How To Answer “What Is Your Greatest Achievement?”

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published September 29, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Related: Top 6 Common Interview Questions and Answers

Jenn, an Indeed Career Coach, breaks down the intentions behind employer's questions and shares strategies for crafting strong responses.

Interviewers formulate particular questions to determine the skills, qualifications, and professional accomplishments of job applicants. "What is your greatest achievement?" is a common interview question that helps an employer determine if you've accomplished anything noteworthy that supports your skill set. Understanding why employers ask this question and how to answer it can help you succeed in your next interview. In this article, we explain the question, methods for answering, and provide some helpful examples of answers.

Why do interviewers ask, "what is your greatest achievement?"

Asking "what is your greatest achievement?" helps employers determine a few key things about you and your work ethic. When you apply for a new job, you're essentially a stranger to the organization, so employers use creative questions like this one to explore more about your background. Asking about your greatest achievement can help an employer determine:

  • Your professional accomplishments: Professional accomplishments can help lend credibility to your skills, experience, and qualifications for the job. For example, if you received an award for excellence in design for your last digital design, an employer could verify that you have design skills.

  • Your commitment to work: The greatest achievement question helps employers determine your work ethic and commitment to growing in your profession. For example, a doctor who finds a cure for a rare disease shows their commitment to the job and the hard work of developing a cure.

  • Your qualifications: Some accomplishments help employers establish whether you're qualified for the position you're seeking. For example, if your greatest achievement is reviving a company from bankruptcy, an employer can determine your fitness for a CEO position.

  • Your personal values: Personal achievements can also display your most positive personal values, which may make you a better fit for the company's internal culture. For example, if you achieve a patent for a new tracking technology for supply chains, an employer can verify that one of your values is innovation.

Related: 17 Interview Tips To Help You Get the Job

How to answer, “What is your greatest accomplishment?”

To answer this interview question, it is important that you prepare an outline, so you're comfortable answering it during your interview. Here are steps you can take to prepare a good answer:

1. Make a list of your accomplishments

Put together two to three stories that you feel represent your best work related to the position you're applying for. These examples can be stories that showcase your most interesting and impressive accomplishments. It's a good idea to think of more than one example so you can tailor your story to different interviews. Plus, if you have more than one example ready, you can be prepared when the interviewer asks you to discuss your additional accomplishments.

If you're having trouble thinking of impressive achievements, consider times someone complimented or recognized your work. Think of ways you have made an impact in your previous positions, such as making it possible for a task to be completed faster or with fewer people, saving the company money, or increasing revenue in some way. If you have received a recent promotion, think of why your previous or current employer chose to promote you.

2. Review the job description

To make your answer relevant to the interviewer and company, you can review the job description and research the company. This can help you select an accomplishment that demonstrates the skills and qualities the employer is seeking. For example, if you're applying for a CEO position, look at your previous accomplishments as a CEO and decide which of them best embodies your commitment to leadership and innovation. If the company values honesty and teamwork, think of a different accomplishment as CEO that embodies these values. Matching your accomplishments with the company's values and desired skills can increase your chances of getting hired because you become more relatable.

3. Be humble

It's important to maintain humility when discussing your greatest accomplishments to ensure you impress the employer. Humility can help make you more relatable to your prospective employer and shows self-awareness. This can make you a more desirable hire. Discuss your greatest achievement from the perspective of someone that doesn't know you well. Include the necessary details, why you feel it's your greatest achievement, and how you plan to use the lessons it taught you in the future.

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How to follow the STAR approach

The STAR approach can allow you to focus on the key details of your accomplishment and create a story for your interviewer that's memorable and concise. STAR stands for situation, task, approach, and result. Here's how to use the STAR method:

1. Describe the situation

In the first part of your answer, briefly provide some context that sets up your accomplishment. This often describes a certain issue you, your team, or your company is experiencing. You can include the details of your position at the time and any environmental factors that aided in your accomplishment.

Example: “In my marketing internship at a software company, the team spent several hours each month organizing budget sheets under my supervision."

2. Explain the task

Explain your role within the situation. Focus on skills that you might apply in the position you're seeking. This could include the tasks you are responsible for, the role you played, or certain skills you offered that were of value. This is where researching the company and reading the job description can be helpful because you can more accurately match your skills to the company's needs.

Example: “While my role typically consisted of assisting the other marketers with copywriting and other creative tasks, I thought my experience handling budget sheets from a finance course I had completed might be of use.”

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3. Detail your approach

Discuss the ways you contributed to making an impact or solving a problem. Make this concise and applicable to the interviewer by including keywords from the job description. Focus on what you think you did correctly in your approach and what you think you could improve next time. This helps show the employer that you're self-aware and want to learn and grow from your work experiences.

Example: “After getting approval from my supervisor to take this project on, I developed a more organized budget process that allowed each teammate to keep their own section organized on a weekly basis, so we no longer had to overhaul the entire budget each month.”

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4. Explain the result

To complete your answer, describe the positive outcome of your work. Provide concrete results with numbers, such as "saved the company $5,000 and increased sales by 20%." These details help support your answer with concrete evidence and reinforce why what you've described is your greatest achievement.

Example: “After a quarter of using the new process, we reduced the time spent organizing budgets by 35%, allowing the team to focus on more important marketing projects.”

Example answers

As you keep the STAR approach in mind, consider the following examples of how you can answer a question about your greatest accomplishment.

Example 1

“In my last position, our technology development team lost a colleague due to relocation. He was the lead developer for the mobile version of our software. Unfortunately, no one else on the team had worked with his method to develop apps. Since I had experience developing an app, I volunteered to take on the lead role of the development and deployment. I worked with the other team members to create and troubleshoot the new app. I was able to finish the development 60 days early. It's currently available in the MyTunes store, already has over 350 positive reviews, and has offered an additional revenue stream for the company.”

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Example 2

"During my latest research project, I was confronted with a significant problem with my findings. One of my assistants accidentally logged several incorrect measurements, causing me to repeat the entire experiment from the beginning. During this repeat of the experiment, I made a discovery about the proteins we were studying. Where the previous study revealed no special attributes of these proteins, the repeat revealed that they displayed significant healing properties for damaged cells. It was from this discovery that I was able to secure my latest patent for a healing ointment that works in half the time of over-the-counter ointments."

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