Why do employers ask the question "what is your greatest achievement?"
Graduate employers want to hire high-achieving candidates who can add value to their business. By asking this question, the interviewer is giving you the chance to demonstrate that you are a high achiever.
Selecting the appropriate achievement is important to setting yourself apart from the crowd.
The best way to approach this question, especially if you are a fresh graduate, is to choose an achievement that is fairly recent and outside of your academics.
For example, choose something that is either work-related or has been achieved through extra-curricular activities, for example any volunteering or charitable activities. Read more about how volunteering can boost your employability.
Make sure to pick an achievement that you are genuinely proud of – because this makes it a lot easier for you to discuss your example with confidence and energy.
Simply stating what your greatest achievement is will not be an adequate answer – your interviewer will be more interested in hearing about how you actually accomplished it.
They want to understand the steps you took, the skills you drew upon and any obstacles you had to overcome to reach your accomplishment.
The key is to present your answer through the STAR method, which offers a succinct structure to follow and will prevent you from going off-piste.
Begin your answer with “My greatest achievement has been when…” and follow this with the STAR structure:
Outline briefly the situation you were in, giving context of your achievement.
Discuss the task at hand. What was required of you?
This is the most important component of your answer. What did you do? What action(s) did you take, and why?
Summarise your achievement, quantifying where possible.
Graduate employers are eager to know what your values are – and more importantly, if they align with their company’s core values.
Similarly to other interview questions like “what are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?”, your interviewer is trying to get an understanding of who you are and more specifically, what makes you tick and motivates you.
Especially within graduate recruitment, this question allows employers to get an idea of what drives graduates outside of their academics. This is a key opportunity for you to make yourself stand out.
If you can’t think of your greatest non-academic achievement, then perhaps you could think about finding a hobbie, or start your own evening club with some friends. This can be anything from book club, yoga or an arts and crafts session!
When preparing for an interview, make sure to keep both the company values and the key responsibilities of the role you are interviewing for fresh in your mind.
Then, pick an accomplishment that you can clearly link back to the role – and be sure to make this connection explicitly at the end of your answer. Signposting to your interviewer how you will add value to their business will always impress your potential employer.
Non-professional greatest achievement examples
- Charity work
- Any volunteering you have done
- Qualifications gained outside University or work i.e. any additional courses
- Awards or competitions you have won
- People or organisations you have helped
- Scholarships, funding or grants you have received
- Skills you have mastered
- Any sports achievements i.e. running the marathon or climbing a mountain
- Other extra-curricular activities you have excelled in
“What is your greatest achievement outside of work?” Example answer
“My greatest achievement so far is completing my Bronze and Silver Duke of Edinburgh Awards.
Completing both awards meant that I volunteered for a total of 9 months, in a charity garden centre and helping at a local Scouts group.
I was also required to take part in a physical activity or learn a skill for 9 months, I played netball and learnt Spanish, attending language evening classes in my spare time.
Finally, I completed 2 expeditions which involved endurance and teamwork. A group of us hiked from one town to another over 5 days. I took on the role of the group leader, delegating tasks fairly around the group and motivating my team, which helped us to finish the expedition first!
This achievement gave me the opportunity to learn and improve some excellent transferable skills, and I think my Spanish speaking skills would add real value within your Global Team.”
Greatest professional achievement examples
- Sales or revenue increases you have achieved
- Any job promotions
- Examples of when you have gone above and beyond what was asked of you
- Time or money you saved for the company
- Industry or work-related awards
- Any issues or risks you recognised and what steps you took to overcome or prevent these
- Successful campaigns you worked on
- Refining procedures or designing new processes with positive results
- Successful publications, blogs or news articles
- Introducing innovative or creative ideas
“What is your greatest professional achievement” Answer example
“My greatest achievement at my last company was when I designed and implemented a loyalty card scheme for customers.
During the first 6 months of the launch we saw increases in revenue of 19%, which was the biggest increase the company had ever seen during a 6-month period.
Through this initiative I gained a promotion and won the ‘Employee of the Year’ award.
I would love the opportunity to apply my experiences and knowledge in planning and refining this loyalty system, to organise a similar initiate at your company. I am confident that I can improve your organisation, and I am keen to explore other ways I can drive more sales.”
What to avoid when answering ‘what is your greatest achievement?’
Choosing your degree as your greatest achievement
All graduates can talk about this – try to pick something that’s a little more unique to you.
Lying and making up an accomplishment
You will always get found out in the end! If the interviewer starts asking more tricky questions you could run the risk of getting your lies mixed up and looking like a fool!
Giving an unprofessional example
Whilst it is great to add a personal touch to your story, always make sure that it is professional. The employer does not need to know your record score of how many marshmellows you can fit in your mouth… Check out our advice on how not to ramble during an interview.
Question variations for “what is your greatest achievement?”
- What accomplishment are you most proud of?
- What achievements are you most proud of?
- Which professional achievement in your life are you most proud of?
- What accomplishment are you most proud of?
- Describe an achievement that you are proud of
- Please describe your greatest professional accomplishment
- What is your biggest achievement?
- What are your top 3 greatest achievements?
- What is your greatest achievement outside of work?
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