Tough Interview Questions - What is your greatest accomplishment?

Following is a tough interview question:

What is your greatest accomplishment?

Similar interview questions:
What is your proudest accomplishment? What is the single most important result in your life? At your retirement party, what will you look back on as being the most important project or deliverable of your career?

Why the interviewer is asking this question:
This is perhaps the best interview question of all time. Why? Because it provides a behavioral foundation for focusing specifically on the #1 result of the candidate's career. And it allows the interviewer to drill into detail about each of the S-T-A-R components: the Situation or Task, the Action you took and the Results achieved. While many candidates answer this question backward (starting with the achievement and/or result and working backward to explain how it was achieved), it allows the interviewer to dig deep into how much of that accomplishment was actually due to the actions of the candidate and how much was from the actions of others.

The best approach to answering this question:
Most candidates have difficulty with this question, especially if they have not thought it through in advance. The best approach is to think about your top three accomplishments. Two reasons for this: 1) it will help you to compare your top accomplishments to decide which is the best to present; and 2) a practiced interviewer may follow this question with: "What is your second greatest accomplishment?" and "What is your third greatest accomplishment?" So having three significant accomplishments will help you answer following questions, even if they aren't specifically about accomplishments (since these make the best examples for all interview questions). Then work on building out the supporting examples for these accomplishments. This question essentially forces a full S-T-A-R behavioral answer, since it puts the "R" (results achieved) first, which makes it easy to trace the trail that got you there. Do not, under any circumstances, use a personal accomplishment as your response. Even though you may consider your marriage or your spiritual conversion or the birth of a child or something else in your personal life to be your greatest accomplishment in life, that's not what the interviewer is seeking. This is a career question, not a life question. It is acceptable to talk about a shared deliverable which was achieved by a team, but be careful to select one where you were a key member for delivery, not simply successful by being part of the team that delivered. You will need to talk specifically about your role in the delivery.

An example of how to best answer this question:
"I have several notable accomplishments in my career. Probably the most notable accomplishment was the delivery of the most recent version update to one of our core products for customer payments. This was a 12-month project and I was one of 8 team members. What made it notable for me was that my role expanded from being one of the tech team members to taking the lead on building the mobile components of the product. In order to deliver this aspect of the product, I pulled in three new project resources with specific skills in each of the mobile technology platforms we targeted and cross-trained all project resources to support each platform. In the end, we delivered the product on time and have received numerous accolades, both internal and external. The mobile component was specifically identified to be world class and distinguished the product at its release. Our CEO spent time showing the mobile components to the press and industry and it has since met with excellent reviews. Would you like to see the Android version of the product?"

An example of how you should not answer this question:
"Hmmm...greatest accomplishment? I'm not sure I have a greatest accomplishment. Most of the projects I have been working with have been canceled, but no fault of my own. We usually get ready to deliver something and then the project funding gets pulled and we are never able to actually deliver. So then we all scramble to get moved to another project before we get targeted for layoffs. Some people at our company aren't as good at that as me and they've ended up being laid off. But I'm a survivor and I've been able to avoid the layoff ax all these years. So that's probably my greatest accomplishment is that I haven't been laid off in spite of all of the projects being canceled. I'm pretty good at laying low and staying out of the spotlight."

Remember to answer each interview question behaviorally, whether it is a behavioral question or not. The easiest way to do this is to use an example from your background and experience. Then use the S-T-A-R approach to make the answer a STAR: talk about a Situation or Task (S-T), the Action you took (A) and the Results achieved (R). This is what makes your interview answer uniquely yours and will make your answer a star!