Outside of the standard name, address, and email questions for job applications, there is one fairly common question that comes up about 1/3 to 1/2 of the time in applications. It seems like a fairly pointless question. It says something along the lines of, “Tell us something that makes you unique, say something that will really catch our eye.”
I am sure many of us have unique skills and traits, the problems with that question are that employers don’t really want a unique person, employers themselves are not really that unique, and they almost seem to be asking people to lie to them. The sole purpose of the question screams elimination tactic. They want a reason to rule you out so they don’t have to read your resume.
Employees want to try to set themselves apart, they are already trying to do that without that question being present. Then you outright ask them and now the pressure is on. If I am too unique you will think I am a freak and not want me to work for you so I can’t really tell you that I can identify 1,000 different cheeses by smell alone. It sounds weird and it isn’t useful to the company (*I also just made that up, I don’t actually have that skill).
I often wonder what other people put in there. I often wonder what to put in there myself. Hey, I’ve got a blog that gets like two visitors a day… so do a million other people. That isn’t really unique. But it’s safe so maybe it will work. But do they want safe and how safe? Do they want something relevant and useful to the job? There is a link to my blog in every resume I send out anyway, so why bother with using that as my answer? Employers don’t read my blog either. At best they seem to look at the front page and then leave.
Years ago I used to answer it with things like, “I am probably one of the few people who know how to program in Perl and weld two pieces of aluminum together,” or “I know how to program industrial manufacturing robots.”
But a thought occurred to me. If employers aren’t going to be bothered with being unique, why should I have to be? Why should I be their monkey and show off my non-relevant skills? The unique and relevant skills I have are usually already in my resume, so if there is relevant uniqueness it is already in there. (*Although most recruiters don’t read resumes so this might be the point of that question.)
If I asked any employer that question they would all tell me nearly the exact same thing. I know this because I have asked and I always get a “safe” answer. I don’t bother to ask anymore. Employers aren’t really unique. Some may tell you about an award they won once, they might tell you all about their 401K and matching plans or that they have health insurance. I know some employers don’t have that, but it isn’t really unique when they do. They may have some uniqueness in the product their company provides, but they all tend to fall into a range when it comes to being an employer – that range is not very unique because being truly unique can cause problems.
It is more unique to find an employer that has actually read your CV/resume and then didn’t proceed to ask you questions that you answered on that CV/resume. It is for this reason that I try to cram the most important stuff up at the top because I know they aren’t reading most of the resume. I can’t complain much here, I rarely bother to read the entire job posting anymore.
I now answer this question one of a few different ways.
- “I am so unique I am not going to bother to answer this question.”
- “If you aren’t going to ask me unique questions, why should I give you unique answers.”
- “First, tell me something actually unique about your company.”
I pretty much expect I won’t hear back from them, and tend to be surprised when I actually do.
Why should I have to proclaim my uniqueness to the employer, especially when in all likelihood they won’t have a use for that uniqueness? You are asking for a business analyst, do you as an employer really care that I can weld, program industrial robots, have a blog, or can smell the differences in cheeses (*All cheese actually smells the same to me)? If I had 5 years of experience and the person I am up against had 6 years, would it actually give me an advantage?
I kind of doubt it.
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