All of us have a story to tell; a story of our own; a story of our unique experiences, choices and dreams. Your life too has been fashioned by specific aspirations, special relationships, and particular situations and people: this is your story. Your application carries your story to the Admissions Committee members who read thousands of similar-looking applications. Since you do not want to lose yourself in a sea of applications, you must ensure that your essays rivet the attention of the committee to your application.
Ask yourself, what in my application will make the Admissions Committee sit up and take note. No one will remember a person who worked for xyz company and met all targets, but everyone will remember the person who did not let the adversity he faced in oil fields of conflict-torn Algeria affect his contribution at work. Who can miss that Chinese interpreter who endeavored to implement state-of-the-art technology in office or the boy who missed basketball to help his sister compose herself just when she was falling apart? You might not have worked in Algeria, may not know Chinese and may not have a sister but you do have plenty in your background to leave a similar message with the admissions committees.
What makes you unique?
Your experiences make you unique. Look at all the initiatives you took, problems you solved and achievements you created. Pick the ones that gave you meaningful insights. It could even be the industries you may have worked in or the roles you played at work. You could also stand out because of certain values you imbibed and strengths you developed. Of all the various abilities you possess and experiences you have had, which ones have influenced you the most and which ones explain who you really are or who you are likely to become?
Juggle these (and similar) questions in your mind until you are able to identify what makes you the unique person you are.
One aspect that is common to all successful applicants is their ability to portray themselves faithfully. Unless the admissions committee gets to know you well, they are certainly not going to offer you a place. To tell them who you are, you need to know who you are first. For your identity to emerge, you need to introspect.
After you identify what sets you apart or what makes you succeed, you will need to identify specific stories to project these traits. When you set out to portray who you really are, the one-line differentiator (similar to that of the guy who worked in Algeria) will make its way into the minds of the Admissions Committee members. When this happens, you are sure to make them take notice and turn their decision in your favor.
Chapter 1: Achievements
Chapter 2: Career goals and career progress
Chapter 3: Leadership and Teamwork
Chapter 5: Weaknesses, setbacks and failures
Chapter 6: Why MBA? Why XYZ school?
Chapter 7: Miscellaneous issues
An interview enables a potential employer to meet you face-to-face. It is also their way of finding out who you really are.
So, prepare to be asked: ‘What makes you unique?’
You are not there just to explain why you applied for the job, or to admit to preferring milky tea.
You are there to tell your interviewer(s) something about you…
Because your resume is only words on paper.
In fact, by the time you get to the interview stage, employers may not necessarily be all that focused on the technical knowledge you possess (they will have hoped to ascertain that via your credentials).
But they will want to know how you intend to apply it to their business.
Nor are they likely to be particularly interested in how many years of managerial experience you have under your belt, without first learning how you may use this to benefit their brand of staff.
Why have I been asked the question?
It is facets of your personality that are targeted when you are told: Tell us what makes you unique…
In other words, what distinguishing features do you have that separate you from other candidates who (on paper at least) boast exactly the same qualifications?
In truth, we are all unique because of the way we have been made: we act differently, believe in different things, love, taste, see and hear differently.
But to be unique in a professional sense is ultimately to have a little bit of something extra. You should always be actively managing your personal brand to help identify your uniqueness.
The following are some of the key character traits recruiters will take notice of in their search for uniqueness (and how you answer them is just as important, as we shall see):
- Something that makes you stand out from the crowd in an effective way
- How well you can work together with a team of people
- How creative you can be when applying yourself to challenges
- What makes you excited, inspired, enthusiastic or motivated
- How you cope with stress and view it with a positive spin
What am I expected to say?
Generally speaking, you will know which of your unique qualities are to be revealed by the nature of the job for which you are applying.
For instance, if you are applying for a funeral director’s job a zany character is not what is sought.
But if you are applying to be the editor of a magazine a smidgen of zaniness may be exactly what is needed.
The interviewer hopes you, more than any of the applicants, are suitable for the job on offer. But before coming to a decision they will take into account the words and phrases you used, your body language, the way you were dressed, your confidence and your mannerisms.
GIVE THEM the best possible version of you, and TELL THEM why it must be you they hire and nobody else.
It is important to remember that a ‘unique’ person is not often one who can bend spoons by rubbing them, or flick their eyelids inside out. Those types of you-ness are not normally what an employer looks for, nor are they good enough reasons to get you the job!
So, how do you answer it?
Answering questions during an interview is tricky at the best of times (see our interview guide for help with that).
But the question What Makes You Unique? takes things up a notch.
You don’t want to falter nor do you want to fluff, and dillydallying is a definite no-no.
Worse still, don’t give your interviewer the impression you can talk your way out of a paper bag and waffle, for how you waffle says a lot about you.
Stick to answering within your realm of comfort; if you are as qualified as your resume states you should be able to field even the most probing of questions.
However, if you need some time to think of the answer to a complicated question then simply say: ‘Please give me a moment to think about that’.
Although ideally you won’t need to stall as you should have prepared in advance. Having a pre-prepared personal elevator pitch will also help with this interview question.
In the case of answering the question of what makes you unique here is a brief guide. Basing your answer around one or all of these five points will go some way to helping the recruiter separate the wheat (you) from the chaff (the others).
Be confident. Be honest.
Use the W.H.E.A.T. mnemonic:
W – Workplace successes:Illustrate occasions on which you increased productivity for a business, or gained a professional accolade
H – High stakes:Disclose examples of how well you deal with stressful situations and why people have relied on you to achieve the right outcome
E – Experience:Point out your skills, background and professional development and explain why this gives you the edge over other candidates
A – Approach:Explain how you would use these skills and your creativity to tackle new challenges or address complications
T – Temperament:Describe how you think others see you; describe your good points and bad, and provide examples of how you can solve every day dilemmas better than most
Is unique always good?
As we have seen, the key to answering What Makes You Unique? is balance.
Of course, uniqueness is good, for imagine how boring life would be if we were all identical.
No-one would stand out; no-one would lead; no-one would farm, build, or take action.
But there is a difference in how we each perceive uniqueness. Some of us use it in a flamboyant way, to stand out and to be noticed, perhaps to play the fool, or to impress.
These are the spoon benders and the eyelid flickers: the ones who have missed the interviewer’s point.
By asking this interview question the employer is simply trying to find a candidate with the X-Factor. It is their technique for choosing from dozens, perhaps hundreds, of candidates who, from the employer’s point of view, do look identical.
So, if you have the right attitude, creativity or outlook you think will make you more want-able, it is high time you spoke of it when asked the question: What Makes You Unique?
Make yourself memorable, and remember: the most valuable thing you have to offer is you and your personal brand.