You’re 20 minutes into your interview, and it’s going great. You’ve nailed every question, built rapport with your interviewer and are coasting through to the finish. Then comes the question:
“What would you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?”
Everything comes to a screeching halt as you struggle to answer the question. With every second feeling like hours, you hastily answer with the first thing that comes to mind. Looking back you wish you had answered the question a little different, especially with a job on the line. Sound familiar? Anyone on job hunt has seen some iteration of the accomplishment question and it can be a stumper for anyone. The good news is, that does not have to be you. There is a right way to approach the accomplishment question and anyone can do it. It won’t matter what your background and experiences are if you take the following approach to answering this question.
Make Sure You Fully Understand the Question
It sounds obvious, but it is also the most important piece of any interview question. It’s very difficult to successfully answer a question if you don’t have a clear understanding of both the question’s purpose and of how you are being evaluated. The ‘greatest accomplishment’ question is not about the accomplishment you select because that’s not really what they are asking.
Instead, reframe the question as: what do you value?
Interviewers know that your accomplishments are relative to where you are in your career and/or life and the access to opportunity you’ve had. They’re not going to judge you on the accomplishment. If they really want to know the most impressive thing you’ve done, they can look to LinkedIn or your resume for that answer. Good recruiters will instead use this question to gauge who you are, what drives you, and how well you fit with the company ethos. When looking at the question this way, it’s not about the scope of the accomplishment, but why it was meaningful for you. The best answers I’ve heard range from the complexity of founding an organization to the simplicity of mentoring a local student.
Be True to Yourself
If you understand what this question is looking for, you might be tempted to talk about what you think the interviewer wants to hear. However, this approach can get you in trouble. The best way to approach this question is to be as authentic and genuine as you can. Think about the moments that give you goosebumps, make you tremble with pride, or transformed your entire outlook. Take the time to reflect on this before the interview.
When you talk about something you care deeply about, it will come across. That spark is the basis of a great response to this question. This level of authenticity is what generates trust, compassion, and understanding. Additionally, your response is a great way to evaluate the company you are interviewing with. If your answer resonates with the interviewer, it is usually a strong indicator of the company’s values and culture. Alternatively, if your interviewer doesn’t find your passion for social impact or your transformation story meaningful, you might want to consider a different work environment. There is nothing as draining as a workplace you don’t feel like you can be yourself in. This question is not just a chance to impress but also a chance to assess how aligned you are with the company.
Think Long Term
Don’t forget to tie in your accomplishment back to the present. Major accomplishments or experiences have a longer-term impact on us. Make sure you are able to express that to the interviewer. A tie-in to who you are today, or better yet, why you are interviewing with the company, is a phenomenal way to end your response on a high note. If you are able to showcase the permanent impact of your accomplishment, it tells the interviewer that you are structured in your thinking, self-aware, and constantly seeking personal growth. All of these attributes are big-wins for the company and improve your chances of moving forward and getting hired.
Don’t Forget the Basics
There’s a lot to think about with this question so make sure to cover all the standard interview practices in your response. This includes taking a pause to think, repeating the question back to the interviewer—if needed—structuring your response and remembering to keep the background information to a minimum. These are all things that can become second nature with practice. The more comfortable you feel in interviews the more you can focus on a thoughtful response to each question. It’s definitely worth taking the time to mock interview as much as possible.
Don’t Let Anything Stop You From Getting Your Dream Job
You might be wondering why it’s worth spending so much time on any one question. The answer is simple: every impression counts. The last thing you want is for this question to come between you and your dream job. If you have the right mindset, you can not only answer this question successfully, you can your response to distinguish yourself from other applicants.
To get started on finding the perfect answer to the accomplishment question spend some time reflecting. What makes you feel alive? If you could do anything, what would it be? Introspective questions like these will lead you to the right accomplishment to focus on for this question. Then it just comes down to practice.Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.