As far as awkward interview questions go, “What can you do for us that other candidates can’t?” ranks right up there with, “If you were reincarnated as an animal, what would you be?” After all, you don’t know anything about the other candidates and their qualifications. Or, if you do, is the interviewer seriously looking for your evaluation of their skills and abilities? Of course not.
What is the Interviewer Really Asking?
The question is designed to tell the interviewer several things about you. Once you know what those things are, it’s not a particularly hard question to answer.
- Grace under pressure: The interviewer is trying to find out how you handle uncomfortable situations. Do you remain calm and poised, or do you start stammering?
- Character: Will you badmouth other candidates? Or are you able to explain why you’re a better match without being negative?
- Your values: The question also gives the interviewer some insight into which skills and characteristics you value most in yourself. That’s an important factor in determining whether an employee will be a good fit. For instance, if a company is very team-focused, answering, “I work well independently,” would be a red flag. There’s nothing in that answer that says you can’t work with a team, but it does suggest that you prefer to work alone and value the ability to do so.
- Self-evaluation: Giving a realistic self-evaluation is tough. Most people either under - or oversell themselves. The ability to objectively explain why you’re the best candidate for the job demonstrates two things: critical thinking skills and self-confidence that doesn’t cross the line into arrogance.
How to Create a Powerful Answer
- First, try humour. A quick, humorous comeback shows that you can think on your feet and aren’t thrown off balance by the question: “Do I get to meet the other candidates before I answer?” Keep in mind, though, that you still have to answer the question. This response just lightens the mood and buys you a few seconds to think.
- Stay Positive: Never, ever say anything bad about other candidates. Even if you know another candidate is a horrible person who has stolen from all of his previous employers to feed his cocaine habit, it’s not your place to say so. It just makes you look bad.
- Demonstrate that you realise the interviewer is asking about you: “Obviously, I can’t speak to the qualifications of other candidates, but what I think makes me unique is that…”
- Make it a combination: Instead of trying to think of one or two skills that other candidates may not have, try thinking of a combination of your skills and explain how they would benefit the company.
Here are some examples to get your started:
“My IT skills are second to none. But I’m also fluent in French, and I think I could do a lot to build relationships with your company’s French clients.”
“I understand that one of the most important characteristics of a social media manager is the ability to respond to things in real time. Speed is crucial, and that sometimes leads to mistakes. With my background in proofreading, I can make sure that all of our messages are error-free without slowing things down.”
As with most other interview questions, successfully answering, “What can you do for us that the other candidates can’t?” depends on understanding what the interviewer is trying to find out and crafting your answer accordingly. It’s best to prepare your answer ahead of time, but if you get caught off guard, you’ll do just fine as long as you remember to be calm, stay positive, and talk about how your unique combination of skills will help the company achieve its goals.
Have you ever had to answer this question in a job interview? What was the result?
This article was originally published in June 2014.