“What is your greatest accomplishment?” is one of the most challenging behavioral questions you can be asked during a job interview.
As children, we are often taught to practice humility; to not show off in social situations because it is considered rude. Consequently, as adults, we often feel awkward discussing our achievements, even if we are asked about them directly. We subconsciously worry we are coming across as unlikeable or obnoxious.
Of course, in many situations, including at work, humility is a useful trait. But the entire purpose of a job interview is to convince your interviewer that you are the best person for the job. So, start embracing what makes you great.
This article will outline the purpose of behavioral interview questions, and help you understand what your interviewer is really looking for when they ask about your greatest achievement. It will then explain how to prepare your answer, and provide some sample answers to help you get started.
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Contrary to what your subconscious is trying to tell you, your interviewer isn't attempting to trick you into revealing arrogance when they ask the ‘greatest achievement’ job interview question. They just want to know what it is that makes you stand out from the crowd.
It is likely that the company received numerous, if not dozens of applications for the same job. Therefore, one of the purposes of the interview is to assess which candidates stand above the rest.
“What is your greatest accomplishment?” or “What is your greatest professional achievement?” is an example of a behavioral interview question, commonly used in interviews to assess skills and competencies through discussions about your past experiences.
Some other examples of behavioral questions include:
“What is your greatest achievement?” and its similar variations are designed to evaluate:
As with all behavioral interview questions, it is crucial that you prepare in advance.
The best way to describe your greatest accomplishment while only including relevant information is to use the STAR technique. The acronym works as follows:
Ideally, you should talk about a workplace accomplishment. However, you could refer to school, volunteering or even your hobbies, so long as you demonstrate transferable skills and prove you are the best person for the job.
‘My greatest achievement’ examples could include:
Once you have decided on your greatest achievement, use the five tips below to boost the content of your answer.
What does your greatest achievement say about what you value in life? How does this make you perfect for the job?
For example, you might have been named the top salesperson at your company last year. You consider this your greatest accomplishment because you value hard work and making people happy. You always come to work with a smile, you do your best to get to know your target customer and adapt your sales techniques to each customer's needs, and you make it your personal goal to go above and beyond the targets set for you.
This tells your interviewer that:
Consider working backwards to ensure you highlight your best qualities sufficiently.
Think about the skills and qualities valued by the company and tailor your answer to demonstrate some of these.
The best way to start your research is to review the job description, as it will list the skills necessary to fulfil the responsibilities of the job. You could also:
It is tempting to embellish the truth, or even lie, because you worry your greatest accomplishment is not good enough or you can’t think of anything that qualifies.
Remember, your interviewer isn’t expecting you to have eradicated world hunger. What qualifies as a ‘greatest accomplishment’ is subjective and personal to you.
So long as you can demonstrate skills and qualities that set you apart from other candidates, the interviewer will not mind which accomplishment you choose to discuss.
Your answer should be clear and detailed. Avoid using vague language such as, “I oversaw a project.” Explain what the project entailed and what your role in it was.
Learning to use a word processor on your computer might have been impressive several decades ago when typewriters were the norm. Today, almost every job candidate is expected to know how to type on a computer.
Make sure your answer is relevant to today’s job market and the skills required of today’s candidates. Often this means using an example which happened relatively recently.
Steer clear of any of these:
“What’s my greatest achievement? I’m not sure. Maybe the time I stopped two coworkers arguing? Is that an accomplishment? One time I gave a great presentation at work... Or once, I raised £600 for a sponsored run, but I guess it wasn't a great accomplishment because I gave up in the middle and had to return the money to my sponsors.”
Why this answer is bad:
“My greatest accomplishment is finally passing my driving test. I actually failed four times and passed on my fifth attempt. The first time I failed was because I was speeding. The other times weren’t my fault. I was so happy when I finally passed. I’m a great driver.”
Why this answer is bad:
Now you know how to structure your answer and the common pitfalls to avoid, here are some sample answers using the STAR technique to help you prepare your own.
Situation: “My greatest accomplishment is when I took over a children’s reading group in my current position as a Library Assistant. Children between the ages of 7 and 12 can come to the library on a Saturday morning, we read a chapter of a book together and then we discuss it.”
Task: “At the time, my official responsibility was to provide customer service at the front desk. However, one of our Library Supervisors retired and no replacement was hired. Due to the lack of staff, the library made the difficult decision to cut the weekly children’s reading group.”
Action: “I was saddened to hear about the disappointment felt by the children and their parents. I volunteered to change my shifts so I worked on a Saturday morning and could run the reading group. I am now the leader of the group. I help choose the books we read, prepare questions for educational discussion and organize games and other activities.”
Result: “We get around five to ten children per session. Their parents are so grateful we were able to continue the group and I enjoy interacting with children who love to read.”
Why this answer is good:
Situation: “My greatest accomplishment occurred in my previous position as HR Administrator.”
Task: “I noticed team members often had difficulty locating specific files – which reduced productivity, particularly during busy periods.”
Action: “So I took the initiative to implement a team filing system. I scanned every vital document, which I then saved to shared folders on our computer system.”
Result: “At the end of the month, our time sheets indicated that the time spent looking for files had reduced by several hours.”
Why this answer is good:
You should now be able to prepare a well structured and detailed answer to the behavioral interview question, “What is your greatest accomplishment?”. Below is a summary of the key points covered in this article:
Finally: practice. The best way to approach behavioral interview questions is to prepare in advance. This way you will know exactly what you are going to say when you are asked about your greatest accomplishment.
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