This common interview question can feel like a smack in the face. It can catch you off guard, put you on the spot and make you feel exceedingly uncomfortable. Think about why the recruiter is asking this interview question. Essentially, he is saying: “Why should we choose you over other candidates?” Or: “What do you bring to the table that other applicants do not?”
These questions are not easy questions to answer. After all, you probably don’t know who the competing candidates are or what their qualifications are. You have to make your best guess based on current and past experiences and what you know of colleagues in your field.
Whichever approach you use to answer this question, keep your response positive. There is no need to even mention other candidates and what you imagine their backgrounds to be. That can be a major turnoff to an employer, because you’re making assumptions, and it makes you sound negative.
Given that, how can you move away from dumbstruck to deliver a clever response?
Focus on a problem you know or imagine the employer has. You only want to do this if you’re pretty certain you can help with it if you were to be hired. For example, if you know the company is trying to sell products within a new market segment – health care, for example – and you have experience in that industry, emphasize your expert knowledge of the industry, key players and that you can leverage your contacts to help them grow this part of their business.
You can also be more general if you have trouble coming up with something that tangible. If you created a spreadsheet or database to log information at one of your jobs, and it saved colleagues a lot of time, this shows you have an ability to recognize issues and solve them.
Beyond giving the example, tell them why you enjoy and are good at devising creative solutions to business problems. Don’t make them infer that you’d do that at their office too – tell them they would benefit from this skill!
Describe what makes you unique. Think about what your colleagues say about you. Maybe you’re the go-to person for certain types of work or seen as an expert in a particular area. Share this information with confidence, and offer a specific example to demonstrate why you are viewed this way.
When you give them an example, you’re showing employers how you could apply this characteristic to a similar situation in their firms. It gives them situational context rather than just a statement to go on.
Discuss your track record. If you choose this route, you don’t want to pose as a braggart. The goal here is to relate how a specific thing you’ve done proves that you can achieve the company’s goals.
Perhaps you’ve improved customer service levels and enabled your current company to retain and build its customer base. Tell the interviewer about this accomplishment in detail, and add that you can do the same for his company. Make sure the example you choose relates to a goal the prospective employer might have.
Showcase your qualifications. While specific examples from the workplace are best, emphasizing qualifications can help you stand out if you are in a market where you know the qualifications they seek are lacking.
For example, the company may have listed in the job description or stated during the interview that it prefers someone with a master’s degree for the role. Don’t just say you have a master’s and that you know it’s hard to find in this geographical area. Tell them how you’ve applied knowledge from your degree in a work setting or how you will be able to do so in this specific role. This shows you are forward-thinking and focused on contributing your knowledge to improve the company’s operations.
Prepping for this question ahead of time will help you be less surprised when it pops up in an interview. Remember to focus on specific examples and emphasize how you’d use your background or qualifications in this new setting to help the company achieve its goals.
Avoid comparing yourself to others, and focus on what benefits you offer. This will help keep your answer positive. You want to present yourself as a confident, motivated candidate, and the way to do that is to share what you can do, rather than what you think your competition can or cannot do. That, after all, is why they should hire you.
Hopefully these interview tips helpful in your career.