Interview Questions: how to answer "What are your greatest achievements?"

As with any challenging interview question, being asked to discuss your greatest achievements needs careful thought and preparation beforehand.

The most important thing is to make sure the examples you choose to discuss are relevant and credible. Pick moments in your career in which you have taken genuine pride. How you feel about a particular achievement will show in the way you describe it – if you don’t truly believe you achieved much and can’t summons any particular enthusiasm in relating the story, you’ll have a tough time trying to convince the interview panel.

Here are a few tips to shine when answering this typical interview question:

  • In preparing for your interview, look closely at the job description and the key qualities/skills required. Then go through your CV and find ways of discussing your achievements so that they have relevance to the position for which you are being interviewed. Think carefully about how your achievement(s) benefited the company you worked for at the time and remember to highlight this – it will help the interviewer to start to imagine what you might do for the company if they employ you. Similarly, if an achievement is related to a particular target you had been set, and you met or exceeded that target, make that clear – show that you are someone who sets out to achieve tangible results, is committed, determined and driven. Don’t forget also to explain how each particular achievement impacted upon your career – whether it was promotion, bonus or an award.
  • Wherever possible, choose achievements that are relatively recent. Discussing things that happened 10-15 years ago will only pose the question of what have you done in your career since, and possibly serve only to put doubts in the interviewer’s mind that you are a strong candidate who is still hungry for challenge.
  • If your achievement relates to a negative situation, be aware of not focusing too much on the negative – it can be very easy to spend a long time giving the context and feeling the need to justify yourself, when you should be focusing on the positive and professional way in which you overcame the problem.
  • Nine times out of ten, the interviewer will be expecting a work-related answer. That said, it’s worth thinking about personal achievements too. If you’ve taken a sabbatical and spent six months volunteering for a charity to build a school in Africa or have completed a sponsored climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t mention this in – as long as you don’t allow it to completely overshadow your professional achievements. It’s very easy to talk with real passion about personal achievements of this type, so you need to be aware of how you describe such an experience in comparison with what may be a more mundane work achievement.

And what if you don’t feel you’ve achieved as much as you would like?

Then be honest, tell your interviewer that you want to do so much more in a new environment that will provide greater challenge. Okay, not everyone may be able to pull this one off, but it will definitely create an impact and set your interviewer thinking.

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