with Jeff Lipschultz
The real question they are asking —
What is the greatest achievement you have had that our company can leverage, too?
Choose an accomplishment that is relevant to this job and employer, and, preferably, relatively recent.
Be ready for a follow-on question like “Can you share another achievement?”
When you answer this question, you provide the interviewer with insight into your personality, what you consider an accomplishment worth mentioning, and what you have achieved in your work.
Get Comfortable “Bragging”
If describing your accomplishments feels like bragging, picture this interview as talking about someone else (although you must say “I” when answering). View this as telling the story about something you did (that just so happens to be awesome).
So, you are not saying you are GREAT, you’re talking about something you did that was GREAT. There is a difference. You are letting the listener decide if YOU are great or not.
How to Answer Effectively
To be well prepared with a good example (or two) to answer this question, follow these three steps:
Make a list of accomplishments.
What have you done recently at work that won recognition from your co-workers, your boss, higher management, clients, customers, suppliers, or the outside world?
Since many great achievements NEVER get recognition beyond the boss saying “good job,” also think of times the boss simply gave you positive feedback, OR the situations where you know the achievement positively impacted the company’s bottom line. Add those to the list.
Also include the accomplishments which resulted in positive feedback from a colleague or a client/customer. If appropriate, include your relevant accomplishemnts when volunteering, interning, and/or earning a degree or certification.
Quantify each accomplishment, if possible.
For example, did you reduce expenses, increase productivity or revenue, or have some other measurable financial impact?
Quantify the size of the result with an amount or percent of improvement that resulted from your actions, like:
- Increased revenue/sales
- Increased profit
- Reduced cost/expenses
- Reduced time needed
- Reduction in required resources (people, vehicles, boxes, whatever is appropriate), or some other benefit to your employer or the customer(s) / client(s).
Don’t forget the less obvious accomplishments that may be more difficult to quantify:
- Improved a process to reduce wasted time or rework or to improve efficiency.
- Created or improved a program that gave the company high recognition in its industry (as an expert in something or new way of doing things, etc.).
In other words, some achievements are hard to quantify in dollars, but may be very valuable in the long run.
Choose the accomplishments most relevant to the job you are interviewing for.
Analyze the job description (using “the checklist“) and other information you can find about the employer. Which of your accomplishments fit best with this job and this employer?
The relevancy of an accomplishment might even be determined by looking the target company’s past achievements (in press releases or Google) or even the group manager/director’s past achievements. What does the leader of the group consider valuable? It may be similar to something they did in the past (even somewhere else).
Use the S-T-A-R format (the Situation you faced, the Task required, the Action you took, and the successful Result of your action) to describe your accomplishment.
Highlight both your relevant “soft skills” (leadership, conflict resolution, decision making, etc.) and your relevant “hard skills” (computer technologies, project management, languages, etc) in your Action descriptions.
Read Job Interview Success Secret: Your Relevant Stories for how to showcase your soft skills in your answers to job interview questions like this one.
Write Out Your Accomplishments
Once you have your list of accomplishments, the best way to ensure a good description is to write them down, carefully and completely.
Don’t skip this step!
The act of writing down your accomplishments before the interview helps you remember them in detail and can assist you in determining the most effective way to describe them.
Be factual and truthful!
These accomplishments may be verified in calls to your references or other fact checking.
Don’t ramble for ten minutes (or even five minutes) describing an accomplishment. Don’t include irrelevant details. Two minutes is the absolute maximum.
Renenber the interviewer’s goal (what have you done that they can leverage, too?). Share only the aspects of your accomplishment that are of interest to the listener — and not boring.
If they have questions about your accomplishment, they will probably ask them.
If you have shared this accomplishment on LinkedIn, in your resume or application, or in another public venue, be sure that the details match up — the employer, your job, the dates/timeframe, the problem, your action, and the results. Discrepancies can be deadly (fake accomplishment?).
If you share this accomplishment with more than one interviewer in separate interviews, be sure that the details of your accomplishment remain the same. In the who-should-we-hire meetings (behind closed doors, after your interview), the interviewers will probably compare notes on how you answered the questions.
