‘What is your greatest accomplishment?’ is one of the most challenging and common questions you can expect during a job interview.
Your answer says A LOT about you as a candidate.
And oftentimes, the question can distinguish the ‘perfect’ candidate from an ‘OK’ one.
Wondering how to answer the question modestly (while at the same time, showing off how awesome you are)?
- Why interviewers ask the “What is your greatest achievement?” job interview question
- How to reply with the perfect answer using the STAR method
- 3+ “What is your greatest achievement” sample answers
Why Interviewers Ask “What Is Your Greatest Accomplishment?”
Let’s start with the basics: what’s the point of this job interview question?
When asking this question, the interviewer wants to learn 3 things:
- If you’re down to earth. If you brag endlessly about your accomplishment (especially if the achievements aren’t that impressive), the interviewer will think that you’re not the most pleasant person to work with.
- What YOU think is success, and how you associate it with your job and career. If you’re applying for a job as an accountant and your greatest achievement is baking the best cake ever at your office party, you’re not making the cut.
- If you’re success-oriented and if you’ve gone above and beyond in your work. E.g. If your greatest accomplishment is that you were always on time and left work on the dot at 5 pm, you’re not it. That’s not an achievement - that’s a minimum job requirement.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about how to answer this question.
How to Pick the Perfect Answer with the STAR Method
“What’s your greatest accomplishment?” is a behavioral job interview question.
What that means is, the interviewer wants to understand your past performance, and how you handle specific situations (for example, under pressure).
To answer just about any behavioral job interview question right, we recommend using the STAR method.
The main idea here behind the STAR method is that every answer should cover the following topics:
- (S) Situation - Describe the situation and the context in which the event took place.
- (T) Task - Talk about the tasks you had to complete (i.e. your challenge or responsibility).
- (A) Action - Explain the actions you took to address the above-mentioned challenges or responsibilities.
- (R) Results - Explain the kind of results you achieved. When describing the outcome, if possible, mention numbers and quantifiable facts. E.g. “Improved cold lead response time by 20%” VS “Improved sales.”
Now, let’s take a well-written behavioral job interview answer using the STAR method
Behavioral Interview Question:
“What is a professional achievement you’re most proud of?”
Situation - “Well, my last role was as a manager at a seasonal restaurant in Nantucket. Out of the 4 months I spent there, 3 of them were a total nightmare. The restaurant was completely packed 90%+ of the time, and we barely had any breathing room.”
Task – “We had to be very efficient at work to make sure that we wouldn’t get overwhelmed.”
Action - “The most important part of making this work was being proactive. If we had just rolled with the punches and focused on putting out fires, the whole thing would’ve turned into a mess real fast. At the beginning of the summer, I created a very strict shift schedule, which we adhered to 100%. I also started a reward system - if someone called in sick, you’d get rewarded if you filled in for them. In case no one was available, I personally filled in for them.”
Results - “Overall, the summer went pretty well with minimal incidents. 99%+ of the customers were happy, and we didn’t receive a single bad review.“
See what’s done right?
The whole story follows the STAR method down to the T.
It uses numbers and data to describe the context and shows relevance.
Now, your answer is obviously going to vary depending on your background and where you are in your career right now.
So, to help you learn how to answer behavioral job interview questions better, we’re going to cover 3 more examples and sample answers below:
- Greatest achievement sample answer for mid-level professionals
- Greatest achievement sample answer for fresh graduates
- Greatest achievement sample answer for the service industry
So, read on!
Other common behavioral interview questions include:
- Give me an example of a time you faced a conflict while working in a team. What happened and how did you handle it?
- Have you ever failed to meet a client’s expectations? What happened, and how did you attempt to rectify the situation?
- Tell me about a time where you set a specific goal for yourself. How did you ensure that you would meet your objective?
Check out even more common interview questions, and sample answers here: 35+ Common Interview Questions and Answers.
3+ ‘What’s Your Greatest accomplishment’ Sample Answers
Are you a mid-level professional in your field?
Your answer could look something like the following:
“What is Your Greatest Accomplishment” Sample Answer for Mid-Level Professionals
Situation - “I think my greatest accomplishment was during my last job as an HR administrator. The hiring department had difficulty locating specific files and managing documents, especially during busy periods, and this ate up too much time.”
Task – “So, I thought there was room for improvement with employee file management. I wanted to increase productivity and efficiency, and in the end, save time spent on looking for documents.”
Action - “I decided to take initiative and implement a new team HR document management software. One that could also centralize file management within the department, streamline onboarding, and also help with other small tasks (like bulk document importing, automated backfile conversions and so on).”
