Let’s start directly with the answers, but do not forget to read also the explanation and ideas further down. The sample answers below will work for this question, as well as for the alternatives, such as “What is your greatest achievement in life?”
- In my last job I helped my employer to increase the yearly sales volume by 20%, in two consecutive years. Certainly it was a team effort, but I was the main man on the sales floor, helping customers to make right decisions. The store got great reviews on Google as well, and I think that during my stay with them we did an excellent job as a team.
- I am just starting my professional career, and still waiting for a chance to achieve something great for my first employer. I think that my greatest achievement so far is the Master’s degree in marketing that I managed to earn at the University of Ohio, and my thesis about sales funnels in social media marketing, which actually helped real companies to attract new customers.
- Working as a case manager, I succeeded in helping a troubled couple with three children. They struggled, and both of them carried lot of emotional wounds from their childhood. But together with therapists we managed to help them open up, and to overcome the crisis of their marriage. The three daughters continue to grow up in a family, and I consider it my greatest achievement so far. It was a difficult case and we worked on it for months.
- Speaking honestly, job of an administrative assistant does not offer many opportunities to achieve something extraordinary. But I managed to build a really good relationship with my managers, and I think that the entire office worked very efficiently while I was there. I also felt good in work most days, and think that the managers had the same feelings. Maybe it’s not much, but as an administrative assistant that’s perhaps the most you can hope for.
- There were more lows than highs in my professional career so far. I want to be honest with you. I struggled to fit into the team in my first job, and in the second one the entire company failed to resist the competition, and ended up out of business. Surely I played my part, and could do it better. But I have a desire to succeed, and to help my employer prosper. I learned my lessons in previous jobs, and hopefully I can turn the lead to gold this time around.
- I think that would be a better question for my former employer. I climbed the career ladder, I got promoted several times, but honestly I consider it more as a result of my real achievements–things I did for the company. I helped them to acquire some strategic clients, and played a key role in negotiating important deals with the suppliers. That’s what I did for them, and I hope to do something similar also for you–if you hire me, of course.
- This is my very first job application. Hard to say whether I achieved anything great in my professional life so far. But I learned to speak two foreign languages, an that is definitely an achievement considering that I am still just 22 years old. I also hope to benefit from my language skills in a job of a flight attendant.
Talk about greatest achievements from the perspective of the employer
As you could probably sense from the sample answers, things you did for your employer sound better than things you achieved yourself, such as promotion, higher salary, employee of a month award, etc.
Just like with any other interview question, hiring managers are interested primarily in your attitude–and not in the situation you narrate (achievement in life or work you talk about).
If they can sense that you have the correct mindset, that you try to achieve something great for your employers, because you know that such an achievements will lead to improvement of your position in the company (better salary, job promotion, special bonus), they will give you a lot of points for your answer and attitude.
Use numbers and facts to gain credibility
Numbers, names, and dates give your story credibility, and dimension. Just think about it for a moment. If you only say that you helped your employer to improve sales (or level of customer satisfaction, or anything else), HR managers may doubt the authenticity of your story. In any case, they will find it hard to imagine it.
But when you say that you helped your employer to increase yearly sales volume by 20% in two consecutive years, it sounds more legit, and interviewers can imagine your professional achievement easily.
* Special Tip: “What is your greatest professional achievement?” isn’t the only difficult question you will face while interviewing for any decent job. You will face questions about prioritization, dealing with pressure, dealing with ambiguity, and other tricky scenarios that happen in the workplace. If you want to make sure that you stand out with your answers and outclass your competitors, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 31 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will help you streamline your interview preparation, outclass your competitors, and get the job. Thank you for checking it out!
Stories sell–tell them a story of your greatest professional achievement
Facts are great, but stories are even better. If you can, tell them a story. A story about how your employer struggled (with anything), and you were the hero who helped them to find the way out (you acquired a major client, improved an important process in production, designed a successful marketing campaign, etc).
Hiring managers may long remember your story, and in some cases it can be the decisive factor in your interview. Because with such a story they can clearly understand the value you would bring to their company, and also your attitude to work.
If there is no past you can speak about future achievements
Everyone has to start somewhere, get their first job. If you didn’t achieve anything great so far, because you are young or haven’t worked for anyone yet, you can actually turn the situation around and speak about things you want to achieve in your new job, for you new employer. Instead of past achievements, you focus on the future.
Many interviewers will find this approach creative and interesting, of course as long as you talk about right achievements (from the perspective of the company).
Conclusion, other tough interview questions
“What is your greatest professional achievement?” is a difficult question for most job seekers. Many of us left our last job exactly because we did not achieve anything great. What’s more, many career paths and positions simply do not offer us a chance to have some huge impact on the profit and loss of our employer. Once once fresh from the college, you can hardly recall any such achievement.
All of this is normal and natural, as long as you manage to show the right attitude with your interview answer. Perhaps you did not achieve anything great, but you want to. You failed before, but you learned your lessons and will succeed next time…. And most importantly, you think about achievements from the perspective of your employer.
Read the sample answers again, and use them as your inspiration to come up with your own perfect answer. Once you are done, check also answers to other tough interview questions:
- Why do you feel you are qualified for this position?
- Describe your definition of an outstanding customer service.
- What is your vision in life?