This article is part of our continuing series on how to answer the most common behavioral interview questions.
We will address the common interview question “What is your greatest accomplishment?” and guide you through the steps of crafting an exceptional answer to it. Read on!
What is your greatest accomplishment?
If your interviewer asks you this question, consider yourself lucky. It is the perfect opportunity to talk about your most impressive achievements. Unfortunately, most candidates waste this wonderful opportunity because they are not prepared and/or don’t feel comfortable “bragging.”
Most people don’t have a lot of practice talking about their greatest accomplishments.
If you are an introvert or a bit on the modest side, this can feel very challenging. You may even have been taught that it is rude or obnoxious to brag about your achievements.
What might come across as obnoxious at a cocktail party, however, is perfectly acceptable and welcomed in a job interview.
You can’t rely on the interviewer to read between the lines or notice how great you are from just your resume and a little chit chat.
On the other hand, you don’t want to come across as full of yourself, entitled, or rude.
You can easily avoid this by preparing in advance so that you will feel comfortable talking about yourself and your work in a positive, natural way that conveys confidence, but not cockiness.
How do you do this? We are here to show you the approach that has worked for so many of our coaching clients and Big Interview subscribers.
First, let’s take a little trip into the mind of the interviewer to understand their perspective.
If an interviewer asks you about your greatest accomplishment(s), that means they really want to know what sets you apart from other qualified candidates, to get a better sense of what you’ve done and what you value.
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In fact, every hiring manager wants this information even if they don’t know enough to ask you about your greatest accomplishment. Interviewing is not a lot of fun for them. They are in the room because they want to find the best candidate. You can make it a lot easier for them by cutting to the chase and leading with your strongest achievement.
Identifying your greatest accomplishments and creating concise interview stories about each of them is a good place to start.
This way, you will prepare great answers for this behavioral interview question and also develop a comfort level talking about your achievements in general (which will also help you in many other parts of the interview).
The Importance of Behavioral Interview Questions
“What is your greatest accomplishment?” is a behavioral interview question.
Some variations include:
- “What are you most proud of?”
- “What is your greatest achievement?”
- “What were the biggest wins in your most recent role?”
- “Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty.”
- “What accomplishment are you most proud of?”
Before we dive into how to answer this particular question and talk about your greatest accomplishments, here is a quick refresher on the concept of behavioral interview questions:
Behavioral interview questions are the ones that ask you for specific examples of past work experiences. The ones that start with “Tell me about a time when you…” or “Give me an example of…”
The reason why interviewers ask these questions is to understand past job performance and predict how a candidate would approach the job if hired.
Job interviewing is an imperfect process. It is impossible to truly know who is the best candidate after just a couple of conversations. However, interviewers and candidates do the best they can with the best process they have.
For interviewers, asking behavioral interview questions is the most reliable way to get a sense of who the candidate is and how they approach their work.
For candidates, strong answers to behavioral questions allow them to stand out from the pack and highlight their best qualities.
BONUS: Here’s a lesson on answering behavioral interview questions in general.
Your Greatest Accomplishments =
Your Greatest Selling Points
With a question about your proudest or greatest accomplishment(s), the interviewer is giving you the opportunity to choose a story you want to highlight in the interview. You are not being limited to talking about teamwork or leadership or even necessarily a work accomplishment at all.
This puts some power in your hands to influence how the interviewer sees you, so you want to be prepared.
The example that you choose will say a lot about you. First, it will give clues about what you value most. Were you most proud of closing a huge deal or building a great team? This will help indicate if you are a good fit for the job and the culture.
Your answer will also help them envision you at your best. This is why it is important not to choose an underwhelming example and to prepare how you tell the story to make sure you emphasize your best thinking and contributions.
In teaching you how to prepare to answer behavioral interview questions about achievements and accomplishments, we are also going to give you our approach to coming up with a whole set of stories that you can adapt for different questions.
The “Greatest Hits” Approach
Our expert interview coach, Pamela Skillings, always asks “What is your greatest accomplishment?” (or a variation) in her first practice interview with an interview coaching client. “This helps me get an immediate sense of what they think is their BEST story,” she says.
This matters because storytelling is a truly powerful tool in an interview. We recommend that everyone have a set of 3-5 great stories prepared (more if you know the interview will be heavily behavioral-based as in many organizations).
Surprisingly, many bright and accomplished candidates fail to spend enough time strategizing about which examples to highlight in their interviews and how.
This is usually for one or more of the following reasons:
- They are good communicators so they think their stories will just flow naturally in conversation. The problem here is that an interview is not a typical conversation and going with the flow usually leads to weak examples (the one that comes to mind in the moment is not the best one, or they can not remember all of the details, or they get caught up in a long-winded answer)
- They don’t feel comfortable “bragging,” they have good stories, but they don’t tell them in a memorable and compelling way (usually either too general or too long-winded).
