example of that!
One of the best ways to prepare an answer is to jot down a list of your strengths and qualifications. Think about your past successes and why you got there. Don’t add basic items that an interviewer can find on your resume. This isn’t supposed to be a list of your credentials.
Focus on the strengths that are difficult to incorporate into a job application. Highlight those areas of expertise and the personal qualities that led to your successes. Don’t forget to add any significant milestone in your career or touch on accomplishments that speak to your dedication and confidence.
It’s not easy making a list like this, but it goes a long way. And remember, that list stashed away. It’ll come in handy when preparing many other possible interview questions.
Once you have your list ready, compare it to the information you learned about the company and organization. You don’t want to answer this question by listing every item on your list. Choose a few of the most relevant and shape your answer from there.
3. Connect Your Background Into the Job You’re Applying For
The entire point of an interviewer asking you “What sets you apart from other candidates?” is to give you an opportunity to explain why you’re the right person for the job. What better way to do that than to use your background as inspiration? In addition to self-reflecting and talking about your strengths, find ways to connect your personal and work history to the job at hand.
There are many ways to do this.
You can pull inspiration from your previous job or even go as far back as your education. Whatever you do, bridging your history with this open position can help you stand out.
It gives the interviewer a glimpse of who you are. But more importantly, it provides irrefutable proof that you know your stuff and are fully capable of fulfilling the requirements of this role.
It gives you the chance to show the interviewer that this is more than just a temporary gig or a job that you’ll move through on your way to something better. Show why you care about getting the job and how your background serves to help you excel in it.
4. Provide Some Examples
It’s one thing to say that you have a specific set of skills that set you apart. But it’s another to paint a detailed picture and provide real-world examples.
As we said in the last tip, always relate your background experience to the job you’re trying to land. But go beyond that to provide actual examples of your strengths and qualifications in action. Think about times when you made a difference in your job.
For example, maybe you used your expertise to land a lucrative client or used soft skills to keep a project moving forward when it was on the brink of falling apart. Be as specific as possible and talk in detail about that experience.
When an interviewer asks you what sets you apart from other job candidates, these are the stories they love to hear. You don’t have to be long-winded. Keep things concise. But when you talk about your past, those examples stick out in the interviewer’s mind.
It’s a better way to leave an impact than simply reciting a list of traits you believe they’re looking for in an applicant. Think about what makes you unique and how your history helped you get to where you are today.
5. Keep Your Answer Professional
Of course, always keep your answers professional and relevant. Don’t be that candidate that’s memorable for all the wrong reasons! You’d be surprised by how often people get this question wrong because they go off on unrelated tangents or talk about things that have nothing to do with the job.
While it might be exciting, your interviewer doesn’t want to hear about those oddball skills or that one time you did something remarkable to impress your friends. Don’t forget that you’re trying to get a job here!
Talking about off-topic things isn’t going to do you any favors. Keep your answer professional and work-related. Always come back to the job at hand, and don’t let your penchant for colorful conversation get in the way of sounding put-together. There’s nothing wrong with showing some personality, but you need to ensure that your answer to “What sets you apart from other applicants” adds value and relates to the position.
6. Rehearse Before Your Interview
Our final tip is to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!
There are many questions that you can answer on the spot. You’ve probably answered those a million times before. But this one requires some preparation if you really want to impress.
You don’t want to wing it and come off sounding frazzled. A question like this can easily lead to tangents and incoherent thoughts. You want to prepare your answer early, rehearse it frequently, and have it in your mental bank of responses.
Of course, you don’t want to overdo things. The last thing you want is to sound like a robot reading off a script! That would only come off as insincere.
Instead, know the key points you want to cover and rehearse a few different ways of responding. Be comfortable providing your answer to impress the interviewer with how concise and prepared you are.
What to Avoid When Answering
Now that you know how to form your answer, let’s talk about what you shouldn’t say. Personality questions like this can be challenging. There’s a delicate balance between impressing the interviewer and saying the wrong thing that leaves a bad taste.
Take time to form your response and avoid the following red flags.
