Handling the Interview Question: “What’s Been Your Biggest Accomplishment?”

Some interview questions make you squirm.  Others, you should welcome.

Today I’ll tackle one you should welcome.  Most employers will ask about your accomplishments.  Your challenge now becomes two-fold.  First, what sort of accomplishment should you bring up?  Second, how much detail should you provide?

What sort of accomplishment should you discuss?  Typically, they’ll look for something related to your prior work or education.  Stay clear of your personal life.  The employer is essentially saying, “Show me how you’ve added value to other organizations.”

If you’re interviewing for a job in management, then pick a leadership accomplishment.  Were you able to increase profitability by either increasing revenues or decreasing costs… or perhaps both?

If it’s for an hourly job, perhaps you’d earned special employee recognition or were promoted quickly.

If it’s for your first job out of college, point to your education as the achievement, especially if you balanced school with work, athletics, and other activities.

Now that you have a sense for the type of accomplishment to discuss, let’s explore a structure for your answer.

Try to remember S.A.R. – Situation, Actions, Result.  Your ideal goal is to offer a clear, concise and quantifiable achievement.

Begin your answer by summarizing the issue/problem/situation in a few sentences.  Then, briefly, explain actions you took to solve that issue.  Lastly, share the results, ideally quantifying them by mentioning $$$, number of people, percentages, etc.

Once you’ve given that brief S.A.R., then pause… let them know you could go into more detail if they like.  Here’s why.  If you’ve rambled on an on, the employer may have begun to lose interest.  They may not wish to interrupt you, but by you pausing, you’ve invited them to hone in on something you’d said.  This allows the employer to hear you provide more detail on a certain aspect of your accomplishment which is of more interest to them.

Let’s try a sample response, keeping in mind the S.A.R., being brief, quantifiable, and letting the employer know you’re happy to provide more detail.

“A couple of accomplishments come to mind, but looking back I’d have to say it was when I came to XYZ Company as an account executive.  Sales were off, we were losing customers, and there had been significant turnover in the sales department.”

“I made it a point to visit each current customer and every past customer to understand what they liked and didn’t like about our company, its products, and its people.  I brought that information back to management.  Changes were implemented.  Lots of them.”

“As a result of listening, then being accountable and delivering on promises, I was able increase my territory’s sales by 35% over the prior year… AND… our company as a whole was able to increase sales over 15% by implementing our new policies.”

“A lot went into “fixing” our problem… and I’m happy to go into more detail if you’d like.”

Of course your situation may not lend itself to quantifiable achievements.  Still, try to keep the S.A.R. structure in mind as you work through your answer.  Good luck!