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The Uniqueness Effect

Job interviews are the age-old, strategy based, “survival of the fittest” in the business world. Now more than ever, people are entering the job market with university degrees, which can often make most job applicants appear to be the same. Because of this, many applicants seek to distinguish themselves by providing unique answers to interview questions. The important question, however, is whether or not it is beneficial (or even appropriate) to “stand out from the crowd” in a job interview? Do the conventional or unconventional applicants receive job offers?

The Uniqueness Effect Defined

In selection situations, job applicants know that they are not only being judged by absolute qualities (ex. Educational background), but also by their relative qualities, such as their perceived quality in comparison to other applicants. This awareness causes many applicants to create a uniqueness effect. In this context, the uniqueness effect is the effect of an applicant’s distinctive characteristics or answers on recruiters’ evaluations and decisions in the selection process. Similarly to the  previous rules of thumb that have told applicants to focus on differentiating their resumes from the many other resumes in the stack, in order to get the interview, that same notion is essentially used as a strategy during the interview.

The Value of Standing Out

Applicants who provide unique answers get better evaluations and are chosen more often than applicants providing common answers. When an applicant’s uniqueness is positive, such that it creates a particular social image, they are likely to receive prestige, aid, and love from others. Providing unique responses was especially helpful in non-creative fields, like accounting, as opposed to creative fields, like marketing. One explanation for this could be that interviewers may have higher expectations for receiving unique answers from applicants who are seeking positions in creative fields than for those applicants who are seeking positions in non-creative fields.

Practical Implications

The benefits of providing unique answers to interview questions are clear. Job applicants who give unique answers receive both higher evaluations and a higher probability of getting the job offer, especially in non-creative jobs. One important thing to note is that interviewers may be influenced by the uniqueness of the answers, regardless of the applicant’s true abilities. Therefore, it is important for job recruiters to assess whether or not they are prone to being swayed by the uniqueness effect, and for organizations to institute selection procedures that do account for a job applicant’s true ability, despite their uniqueness.

Kandace Waddy


This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Roulin, N., Bangerter, A., & Yerly, E. (2011). The uniqueness effect in selection interviews. Journal of Personnel Psychology, 10(1), 43-47.