If you’re thinking about lying, reconsider. Some applicants decide to lie during this question because they have difficulty coming up with genuine skills that set them apart. So, they create these over-flourished answers that bend the truth.
That’s not the right approach. The hiring manager can always check your references and find the truth. Lying offers no favors, and it may even hurt your chances of getting hired. Who wants to hire a dishonest applicant.
Instead of being untruthful, take time to develop a realistic answer. Use our tips above and dig deep. It’s not always easy, but it’s far better than lying.
Being Negative or Sarcastic
It’s so easy to get a little spicy when answering this question. It practically begs you to put down other potential applicants. But that’s not the point of the query.
When an interviewer asks you “What sets you apart from other candidates?” they’re looking for you to highlight what you have to bring to the table. You should be able to do that without bringing others down. Ditch the negativity and leave the sarcastic tone behind.
Being negative can have some ugly consequences when it comes to job interviews. It shows that you could bring that into the office, which is not something hiring managers want. This is NOT a way that you want to set yourself apart from other applicants.
Overtly Pompous Responses
Earlier, we mentioned that this question is an opportunity to brag about yourself a little. That’s still true, but there’s a limit.
You want to pat yourself on the back and talk about your successes. Be proud of your history and be self-aware of your strengths. But avoid being super pompous.
Overly braggy responses are a bit insufferable. Once again, there’s a fine line to walk. You should be proud, but you need to have some humility as well.
Overly Simplified Responses
One of the worst things you can do is simply respond with a list of traits or qualifications. One-word answers without any explanation don’t provide much insight. Interviewers can see a lot of that information on your resume.
The point of this question is to open up a conversation and give the interviewer a chance to learn more about your capabilities. It’s about having a discussion, and simple responses cut them short.
Like most other personality interview questions, it’s impossible to use a script. Your response will be unique to your capabilities and experiences. How someone answers it isn’t going to be the same as how you should answer it.
That said, there are plenty of great answers for “What sets you apart from other candidates?” that you can use for inspiration. We have a few of the best ones to help guide you in the right direction when planning your response.
In this first response, the applicant wants to highlight their relevant skills and experience. They do that by talking about their work history and providing clear examples of what they can do. It’s a powerful response because it’s detailed and nuanced while driving a particular point about their capabilities home.
“The thing that sets me apart is that I have the relevant work experience. I’ve spent the last three years working on similar projects. I understand the complexities of your work here at [COMPANY], and I know what problems will arise and how to avoid them.
Just last year, I was able to save a project that was experiencing problem after problem. I took control and worked with my teammates to put the project back on track. We ended up delivering on time and within budget.
My work for that project was so successful that my previous boss asked me to create a template that eventually became a staple in my department. I’m eager to bring that expertise here and contribute to [COMPANY].”
The following example is a little more concise than the last one. It highlights how much the applicant knows about the company. They’ve connected their work experience to what the job entails, connecting the dots and illustrating why they are the best person to hire.
“Your job description mentioned that you’re looking for someone who can manage large projects while communicating with clients directly. I have experience doing just that.
In my last position, I was a client-facing project manager. I was the first line of communication for large clients, but I also worked behind the scenes to ensure that the client got the product and service they needed. I believe that experience provides a unique advantage.”
With our next example, you’ll see how you can highlight a skill that you won’t necessarily see on a resume. The applicant talks about their originality and innovative thinking. They use their past experiences as proof and craft a compelling story a hiring manager won’t soon forget.
“One quality that I believe helps me stand out is my creativity and ability to think outside the box. I’ve always been a naturally creative thinker. During my time in school, my ideas were often utilized during group projects, and I’ve earned many accolades for developing unique ideas.
I was able to land a major client in my previous position because I took a different approach than some of my other colleagues. Rather than making a standard sales pitch, I crafted it to their distinct needs. I appealed to a side of the client’s business that no other sales professional had before.
I’m excited to bring my creativity to this role and come up with innovative ideas to overcome any challenge that comes my way.”
Figuring out what sets you apart from other candidates can be a challenging process, but it’s worth it. Not only will it help you answer this interview question more effectively, but it will also give you more confidence in your abilities when you step into the room.
Everyone has something that can make them stand out, so use it!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.