Career Advice

7 Ways to Successfully Tackle the 'Greatest Achievement' Question

min read
Mikaela Thompson

Left scratching your head and picking your brain to try and find something that fits the bill? It could be worse; they could’ve asked for a time you had conflict with your boss! That would definitely get me sweating a lot quicker!  In comparison, this may feel like a walk in the park. However, if you try to demystify the adjective ‘greatest’ on the spot, you might be left staring into the abyss! It’s one of those behavioural questions that takes thought and serious prep, so be forearmed. If it’s not asked, at least you’ll know yourself better and have a well-considered answer for future interviews.

But why?

No, the interviewer isn’t trying to be a prickly thorn in your side, nor trying to trick you. It’s a useful question that informs the interviewer about you as a prospective employee. Your choice of accomplishment reflects your core values, notions of what success is and your work ethic. In fact, the interviewer’s allowing you an opportunity to sell yourself by spotlighting your proven strengths. This can set you apart from other candidates and show the company how you can add value to their business. Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes, s/he needs to have some way to rate you against the other candidates when deciding who to move forward with. This is a fair method which allows you to discuss your skills and competencies based on past experiences. That’s a hardworking question…if your answer is smart targeting their needs and making the most of the chance.

How can I elevate the content of my answer to stand above everyone else?

Given that it’s common practice to be brought up to not boast about our feats and to show humility, it can be hard to tackle a question that requires us to skite about what we’ve best achieved. It can seem a dauntingly fine line between selling ourselves and coming across as an arrogant twat. To that end, be wary of bragging to ad nauseum about an achievement that seems rather weak (think: a basic requirement of the job). The interviewer is looking for a candidate who is down to earth and not some blowhard who’s difficult to work with. Good answers, in general, will take pride in the accomplishment rather than show off, will provide examples, and describe thought processes. So, how should I prepare?

1) Make a comprehensive list of your career achievements before the interview. As a fresh grad, this might be accolades /awards from any workplace, volunteering position or tertiary education, for others it could be research published, value you added to a team project, a high-performance rating, or when you exceeded sales targets etc. Whichever you choose, make sure you describe the actions you took to get the win and underscore the transferable skills relevant to the open position i.e., connect the dots and make it easy for the interviewer to see your value.

2) Research the company and job. Scroll through their website, LinkedIn profile, blog, and social media to glean useful information, such as, about their past projects etc. Think about your choice of accomplishment through the lens of the hiring manager and the position you’re trying to land. This is essential so you can select an achievement that fits with their company’s values, culture and interests. Likewise, tailor your answer to show how your skills and past experiences can contribute to this company.

3) Be open and honest. Don’t embellish or downright lie about your achievements. No one’s expecting a Nobel prizing winning moment! Rather, it’s hoped you will be able to do a convincing sales pitch based on proven successes and skills gained. Lies tend to be found out eventually and the stress of waiting for exposure, simply won’t be worth it.

4) Be specific and clear. The STAR(T) method is widely recommended to give you a clear structure and arc (refer to:; for a breakdown of this acronym as well as sample answers). Don’t use vague language e.g. I supervised a team project. Say what the project was, what you did and what the result was. But, keep it concise!  

5) Choose a relatively recent accomplishment that is relevant to the open position and today’s job market e.g., computer literacy is a basic requirement nowadays but was a major accomplishment decades ago when they first stated appearing.

6) Practice your answer in advance of your interview. First attempts are notoriously imperfect. You will feel more relaxed, confident and recall your points more easily. However, it’s not a good idea to memorize your answer. It will sound robotic and show a lack of confidence. Besides, any error might throw you off your game altogether.

7) Think about logical follow up questions so you can prepare for them as well, such as, ‘Tell me more about…’, ‘What’s your idea of success?’, ‘What do you hope to achieve in this position?’ And so on. Take heart, it means they’re interested in you!

What should I avoid?

1) Don’t ramble. You’ll look unprepared and, at worst, incoherent!

2) Indecisiveness. Keep to one achievement, not a list because you can’t decide.

3) Don’t try to be a comedian. This is a serious question which wants a professional response.

4) Don’t put anyone down or throw anyone under the bus to look good. Don’t fixate on others’ messes that you had to correct (For bad example responses and discussion see:

Check out some further reading on this topic here!

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