It may seem to be a simple question, but asking “what is your greatest achievement?” is a clever way for interviewers to examine your personality, work ethic, and suitability for the job. Your response provides them with insight about your personal and professional achievements, and your ability to establish and achieve goals.
This question can be hard to respond to on the spot, given that there’s no right or wrong answer. A well-thought-out answer to this question takes some reflection and forethought.
You should emphasize an accomplishment that highlights your talents and strengths while also demonstrating your ability to succeed in the job.
In this article we’ll break down why interviewers ask this common question, and how to answer it in a way that impresses your interviewer.
Why do interviewers ask the most significant accomplishment interview question?
Interviewers generally ask about a candidate’s most significant achievements to gain insight into their skills and strengths. While a resume and a well-written cover letter showcase your skills and experience, they still don’t give a complete picture of your achievements.
By asking you about your greatest achievement, the interviewer is able to gain extra insight into what you’re capable of and whether your skills fit the ones they are seeking.
Another reason why employers ask this question is to better understand what you consider an accomplishment. For example, suppose you say that submitting your work before the deadline is an accomplishment. In this case, any company looking to hire someone with time management skills would be unimpressed with your response.
Essentially, this common interview question is used to gauge a candidate’s ambition, motivation, and self-awareness and get insight into their work experience.
How to answer “What is your greatest accomplishment?”
Here’s how to answer “what is your greatest achievement?” the right way:
1. Choose a relevant accomplishment
Consider the role or the course you’re interviewing for and craft your answer accordingly. Make sure your answer highlights skills relevant to the job by checking the job ad to see what the employer is looking for.
2. Use the STAR method to structure your answer
The STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) is a template you can use to respond to a behavioral question by discussing the specifics of a situation you faced in your professional or academic life.
Here’s a breakdown of how the STAR method actually works:
Situation – What was the situation/challenge you faced? Describe the situation.
Task – What were your responsibilities and goals that you had to achieve?
Action – What action did you take to overcome the situation and achieve your goal?
Result – What was the outcome of your action?
And an example of how to apply the STAR method in your answer:
Situation – “I was newly hired as a junior developer at a startup. The company was short-staffed, so I had to take on extra responsibilities.”
Task – “I had to find a way to deliver projects before the deadlines as per customer requirements”
Action – “I worked overtime and found a way to delegate smaller tasks to the other team members by identifying their strengths.”
Result – “The client was happy with our work and decided to give us more contracts and references. I also learned a lot of new skills and tools and instilled trust amongst my colleagues.”
What to avoid when describing your significant accomplishments
While talking about your significant accomplishments, you should try and avoid these four mistakes:
- Lying – Always answer honestly; this gives credibility to your answer and helps make your solution unique.
- Bragging – Always be lowkey; bragging is a sign of overcompensating, which comes across as poor quality.
- Long answers – Long and time-consuming answers can test the interviewer’s attention. Be concise and to the point with your answer.
- Indecisiveness – Have a structured answer ready beforehand so you don’t have to think of an answer on the spot and come across as indecisive.
“What is your greatest accomplishment” example answers
Here are some good responses to the classic interview question “what is your greatest achievement”:
Entry-level sample answer
“What is your greatest accomplishment?”
“One of my greatest accomplishments was completing a project that required me to work with a new team and taking on responsibilities of the previous team lead. The project helped the company improve efficiency and save money and time while helping me get recognition, learn teamwork skills, and test my abilities.”
Mid-career sample answer
“What is your biggest accomplishment at work?”
“I was asked to lead an important project presentation in the unforeseen absence of my manager, in front of important stakeholders. I had to understand the nitty-gritties of the project and thoroughly study the entire course of the project at the eleventh hour, in order to deliver a good presentation. I consulted the project manager and the team and understood the details, while examining what to highlight during the presentation. The presentation was a success, and I received a promotion and a raise.”
Experienced professional sample answer
“What is your greatest professional achievement?”
”The entire marketing team struggled to meet the quarterly goals when I joined. I was hired to create a new marketing strategy in order to make the team profitable. I devised an entire marketing plan with very little guidance which would show results within six months. Our team achieved 25-30% above the goals, and the marketing plan brought in a profit of $2M revenue by the end of the year’s second half.”
My greatest achievement examples for students
The approach for this question for students and recent graduates is different, given that there is less – to – no experience, therefore changing the focus of the answer.
Sample answer #1
“My greatest achievement was paying for college all by myself. I planned to pay for college and other expenses like student accommodation in Melbourne by myself and found ways to finance it. I would take up part-time jobs in different fields and started a landscaping business where I earned through junior and sophomore years. As a result of my effort, I was able to graduate debt-free by working during the summer and saving up.”
Sample answer #2
“I was working part-time at my university with very little financial support from my family, which shifted my focus away from studying. I had to prioritize my coursework and studies whilst trying to make a living, so I had to plan accordingly. I had to work odd shifts to pay for tuition fees, IQ Tufnell House and groceries expenses and then pull all-nighters to ace my exams, which compromised my social life and health. I graduated top of my class and received numerous job interview offers from my choice of companies.”