“What Sets You Apart From the Competition?”
I was recently asked for help with how to answer this question in an interview. It’s a great idea to stand out from the crowd but let me counter with a question of my own: “WHO IS” the Competition? Right. You don’t know. So, how can anyone expect you to answer this question?
What Are You Really Asking?
I have some suggestions for job candidates but first I’d like to address any Hiring Managers, HR, or Recruiters who are reading along.
Please find a better question to ask or a better way to phrase this one because as it stands it is unfair. Candidates rarely know who the competition is so how can you expect them to self-assess and evaluate how they compare to others? As is, the question causes confusion and will leave some candidates feeling off-balance.
The real question is what unique value will they deliver if you hire them? So, consider providing the candidate with an overview of the critical elements of the role, then ask how they would make a significant contribution to this position.
Unique Value & Significant Contributions
As a job candidate, when you are asked what sets you apart from the competition, you can stand out from the crowd by addressing these questions instead:
- What unique value will you deliver in this role?
- What significant contributions have you delivered previously that made you unforgettable?
Brainstorm in Advance
Don’t wait until you are asked the question to figure this out. This is one of those topics you would be best served to think through before you arrive at an interview. It’s part of your interview preparation and it’s part of an honest self-assessment of how you might fit in this role.
Start with a review of the notes you have from conversations with the recruiter or any others who have shared information about the position. Take another look at the job description details and compare your background to the needs of the role. Pay particular attention to the aspects that are called out as vital, urgent, significant… Then consider how your background, expertise, and experiences relate to the needs of the role.
In order to effectively respond with an impact, determine how you can bring unique insight, skills, perspective, or thought-leadership. This is the value proposition you have to offer.
Stand Out from the Crowd Ideas
Here are some thought starters for bringing forward the unique value that you bring to the role:
Entry Level/Early Career
- Demonstrate enthusiasm and eagerness to learn. Everyone likes to work with positive and enthusiastic people. So, attitude and a desire to learn can sometimes win out over desired skills.
- How will you take the initiative and make yourself an invaluable asset to the team? Describe past experiences (in other roles or while in school) that demonstrate these traits.
- Is there anything unique/special about your education, internships, shadowing, etc? For example, did you work your way through college because you funded your own education? This shows perseverance and work ethic.
Late Stage Career
- Contribute stability to the function. Is this the last stop for you? Are you planning to work another 3, 5, 8 years before retiring? Companies often look for someone who is going to stay long-term so point this out.
- Extensive expertise and experiences to draw from. Diverse experience spanning multiple companies and roles allows you to share insight and perspective from past successes and lessons learned.
- Do you enjoy teaching others? This is your opportunity to officially or unofficially mentor and guide emerging leaders by sharing your business acumen and learnings.
- Lessons learned and thought leadership derived from a new perspective. Companies can become stagnant when turnover is minimal or they continue to recycle candidates from within their industry. Stepping outside the box to hire from a vertical market can help a company grow through the ideas and learnings of other industries.
- Mention quantifiable achievements with examples of related projects/work or similar experience that this role needs. Demonstrating success with measurable data makes a memorable impact.
- Similar size and scope etc. Are you interviewing with a privately-held family business and have experience working for a family-operated business in the past? Draw a line between your experiences working for similar-sized or structured companies. Pointing out this correlation will showcase your understanding of the dynamics of companies of their size and scope.
- Alignment with company culture. Are you self-directed and hands-on? Do you enjoy working in a creative and collaborative environment? It’s especially important to highlight your fit with the team. That is just as important as the skills you will bring to the role.