TAO Self-help

Title:Job Interview Question: Describe Your Greatest Accomplishment

Author:Susan P. Joyce, © 2015 All rights reserved

Date:March 2015


This question may also be phrased as "What's your greatest achievement?" and sometimes they may want more than one accomplishment/achievement. So, be prepared for "What are your 2 (or 3 or more) greatest accomplishments?"

The Extra Benefit of Preparing Your Answer
Preparing to answer this job interview question should help you improve the effectiveness of your resume and LinkedIn profile, too. These days, your LinkedIn profile and the resumes you submit to employers should be focused on your accomplishments (preferably quantified). So, should your answer to this job interview question.

If you haven't added your accomplishments to your resume, now is the time think of as many of your accomplishments as possible, replacing those lists of "responsible-for" items.

[More info: Avoid the Resume Black Hole: Resume Customization Cheat Sheet.]

How to Prepare Effectively
Sometimes writing down your accomplishments before the interview helps you remember them and can assist you in determining the most effective way to describe them. But, don't memorize your answers. Just be familiar with your possible answers so you are well-prepared.

I was reminded how important this question is when I overheard a job interview in my local Panera Bread 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, and — while the interviewer didn't specify greatest professional achievement as a baker — they were not hiring him to ski for them.

What the Interviewer Wants to Hear
Having asked — and been asked — this question many times, I know many of the mistakes that can be made. This is an easy question to fail.

The good news is that this question is an invitation to brag about something you have done, maybe several things. They want to hear how great you are, and how hiring you might benefit them. They also want to understand what you view as an accomplishment.


  • Your "fit" for their job.

    Your experience in this field: handling the important issues, successfully doing the tasks required, making smart decisions, collecting and using data, finding new customers, keeping customers happy, and/or the "transferable skills" you have that will make you a good fit for the job. (Quantified, whenever possible, of course.)

  • Official awards or recognition.

    Maybe you were employee or salesperson of the week (month or year), were top student in some relevant training, or won some award, preferably one that is relevant to the job.

  • Your intelligence, applied to your work.

    How you improved a process, a product, or a situation that showcases how hiring you might improve something. Maybe you figured out how to improve a report so that the information was more useful, or you discovered how to recycle something that resulted in reduced expenses. (Quantified, of course.)

  • Your understanding of the work.

    Describe an event or other situation where you did something that demonstrates your understanding of either (or both) the "big picture" and/or the details that knowledgeable people understand about process or a product. (Again, quantified as much as possible!)

  • Your ability to be a solid team player or smart team leader.

    Explain how you provided excellent support to your manager or other employees in a stressful situation.

  • Any other accomplishment that is relevant.

Is winning a skiing race relevant — perhaps fitness is a major requirement so the answer could be yes. But, do you have an accomplishment that would be more impressive (more relevant) to the employer?

[More info: Job Interview Question: Why Should We Hire You?]

What the Interviewer Doesn't Want to Hear
The bad news (maybe) is that what you brag about must be relevant — in some way — to the job they are trying to fill. Unless the question specifically asks for your greatest accomplishment outside of work or your greatest personal accomplishment, focus on something that demonstrates you can do this job.

  • Don't trash anyone.

    It's a bad idea to try making yourself look good at the expense of someone else.

  • Don't be funny/silly/cute.

    Unless the job requires a very good sense of humor, don't try to be funny.

  • Don't be irrelevant.

    Unless specifically asked to describe something unrelated to your job, stick to accomplishments that are relevant to the job you are seeking.

  • Don't be personal (unless asked for a personal response).

Put yourself in the interviewer's or employer's shoes, which of your accomplishments would be the most meaningful for someone filling the job you are interviewing for.

Connect Your Job Interview Answer with Your Job Search Documents
Take this question as an opportunity to draw attention to your resume and LinkedIn profile. You may be asked to explain more about them by the interviewer. But, even if you are not asked, provide a more complete (and flattering) description of those accomplishments in your job interview. Connect those dots for the employer, and emphasize your qualifications for the job.

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff "graduate" who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased WorkCoachCafe.com, and Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then. Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org, is a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a columnist on HuffingtonPost. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.

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