Results - “In the end, our timesheets indicated that the time spent looking for files and documents had been reduced by 5-10 hours. There was no more lag-time between sharing documents with HR, Payroll, and supervisors. Each team or individual could instantly access the files they needed in one HR filing system, and increase their overall productivity.”
This answer is good because it:
- Shows relevance to the specific workplace.
- Shows resourcefulness, teamwork, and leadership qualities.
- Shows how the project was successful in the end.
Are you wondering what are some other accomplishments you can mention during your interview? Check out our full guide on achievements here: 100+ Achievements to Write in Your Resume [2023 Examples]
“What is Your Greatest accomplishment” Sample Answer for Fresh Graduates
Recently graduated college with not much work experience to speak of?
Let’s take a look at another sample answer.
Situation - “Well, as a recent graduate of XYZ University, I think my greatest achievement was what I managed to accomplish during my time there. My scholarship only covered half of the tuition, and my family was unable to support me financially. I also wanted to gain some work experience during my time there, so that I could start working directly after graduating.”
Task - “So, I learned early on that I had to manage my time down to the hour in order to be efficient and on top of everything.”
Action - “Through hard work and dedication, I managed to balance studying, working part-time, and even volunteering to gain some experience. It was tiring at times, but I scheduled pretty much everything I had to do in my personal calendar. I needed to know my list of tasks, when each was due, and how long they would take. This way, I never missed a deadline, assignment or any other responsibility.”
Results - “In the end, I graduated with a GPA of 3.8, almost no student loans, and also interned as the university social media assistant during my last 2 semesters. There, I also learned a lot about marketing, how to communicate with our followers, and managed to organize the biggest university event where up to 300 students showed up.”
Here’s what’s done right:
- Sets the scene and what the challenge was straightaway.
- It’s relevant to a fresh graduate who might not have a lot of work experience.
- Says a lot about the candidate’s values (i.e. education, discipline, etc.).
Wondering what a job-winning resume might look like as a recent graduate? Check out our full guide on the topic here: Student & Graduate Resume Guide & Sample [Plus 10 Skills for Savvy Job-hunters]
“What is Your Greatest accomplishment” Sample Answer for the Service Industry
Work in the service industry?
Here’s what your greatest achievement might sound like.
Situation - “My biggest achievement was during my internship as a customer support representative at Company X. I was the first custom support intern there, so I didn’t have a lot to go off of and had to learn a lot by myself. A lot of it was fast-paced too, and at first, I wasn’t even sure if I was doing things right.”
Task - “I felt out of place and I had to think fast if I wanted to move up in the company. I wanted to improve, and a lot of the other employees were often too busy to help me out. So, I didn’t really have a lot of instructions…”
Action - “I decided to start learning as much as I could about our product (a social media automation tool) by talking with the other employees when I could, and reading up on everything I could get my hands on that was related to the product. After a while, I started noticing a trend with the questions I was getting from our customers. First, I decided to create a document of the Frequently Asked Questions I was getting, for personal use. This saved me a lot of time, and eventually, the document got repurposed to its own web page. Over the following year, I got promoted to the Customer Support Team Lead, and helped with scaling up the overall customer service efforts (consulted with hiring, training new reps, communicating issues and questions with the product, and so on).
Results - “In the end, we managed to decrease the average monthly ticket count by around 25%.
Looking for a job-winning customer service resume you could use as inspiration? Read the full guide here: Customer Service Resume - Examples & Guide
So, let’s recap.
“What’s your greatest accomplishment?” might sound like an awfully complicated question.
But it’s not.
It’s the perfect example of a behavioral job interview question, and as a refresher, here’s what you need to know when answering:
- When asking this question, the HR manager wants to learn about your professional and personal sides. The perfect answer here can set the ‘perfect’ candidate apart from an “OK” one.
- Interviewers look for insights and examples from your answer. There’s a difference between taking pride in your work and bragging about your achievements. So, make sure to use examples and describe your thought process when answering.
- Make sure you sound down to earth, and think how your reply reflects your approach to success and working hard.
- To structure your answer, we recommend using the STAR METHOD. Ideally, your answer should include the following topics: S - Situation, T - Task, A - Action, R - Results.
- And finally, if you’re looking for inspiration, you can always consult the examples above to see what good answers look like.
We've got a lot more example answers for the most common interview questions:
- 35+ Interview Questions and Answers [Full List]
- 21+ Behavioral Interview Questions
- 19+ STAR Interview Questions - Complete List
- 10+ Situational Interview Questions & Answers [Complete List]
- Why Do You Want to Work Here?
- Why Should We Hire You?
- Tell Me About Yourself
- Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?
- What Are Your Career Goals?
- What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?
- What Is Your Greatest Strength?
If you want to read up on interview tips instead, check out our in-depth guides here and ace your next interview: