What Sets You Apart?

4  min read

What sets you apart?

Over the years, I have been asked that question or variations of it. “Why you?” at job interviews. “What do you bring to the table?” during business meetings.

I used to think that people wanted extraordinary answers, like “I hoverboarded over the English Channel (true event),” or “I was a stylist on Britney’s tour (I was once told this).” 

It used to intimidate being asked a question like that thinking I didn’t have anything mind blowing to say. However, it wasn’t until recently that I realized what they were actually asking. Let me rephrase, I finally realized what answer they were looking for.

I’m going to digress with a short story.

A year ago, I was at a pitch/ brainstorming session at a local radio station. When the director walked into the room, the first thing she blurted out was that she had a 20 minute hard stop. So, with only 20 minutes that meant I had to cut out the pleasantries and get-to-know you talk. Okay, I decided I was going to start with my pitch. But she interjected.

“How can I help you?”  Easy, I restated what I put in my initial email and added a little emphasis on certain things. Not missing a beat, she pointed out the ways I could go about achieving my goal depending on how much money I wanted to spend. Then, came the anxiety inducing question, “What makes you different?” 

At first, a quick pang of doubt went through me, but I mustered up the courage to deliver the response I felt spoke true to me, “I’m passionate about this. I’ve spent a lot of time working with professionals, and I enjoy sharing my experiences.  What I would like to do now is take it to a broader level. I may not be the first to do this and the idea might not be original, but it is something I am extremely passionate about. Even if you say no today, I will walk out of here and keep on cold calling, sending emails, and connecting with people until someone says yes.”

An hour and 15 mins later, we finished our meeting. (What happened to the hard stop?) I left feeling extremely proud of myself. 

In follow up correspondence, the director told me the one thing that stood out the most during our session. She said, “your passion for what you’re doing moved me. It came out in your voice, eyes, and demeanor.”

That is when I realized, the answer to what sets you apart. Your passion.

The next time someone asks you that question, think first about why you really want the job. What about it excites you? Once you figure that out, find a way to express it.

A lot of the time, it’s not the most qualified candidate that gets the job but the one that can show why he or she would be exceptional at it. More so now than ever, employers are looking to hire people that are passionate about what they do. Other things can be taught or gained over time but passion—you either have it or you don’t.