- They get overwhelmed trying to figure out what behavioral questions to prepare for, how much detail they should include, what makes a good story, etc.
We recommend that candidates start preparing their answers about their greatest accomplishments by identifying at least 3 of their “greatest hits” stories. Your “greatest hits” are your most impressive, interesting, and relevant accomplishments.
A good greatest hit story can be used in a variety of different ways and to answer different behavioral questions. For example, one story about a successful project could be used to demonstrate leadership, problem-solving, or the ability to deal with conflict.
Your GREATEST greatest hit story is the one that you want to use for a question about your proudest achievement. Choose the story that you think best represents why you would be a great fit for the position.
If you have a set of 3-5 greatest hits stories, you can adapt for different opportunities and lead with the one most relevant for each job description.
Keep in mind that we do not advocate writing out a story and memorizing it word-for-word. As always, we recommend the STAR approach for outlining your story. The STAR framework will help you focus on the key details so you can tell a story about your greatest accomplishments that is authentic, memorable, and concise.
The goal is to write out a few bullet points for each of the key aspects of your story (Situation/Task, Approach, and Results). This lets you focus on your key themes without being too scripted.
Note: Big Interview has more information on structuring powerful STAR stories — and our Answer Builder tool will walk you through the process quickly and easily. Start using it today.
Watch this brief video to learn a little more about Big Interview, and then take a quick look at the step-by-step interview preparation system we’ve developed to get you ready for your interview.
“Tell me about your greatest accomplishment.”
Let’s take a look at an example that shows how the STAR format can be used to tell a story about your greatest achievement.
Start by providing a brief overview of the project and/or situation. Limit it to just enough background to provide context and help your interviewer understand the difficulty and importance.
Example Situation/Task Bullet
- My department is responsible for managing the training and orientation program that is required for all new hires.
- Unfortunately, a lot of the content was a bit dry when I started.
- It was necessary information for people to have and the training was required, but we had a real problem with people not completing the training — and the course evaluations were pretty negative.
Expert Interview Coach Notes
This is a nice concise set-up describing the problem and its importance to the organization.
Once you have outlined the problem/situation/task, it is time to walk through your key actions and the competencies you demonstrated.
Example Approach Bullets
- Well, I decided to make it my mission to make the program more engaging and valuable.
- I presented my idea to my managers and they gave me the go-ahead so I started by analyzing all of the evaluations over the last few years to understand what people found valuable and where we were losing them.
- As a result, I was able to restructure the agenda to make the whole program more engaging and interactive.
- We added exercises and switched the order around to avoid long stretches of dry topics.
- We also added a game aspect that really encouraged people to stay involved and complete the entire program.
Expert Interview Coach Notes
In just a few bullet points, this candidate demonstrates a number of attractive competencies: initiative, presentation skills, analytical thinking, creativity.
Note also the use of both “I” and “we” – this candidate does not shy away from taking credit for her individual contribution, but also makes it clear she worked well on a team.
Finally, it is essential that a good STAR interview story always includes a successful conclusion. The last part of your answer should describe the positive outcome(s) of your approach. Concrete results are always especially impressive (increased sales by 32%, cut the budget in half), but anecdotal results can also be powerful.
For example: My client was thrilled. My manager gave me a glowing performance review.
Example Results Bullet Points
- I’m very proud of the fact that the new and improved program is earning rave reviews — with 92% of participants rating it as “very valuable,” compared to just 24% who rated the previous version that way.”
- My manager was very pleased and promoted me to lead a high-profile training project in our London office.
Expert Interview Coach Notes: Nice and concrete details showing results, focus, and pride in a job well done. The manager’s endorsement and promotion make the accomplishment even more impressive.
More Tips for Answering Questions About Your Greatest Accomplishments
1) Lead with Your Strongest Examples
Don’t be shy. Be proactive about making sure your best stories get told. You want to leave that interview feeling like you said everything you could to show that you are the best candidate.
2) Be Specific
Don’t fall back on a generic project overview. To be memorable, you need to provide enough detail to give the hiring manager a sense of who you are and how you approach your work. Don’t rush through and leave out the most interesting details.
Remember that good stories give you an opportunity to connect with your interviewer. Give them some details that they can relate to.
3) Be Concise
It is so easy to ramble on if you haven’t prepared your stories in advance. Outlining with the STAR method helps you identify the most important details so your story stays focused and interesting.
4) Practice, practice, practice!
Do not skip the practice. We know it can be tedious, but it works. We have seen the magic firsthand with our coaching clients and Big Interview users – especially when it comes to behavioral interview questions.
Are You Doing Your Greatest Accomplishments Justice?
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