The question about greatest achievement makes an appearance in interviews on a regular basis. Like many other questions, knowing the motivation behind it is helpful when it comes to formulating a response.
What do interviewers really want?
In the literal sense, yes, they want to see what you’ve accomplished. But there is far more to this question (in my humble opinion, at least). What you choose to share with them says a great deal about you as a prospective employee.
Your definition of a “great accomplishment”
This answer gives insight as to what your idea of greatness is. Your achievement should show a combination of things: technical skills/qualifications, work ethic, ability to deliver, etc. It’s a moment where you can really show (instead of tell) the interviewer the caliber of candidate you are. It can be a very persuasive moment. Realize that this answer is going to change quite a bit over the course of your career. Also, you sometimes have to explain the details in order to paint the picture.
In my early interviews, I would often talk about how I graduated from college on time, which seems underwhelming and very under-achieving of me. Knowing how weak this sounded, I made sure to mention all the challenges that stood in my way. I had transferred schools and lost credits, worked 30-40 hours per week the whole time, and took a semester off. Point being, I fell massively behind in my credits. And worse, my work schedule made it nearly impossible to take on extra courses during the academic year.
To make this accomplishment happen, I took heavy doses of summer classes and winter-term courses. I stayed focused and kept my nose to the grindstone. In any event, my point was to showcase determination, perseverance, and work ethic. Since I had little more than customer service and food service experience at that point in my life, I felt those were the soft skills (a term that didn’t yet exist) I should highlight. For the most part, it worked quite well.
Your achievement should be recent
With all that said, I would not be able to use that response now, nearly 15 years later. These days, I would use our website project as a greatest accomplishment. But again, that may not seem impressive. After all, it’s my job to do these things. How can just doing my job become a great achievement? To paint the picture, I would again explain the challenges in the process. It was also a nice touch that the website ended up winning an award. However, an achievement doesn’t need to win an award in order to be considered an achievement.
Think of a collections rep who finds and collects $25,000 in invoices that slipped through the cracks and never got sent. There might not be an award involved, but that would be one heck of an achievement.
Written by Adam Lafield, Recruiter & Marketing Specialist