This has been bothering me for a quite a while now.

A few months ago I was applying for jobs and one recruiter asked me to answer the following questions:

Why is the candidate different?

How are they different from all of the other CVs they are reviewing?

(Yes, these are to be answered by the candidate written in bold)

How can I possibly know who the other candidates are and their employment history?

If was asked this question during interview my bloodpressure would go through the roof.

  • 1
    ... you mean the recruiter asked you "What sets you apart from other candidates?" VTC unclear because you're referring to different people with "they" and "the candidate" and I can't make sense of this question.
    – Lilienthal
    Aug 2, 2016 at 10:45
  • Are you sure those were actually the words in the questions? Aug 2, 2016 at 16:47

5 Answers 5


You don't.

The employer is asking what your Unique Selling Point is, what makes you the ideal candidate over everyone else.

That's a fairly normal question to ask and you should have something prepared, if you can't provide an answer why should the employer consider you over others if you bring nothing to the table?

  • 1
    yep, pretty much
    – Kilisi
    Aug 2, 2016 at 10:19
  • 11
    @locke - to elaborate on wandering dev's answer, if the recruiter literally asked you the exact questions you relate above then they were reading out to you the questions they have been asked to discover about you. They're not asking you about other candidates, they're supposed to find out what is unique about you and they're not very good at interviewing.
    – Rob Moir
    Aug 2, 2016 at 12:25

You don't need to know about the other candidates specifically to answer these questions. You need to know about yourself. There are essentially three kinds of answers to these questions:

  • meta talk like refusing to answer, claiming you don't know the other candidates, declaring that finding this out is the interviewers job
  • claiming an attribute that clearly everyone has - I can speak English during an interview process that is taking place in English, or I can read and write for an office job, or that are irrelevant to the job - I know my way around the city where I live very well
  • claiming an attribute that is relevant to the job and that not all candidates are guaranteed to have. Only this one helps you get the job. Figure out what it is.

So, if you're applying to work in an office, claiming to be a team player, to work well under pressure, to know the particular skill they are hiring for (eg a specific programming language, a specific piece of software everyone in the field uses), to be punctual - these are useless answers. Everyone can do that.

But if you are certified in the skill, and you know only about a quarter of people in your field are certified, that's an interesting thing to point out. If you have won awards, or spoken at conferences, or love to lead lunch-and-learn sessions for your coworkers, that sets you apart. If you have already led a team through the transition your future employer is about to start, if you've been using that technology dramatically longer than most people (you were a VERY early adopter) or have some other insider connection such as working at the place it was developed and using it while it was under development, these are things that set you apart.

While it's easy to claim this is a lazy question, it can still be powerfully useful. If I was handed a sheet of paper and told to ask candidates this, I could screen out all the ones who claimed irrelevant skills (like a pilots license for a software developer - and yes, that might be relevant, it would be up to you to show me that in your answer) or non-differentiating skills like "able to use Excel and Word as required". And a candidate who knows that their speaking, teaching, leading, project-managing, planning, scripting, build-configuring, or negotiating skills are far above their peers and would really help this project can tell me so directly, which is helpful. I will probably ask more questions and drill in on those claims, but to have them handed to me by just asking is quicker than me eventually noticing a common thread in the stories of success the candidate has been telling me.

People sometimes worry that if they say "well, I love public speaking and would be happy to represent the team at presentations or conferences" that the interviewer will think "what a moron! We had someone yesterday who loved public speaking. This candidate clearly knows nothing about the other candidates. I'm going no-hire on this one." That's only a risk if you claim to be able to breathe air or sign on to your laptop. It's actually a super softball question that doesn't require knowing much about your competition other than a vague awareness of the mandatory skills they all must have. It really is a question about you -- answer it.

  • 2
    "So, if you're applying to work in an office, claiming to be a team player, to work well under pressure, to know the particular skill they are hiring for (eg a specific programming language, a specific piece of software everyone in the field uses), to be punctual - these are useless answers. Everyone can do that." Well everyone can claim to do that.
    – HLGEM
    Aug 2, 2016 at 14:08
  • 4
    I love your answer. I would like to point out to the OP that this is a question that can only be effectively answered if you have put in the effort to make yourself someone who is above the other candidates long before the interviewing starts. The time to start asking the question is at the start of the job/education not when you are looking for a new one. It's too late to differentiate yourself once you start to look for another job, this is work that you have to do every day of your career.
    – HLGEM
    Aug 2, 2016 at 14:12

Your recruiter's lazy. These are questions the recruiter was supposed to ask you orally. As The Wandering Dev has stated, it's to get an idea of your unique selling position (also known as your Elevator Pitch).

As such, be careful how much time you put into dealing with this recruiter. If he/she is cutting corners in the interview, you might expect the same lazy behavior at other points. If you feel confident enough (I'd do this), mention this oversight to the recruiter as a point of concern, see what the response is, and continue with this recruiter only if things still make sense.

Some recruiters are a complete waste of time. The turnover rate in some places is VERY high for recruiters.


One of the very best books about employment that I ever read, wasn't about employment at all. The Little Red Book on Selling is both "little" and "red," and millions of copies have been sold and "read." Selling is an honorable and fundamental part of business. Every time you apply for a job, you are Selling.

Two of the key things that any salesman must know, whether he is selling a Fuller Brush or selling himself, are:

  1. Why does the customer need the product (even if he does not yet know that he does)? Why does the customer need this product?
  2. What makes my product "different?" (You can't automatically say, "better," because only the customer can really be the judge of that, but you should know exactly what differentiates your product from all of the competition.)

If you have never yet been handed "a stack of resumes," you're likely to consider only "your" resume. To forget that there might be a hundred or more resumes in the stack that HR just handed you ... and that the hiring manager has no "search engine!" (Although, these days, the "stack" is often "scanned in" to software that does have a search engine.) If you are lucky enough to get any sort of personal contact from the company at all, then ... "the sales game is under way!" You must know in advance how to be that salesman, and that's what your recruiter is trying to prepare you for. They're trying to condition you to "think that way."

You've got competition: the hiring manager has a stack of 'em. Somehow, you were invited to "make your pitch." The first impression will make or break the sale.


As someone who has done some headhunting in the past, this is an oversight by the recruiter and shows how lazy the recruiter is. These are basic submittal questions that a phone screen of a candidate would reveal to the recruiter.

A lot of the emails you get regarding jobs are generalized emails where your resume/CV had a number of keyword hits. This is why a lot of recruiter emails you get ask you to send your most up to date resume/CV. Unless the recruiter calls you directly or sends an email with actual information contained on your resume. Avoid them as they are most likely with a sketchy firm or they simply only care about the end all and hitting submittal quota's.

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