Confirm a strength you have.
You may have already been asked what your “greatest strength” is (or that may be the next question), so the best strategy is to connect your greatest accomplishment to that strength.
Be respectful of your current, or previous, employer’s “confidential” information.
Revealing something to a competitor may make the competitor happy (like the profit margin on a product or service), but it will also likely mark you as someone who cannot be trusted (and who won’t be hired).
Practice answering this question, preferably responding to a friend asking you this question in a mock interview. Your goal: get comfortable discussing your accomplishments.
I was reminded how important this question is when I overheard a job interview in a local restaurant while having lunch. The restaurant manager was interviewing a job candidate at a table in the center of the busy dining area, and this question was one that clearly took the job candidate by surprise.
I’m sure that having a job interview with strangers listening added to this job seeker’s tension, but I suspect that the answer he gave didn’t help his candidacy. His greatest achievement was associated with winning the silver medal in a regional ski race when he was in high school. While the interviewer didn’t specify greatest professional achievement as a baker, they were not hiring him to ski for them.
Don’t memorize your answers. Just be familiar with your possible answers so you are well-prepared.
Sample Answers: The Greatest Achievement Question
The greatest achievement question may be asked at different points in the hiring and interview process by interviewers at many different levels.
Depending on where you are in your career, these are examples of answers to this question:
New graduate interviewing for an entry-level marketing job –
So far, my greatest accomplishment was earning my Bachelor’s degree in marketing while working in a customer support job that resulted in increased customer satisfaction, sales, and profitability.
[Situation:] To avoid graduating college with an enormous loan to pay off,
[Task:] I worked 20 to 30 hours a week while attending school full time.
[Action:] While studing and attending classes, my job was helping [employer name] customers resolve problems getting their service established. That involved both helping unhappy or confused customers through phone calls and also writing and re-writing the user documentation to help all customers understand how to use our service. I also helped the engineering team learn the main causes of customer confusion.
[Result:] I graduated in 4 years with a GPA of [whatever] and without debt. I learned the importance of setting clear goals and working consistently toward those goals. I also learned positive impact on customer satisfaction as well as sales and profitability when customer documentation is clear and carefully-written, enabling customers to easily set up their service without help from the company. In my last year of work there, customer satisfaction for the service had increased by over 11% and sales and profitability had both increased by over 8%.
Read How to Improve Your GPA After Graduation for honest ways to present it as positively as possible.
Experienced professional interviewing for a website management position –
I have had many achievements in my career, but a recent one that is most relevant to this position is…
[Situation:] We discovered that our website was much less visible to potential clients than our top three competitors’ websites. This was very discouraging although it did give us insight into why our sales were dropping.
[Task:] We needed to improve our website’s content, pay attention to SEO and social media,, and consider purchasing online ads.
[Action:] I lead the business development project which focused on increasing online visibility. Working with HR and an SEO consulting firm, we developed a plan to update the site design and add two permanent staff members – one focused on adding solid content to our website and keeping the content up-to-date and the other focused on building our visibility in social media like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
[Result:] With the help of the SEO firm and the new staff members, we improved our site’s Alexa.com ranking from over 14,000,000 in the world to 800,000. In case you aren’t familiar with Alexa rankings, the lower number is, the better the rank. Google is number 1. YouTube is number 2, and Facebook is number 7. Most websites are over 1,000,000.
We accomplished this dramatic improvement in less than twelve months by leveraging a project management tool I brought to the company. The result was tens of thousands more visitors per month. Sales have recovered and improved substantially. As a result, we just expanded the web marketing team to include an analyst focused on keeping us up-to-date with SEO. Last month, our CEO sent out a message to the whole company highlighting our success and announcing that she is planning to add more staff to meet the increase in sales.
Have another accomplishment ready to share. More accomplishments are better, particularly as you proceed through a series of interviews inside the same company.
The Bottom Line
Consider this question an invitation to do some bragging about what you have achieved in your career that can benefit this new employer. Like the greatest-strength question, this question provides you with a personal marketing opportunity. Share accomplishments that demonstrate what a good fit you are for this employer and job.