Answering the “What Is Your Greatest Achievement?” Interview Question

Dana Guterman
Updated: July 4, 2023

After reading this article, you’ll:

  • Understand why interviewers ask, “What is your greatest achievement?”
  • Know how to best answer “What is your greatest achievement?”
  • Recognize similar interview questions.

“What is your greatest achievement?” happens to be one of the greatest interview questions. Why? Because it gives you permission to go ahead and brag about yourself.

When an interviewer asks about your accomplishments, they want to know about your unique value-add. The idea is simple: If you did something amazing as class president, you can probably do something amazing as their intern. Additionally, your answer says a lot about your priorities and how you define success. Do you value teaching or learning? Promotions or profits?

In this guide, we’ll explore how to answer this common question and make your interviewer aware of your true awesomeness. Here’s what we’ll cover:


The basics of a great response

First, when an interviewer asks, “What is your greatest achievement?” they’re really asking for your greatest professional (or academic) accomplishment. Second, this is a classic behavioral interview question, so a strong answer starts with a strong success story. As with all behavioral interview questions, choosing a relevant example and using the STAR method to structure your response guarantees a compelling answer. Your resume should already be chock-full of accomplishments, so see if any pop out as the best of the best.

Once you know your basic story, here’s how to structure your response:

  • Summarize the overall situation.
  • Describe the actions you took to resolve the problem or reach your goal.
  • Highlight the outcome of your actions.
  • Make it relevant by connecting your achievement to this role, internship, or job.


“What is your greatest achievement?” sample answers


Example 1: Intern with no professional experience

Having just graduated last month, my greatest achievement is graduating with a 3.9 GPA, in the top 2% of my class—and being the first person to graduate in my family. My mom and dad immigrated when I was two years old, and they worked really hard so that I could attend college. I don’t take any of my opportunities for granted, and I worked really hard to get here, holding a part-time job at a local restaurant all through college. I’ll bring the same dedication, time management skills, and ambition to work as your intern.

Example 2: College student interviewing for a programming internship

At my previous internship, I had to build a database—and it took forever to input each data point. After two straight days of entering data, I knew I could be more efficient. I wrote a simple program that took the data thus far and add it to the database’s existing template, so that I didn’t have to copy and paste the data into each line individually. While it wasn’t complicated, it was the first time I used my programming skills outside of school to streamline a process, so I’m very proud of it. The company didn’t expect me to do it, and it saved me, and the company, time and energy. I’m always looking for out-of-the-box solutions, and this was the first time I got to do so professionally.

Example 3: Entry-level sales role

Throughout school, I worked in donor relations, soliciting donations for our annual fund. Donations were down, and we weren’t sure why. So, I scheduled a call with each former donor to ask about their individual concerns, and I offered to meet with them for coffee if they lived nearby. I prepared a survey in advance and took my findings back to Advancement, where they prepared a report for the board. By implementing suggestions based on my findings, we increased donations by 11% last year. I’ve loved my time at school, and was very proud to help the institution that helped me. I’ll bring the same drive and commitment to your clients as your sales representative.


Other example achievements

Below, we’ve listed other general achievements to inspire your own answer. Remember: what makes any story impressive is the ending, so your achievement needs a positive outcome.  Try jotting down a list of all your accomplishments; then, commit the top three to memory and use them for cover letters and interviews.

  • Winning an academic award.
  • Being elected president of a club or association.
  • Improving a product.
  • Taking on a leadership role.
  • Increasing customer satisfaction.
  • Helping a nonprofit organization.
  • Earning a certification.
  • Serving as a mentor or teacher.


What not to say

You don’t want to mess up this crucial question, so let’s look at some top mistakes to avoid.

