What Is Your Greatest Achievement?

While this question is not asked as often as some others are, you’ll still see it in interviews, especially when applying for jobs that don’t typically have quantifiable goals.

Ask this question of a candidate for a sales position, and you’ll probably hear how she greatly exceeded sales quota one year, which is a reasonable answer, which is why it’s rarely asked of sales candidates.

Hiring managers don’t ask this question just to hear of your career successes; they want to understand what you consider a success; what are your values and priorities. But, don’t be fooled by that simple explanation. Unless you tie that success back to your candidacy, you may make a friend, but you won’t land the job.

For example, ask any parent about their greatest successs, and you’ll very likely hear a story about something their child accomplished.

But, if you tweak the question to read “What is your greatest achievement that would make me want to hire you,” which is really what the hiring manager is asking, you would get a much different answer. This is a job interview, not a beer with your buddy at the local sports bar, answer the question as you would if you wanted to be hired.

Your values and priorities should be focused on getting the job offer, and your answer to this question should reflect that.

What Not to Say

It is much easier to blow this opportunity with a bad answer to the question than it is to win the job by knocking it out of the park with your answer.

So, let’s start by preventing you from shooting yourself in the foot:

1.Don’t repeat a statistic from your resume. The hiring manager has your resume. This is an opportunity to show him something new about you. That’s not to say that your accomplishment can’t relate to a success stated in your resume; it just can’t be so one-dimensional. The success should involve your skills and experience; but, it should have also included personal initiative and going above and beyond what was required of you.

2. Your answer should not reflect overcoming a personal struggle or moral dilemma. Remember: focus on the job opportunity and what you can say that will improve your chances of getting the offer. While it may be tempting to gloat over a few personal challenges you overcame, remember this will add no value to the situation at hand and the fact that the challenges were personal means you may not give a balanced presentation of facts. You may get all too sentimental and lose the entire focus of your purpose.

3. Stop short of arrogance or making yourself look good at the expense of others. You want to project the image of a team player who makes everyone around him better. Even if an achievement would be utterly attributed to you, desist from claiming personal credit for it.

4. Keep it short. Again, this question is used to eliminate candidates more than it’s used to advance them. Be prepared to answer with a solid response that you can explain in a couple of minutes at the most.

While practicing to perfect your answer, I strongly suggest you work on your written essay answers as well. Some companies are known to ask this question in their online tests. Uber is one of those companies. Uber’s test extensively covers both analytics and essay type questions.

Prepare for Success

You should have an answer to this question already prepared before you arrive for the interview.

The question is not so different from several others that are routinely asked that it requires a lot of additional thought. “Why should we hire you?” “Tell me about yourself” “What is your greatest strength?” and several others all require the same basic preparation – identifying the qualifications that are most important to the employer, mapping your skills and experience to those qualifications, and then choosing relevant success stories that illustrate how you are the best candidate with respect to each qualification. Create that qualification-skill/experience-success map once, and then simply cite the stories during the interview that are appropriate for each question.

You should also practice answering the question so that you can speak naturally and easily in front of the hiring manager.

He also wants to see how you think on your feet, and if your response sounds nervous or to the other extreme, memorized and canned, he could conclude that you don’t handle pressure well.

Answer the Question

With your preparation completed, you’re now ready to answer this seemingly simple question. Here’s how:

  1. Don’t respond too quickly. Again, you don’t want to appear to have memorized an answer. You also want to appear to think through your answer – maybe you have so many accomplishments that it’s hard to choose the greatest. It shouldn’t take long, certainly no more than 10 seconds, but you shouldn’t blurt out the answer as soon as he asks it either.
  1. Set up the story if required. Think of it like telling a joke – don’t reveal everything too early; build it up and then knock him over with the punch line. You want to grab his attention and hold it, then maximize the effect of the story by having a surprise ending – if possible.
  2. Tie it back to the job responsibilities. The success story sells your candidacy, not you personally.
  1. Quantify the success. You weren’t just the “top producer,” you “had the highest percentage of quota in the company at 145%.”
  2. Include team members rather than excluding them if applicable. If you had to overcome weaknesses of your team to succeed, don’t mention it.
  3. Speak confidently and without hesitation. You may have paused to consider the question, but once you decided on the answer, tell the story in a clear and concise manner.
  4. Avoid arrogance. You can even be humble. The bigger the accomplishment, the more humble you become. Let the accomplishment speak for itself; however, don’t understate the accomplishment. Act like you have more great accomplishments to come; that you consider great accomplishments to be mandatory.

Confirm and Close

You’ve said it. The Big Elephant of your Greatest Accomplishment is standing there beside you in the interview. Don’t ignore it. Ask the hiring manager what he thinks of it. Ask whether there are opportunities for even greater success in the open position. If he engages your inquiries, say “Great, let’s talk about how I can succeed for your company.” Now, the interview progresses with a presumptive bias toward your candidacy, such that you can answer the questions that follow from the perspective of your future employment. It’s a powerful psychological advantage that plants a seed in the managers’ mind.