There are several standard interview questions employers or hiring managers may ask to learn more about you. However, “What is your greatest accomplishment?” is probably one of the most challenging behavioral questions you will encounter during a job interview.
Some other ways this question might be asked include:
“What work are you most proud of?”
“Can you describe a vital goal you accomplished?”
“What would you consider your most impressive achievement?”
Unfortunately, most job seekers blow this opportunity because they’re unprepared, or they do not feel comfortable “bragging.” But this question gives you the chance to share a remarkable achievement that shows the value you will bring to your potential employer.
That is why we asked experts to provide some sample answers to help you get started. Here are their insights:
Behavioral and Management Psychologist
Consider a creative and strategic response
As a behavioral and management psychologist, consider a creative and strategic response to a question asked at almost every interview, “That’s a great question. How about I share with you my two biggest mistakes?” The hiring manager, human resources person, or C-level executive conducting the interview probably never heard that reply from a candidate.
Although a 4.0 college grade point average; the rescue of a child, senior citizen, or pet from harm’s way; or winning a major science, writing, or civic award are all admirable accomplishments, none may significantly set one apart from the previous candidate. Of course, the interviewer is going to want to hear more. You just cast your line into the water.
The strategy of this unconventional response is to dangle a negative, “biggest mistake,” as your lure to slowly reel in the interviewer. The candidate needs to develop an arsenal of creative “mistakes” to adapt to the organization and interviewer.
A few examples:
- “I made the mistake of not asking for the telephone number in front of her father of the woman who subsequently became my wife when I first met her. I did ask for it when we accidentally ran into each other two years later.”
- “After earning my Master’s degree in (fill in the subject), I regret not having earned an MBA rather than continuing on for my Ph.D.”
- “I had the opportunity to buy stock in Starbucks but thought who would pay $3 for a cup of coffee when McDonald’s sold coffee for twenty-five cents.”
Senior Career Advisor, Tulane University School of Professional Advancement
Tell a good story and help them relate to your experiences
A creative way to respond to interview questions is to become a storyteller. Telling a good story has the capacity to capture the listener’s attention and help them relate to your experiences.
When asked, “What is your greatest accomplishment?” think of the question as, “Can you tell me a story about something you accomplished at work that you are most proud of?” Then, create an interesting story using the elements of storytelling: Setting, Theme, Action, Resolution (STAR).
The setting is where your story takes place, and the situation you were involved in that establishes the context within which you faced a challenge at work. This stage sets up your story so that the interviewer can picture the setting. When interviewing for a job, you should use a challenge at work as an example of something you are most proud of accomplishing.
The theme of your story is what you are trying to convey to the interviewer. This is the central idea of your story. This stage is dedicated to giving the specifics of certain skills you offered that were of value in that particular scenario. Is your story about problem-solving, initiative, teamwork, leadership, communication, critical thinking?
Action is what you actually did in the situation that led to your greatest accomplishment. Explain in detail your contribution to solving the problem. What steps did you take to solve that problem? Make sure that you provide enough information about exactly what actions you took.
As with any good story, the resolution is where the story ends. This is where you shine. Explain the result of your actions. Describe how the positive outcome of your efforts resulted in your greatest accomplishment.
A story is much more than just a few facts or situations; it is the full picture.
The best response to this interview question allows the listener to emotionally connect with the story’s content while demonstrating the value you will bring to your potential employer. Using the STAR format, you will be able to provide a unique and compelling answer to this common interview question.
Educator | Author, “A Home for Sally“
The first suggestion I would offer, if possible, the job seeker should prepare an answer to this question by thinking about some of their greatest accomplishments. Writing them down and orally practicing. These are some examples a person can share during the interview process; each one is identified according to specific job seeker employment status.
Example answer for returning to the workforce
“My greatest accomplishment was completing my bachelor’s degree in 3 years or Graduate Degree in 2 years while pursuing an example (Business Degree), being a single parent, and working full-time. I learn to prioritize my time between family and work. Staying focus on my educational goal. I am proud of this accomplishment because I learned you could complete a degree program and advance in your career.”
Example answer for experience job seeker
“My greatest professional achievement was establishing a practical system that was used throughout my prior employer service department. When I joined the company, the service department did not have a structure scheduling system for customers. I implemented a schedule for taking customer orders using current technology. Within three months, our customer satisfactory ratings increase with the staff having the capability to complete all customer orders in a timely manner.”
Example answer for inexperienced job seeker
“My greatest accomplishment was volunteering for a Non-Profit Organization Food Bank. While volunteering, I was responsible for intact information for individuals and families. Making sure packing for food distributions was done according to sanitation and state guidelines. I was helping other volunteers to properly prepare food distribution and assist the facility with food intact count.”
Erica M. Shelton
Legal Recruiter, Shelton & Steele LLC
Make the example apply specifically or as close as possible to the job
The key to answering this question well is preparation and specificity. The interviewer will assess how the accomplishment you discuss relates to the job you’ll be doing. They will also be looking for authenticity. For example, if you’re applying for a job as a marketing director, your answer could be this:
“I launched an email marketing campaign that really took off. My company has seen a real increase in sales.”
However, a much stronger reply would be something like this:
“In 2016, I created and then implemented an email marketing campaign. We sent out over 20,000 emails a month, and within three months, the company saw a 30% increase in sales, and my boss will verify his small, 10 person company netted an extra $1.3M in profits.”
Making the example apply specifically (or as close as possible) to the job makes you more relevant. Providing specifics about profits and stating that someone else will verify the accomplishment, creates a solid feel of authenticity. The combination of relevance and authenticity are extremely powerful in any interview.
Founder & CEO, Edhabit
I personally like to see “how far I have traveled” stories
The big assumption in predictive analytics is that the past is representative of the future. With this question, the interviewer is looking for signs of past behavior and will assume that is how you will be performing in the future, so this is a very important question.
I personally like to see “how far I have traveled” stories. Here is where I started, and here is where I got. That shows a growth trajectory. It tells the story of “I have done great things, but my greatest accomplishments are ahead -ideally with you.”
You will also want to make sure to explain WHY that is your greatest achievement. What was the fire burning inside? That will show what is important to you. If that fire still exists, then the interviewer can expect a similar, potentially much better performance from you.
This approach works well for jobs with growth potential. For a dead-end job, this type of answer might be a turn-off, in which case you might want to consider why you are applying to that job in the first place and proceed cautiously.
Co-founder, Authority Hacker
Think about what you did to achieve this accomplishment
When answering this question, it’s important to think about what you did to achieve this accomplishment. For example, it’s great that you purchased your own house at the age of 20, but:
- how did you achieve that?
- What measures did you take to get there?
- what sacrifices did you make?
It’s far more impressive if you took up summer jobs and made major cutbacks on luxuries to do it rather than finding the money to do so from inheritance money, for example. This is the chance to discuss all the different things you did to get to where you are and a great way to show off your commitment!
Managing Partner, Prestige Scientific
Share a personal accomplishment and how this was a benefit to your employer
It’s important to keep in mind that this is an interview question, and the entire premise of a job interview is for the interviewer to determine if you can make an impact on their organization. There are a variety of directions one could go from personal to professional and from self-promoting to team promoting.
Focusing on a personal accomplishment or one that is self-promoting may be an interesting story and something to be proud of. Still, it may not be the best example for a potential employer to best understand your suitability to join their organization.
We’ve found that an interviewer is never wrong by sharing a story that shows both a personal accomplishment, but one that also shows how this was a benefit to their employer by increasing sales or efficiency, decreasing costs, or in some way, mitigating their business risk.
Show that you’re willing to put in everything you’ve got
Accomplishment is about the journey and not the result. For example, climbing Mount Everest sounds like a great accomplishment, but adding that you woke up at 5:00 am to train every morning before work for two years straight, and adding all the struggles it took to get there, shows an even greater accomplishment.
The journey shows the hardships in achieving an accomplishment and everything that it takes.
It’s possible to be put in a position in a company that allows you to have tremendous growth, but where little work needs to be done. You can also be put in a position where you work tremendously hard, but the results don’t show. Showing an employer that you can do what it takes to do your job well and that you’re willing to put in everything you’ve got into the company, is more impressive than simply stating the things you’ve accomplished.
If I was asked in an interview what my greatest accomplishment would be, I wouldn’t say “accomplishing X for my company,” I would say:
“working hard each day and night and going above and beyond what I was expected to do, and here is how I went above and beyond what I was expected to do…”
Kaylin R. Staten, APR
Award-winning Public Relations Practitioner and Writer | CEO, Hourglass Media
In an interview, keep accomplishments in the professional realm
I think we have to look deeply into who we are. What looks like my greatest accomplishment may not seem like another person’s. There isn’t a roadmap leading us to similar accomplishments, and everyone has his or her own journey to get to a unique greatest accomplishment.
In my opinion, it’s also OK to have several greatest accomplishments. If you’re interviewing a potential candidate in an interview, or are the person being interviewed, keep that in mind. People are multifaceted and can be proud of several accomplishments.
For example, in my career, some of my “greatest” accomplishments include starting and maintaining my own business, writing my first book, and reaching my first decade in public relations.
In an interview, I would keep accomplishments in the professional realm, as personal achievements are not always relevant in a career setting.
One thing to keep in mind is to try to stray away from achievement addiction. As someone who naturally loves to achieve goals and objectives, I’m always searching for the next “great” accomplishment.
Be sure that you are the one who wants to achieve that accomplishment. Some of us can be people pleasers or only want to reach a certain goal because it’s what is expected of us. It’s OK to stop the pursuit of achievement or goal if you feel misaligned with it.
Founder and CEO, Zain Ventures
The “what” of your answer is less important than “how” you answer. The question is being asked to help the interviewer understand who you are as a person and what your core values and motivations are.
Choose something that allows you to tell a story about why it was a great accomplishment.
Make sure you provide some background on the situation, the obstacles that you needed to work through, what actions you took, and what the final results were. Your answer should showcase the core qualities that set you apart from other candidates they may be considering.