  1. Listing several “greatest” achievements. This only serves to dilute your message. Be concise and don’t ramble; all your interview answers should be less than two minutes long. To ensure you’re being succinct, practice this answer in advance. You don’t need to memorize anything—you just want to comfortable with the subject matter.
  2. Being overly modest. Now is not the time for humility. Be loud and proud of what you’ve done (but, of course, don’t be arrogant).
  3. Sharing an irrelevant achievement. Your example doesn’t have to be purely professional (though it certainly helps). But it does need to be relevant. Training for and running a marathon shows dedication and ambition, both of which are admirable qualities in an employee. Going to ever single Phish show last summer shows … you really, really like Phish.
  4. Going negative. Don’t throw other people under the bus when you talk about your achievements. Maybe someone else messed up and you fixed it. Don’t focus on what they did wrong. Instead, focus on what you did right.

What to Say: Crafting the Perfect Response

In order to effectively answer the “What is your greatest achievement?” question, consider these key factors:

Quantify Achievements

Whenever possible, use specific numbers or percentages to describe your success. This provides a clear picture of the scale of your achievement and its impact. For instance, instead of saying “I improved sales,” you could say “I increased sales by 30% over a six-month period.”

Highlight Soft Skills

Your achievements can be an excellent way to demonstrate your soft skills. Whether it’s your problem-solving ability, leadership, communication, or perseverance, be sure to underline these important attributes. They are highly valued in any role.

Discuss Team Collaboration

If your greatest achievement was a team effort, don’t shy away from highlighting this. It shows you can work well in a team setting, a vital skill in most workplaces. However, make sure you also specify your individual contribution to the team’s success.

Relevance to the Role

Ensure your achievement is relevant to the role you’re applying for. This doesn’t mean it has to be directly related, but there should be transferable skills or lessons that you can bring to the new role. For example, project management skills gained from organizing a charity event could be relevant for a role requiring organizational skills and multitasking.

Showcase Personal Growth

Your achievement should ideally demonstrate how you’ve grown professionally. This could be mastering a new skill, overcoming a particularly challenging problem, or reaching a high level of performance.

Demonstrate Initiative and Drive

Employers value proactive employees. If your achievement involves an instance where you went above and beyond what was expected of you, definitely mention it. It shows ambition and a willingness to go the extra mile.

Remember to keep your responses concise, relevant, and engaging. You want to share an achievement that illustrates your best qualities and how they can benefit the company. Practice your response so that you feel confident when the question comes up in an interview.

Potential Follow-Up Questions and How to Handle Them

After discussing your greatest achievement, an interviewer may ask follow-up questions to gain more insight into your experiences, skills, and values. Here are some possible questions you may face, along with tips for crafting effective responses:

How did you accomplish this? 

This question allows you to dive deeper into your process and highlight specific skills or qualities you utilized. Be prepared to discuss the steps you took, any challenges you faced, and how you overcame them.

What motivated you to achieve this? 

The interviewer wants to understand your drive and passion. Your answer should reflect your commitment, determination, and any personal or professional values that guided your actions.

What did you learn from this experience? 

This question targets your ability to learn and grow from your experiences. Mention any key takeaways or skills you gained, and how they have influenced your approach to work.

How did this achievement impact others? 

This helps gauge your understanding of the wider implications of your actions. Discuss the positive impact on your team, clients, or company overall, providing specific examples where possible.

If you had to do it again, would you do anything differently? 

This assesses your capacity for self-reflection and continual improvement. Be honest if there were areas that could have been improved upon, but also highlight what went well.

How does this achievement align with your career goals? 

This question helps the interviewer understand how your past achievements align with your future aspirations. Ensure your response aligns with the role you’re interviewing for and highlights your career objectives.

Remember, each of these follow-up questions offers an opportunity to further demonstrate your skills, values, and fit for the role. Be authentic, clear, and concise in your responses, and use these questions as a chance to show why you’re the right candidate for the job.

In other words: “What is your greatest achievement?”

Employers love to ask about your accomplishments, as do recruiters and online applications. This question is also similar to “What is your greatest strength?” as it invites you to talk about what makes you the best candidate.

Here are some others ways they might ask about your achievements:

  • What are you most proud of?
  • Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond.
  • In your opinion, is your greatest professional accomplishment?
  • Describe a time when you worked towards and achieved a goal.

With a little practice and a little pride, you’ll prove that you’re a great candidate by sharing your greatest achievement.