How to talk about your greatest personal accomplishment in a job interview

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It’s common for interviewers to ask you about your past accomplishments. Before your interview, you probably thought about tangible goals you reached in school or at your last job. However, have you thought about your greatest personal accomplishment?

I was recently thrown for a loop in an interview when asked this question, and now wish I had thought up an appropriate answer in advance, rather than the one I stumbled over.

Personal accomplishments are not work-related. If you need clarification as to what constitutes a personal success, you can always ask the interviewer. There isn’t a hard and fast rule about how to answer this question. Below are some possible experiences that may help if you’re ever asked.

Volunteering

If you helped an organization or even a single person through volunteering, explain what you did, how you did it, and why it felt good or how it affected your outlook on your life or your career. Corporate Social Responsibility is important to a lot of companies. Being the kind of person who likes to give back may increase your chances of being hired.

Scholastic awards

As a student or recent grad, it doesn’t hurt to discuss how hard you worked for that A+ in Finance. Just make sure you don’t turn your struggle with a subject into a weakness (i.e., “Despite the fact that I really sucked at math I managed to ___”).

Sports or hobbies

Have you ever trained for a triathlon? Are you a yo-yo champion on the weekends? Describing how disciplined you had to be to reach a goal shows character and passion. Just make sure you don’t sound like your other interests are more important than the position itself. The interviewers don’t want to know your day job is only meant to finance your subscription to online role playing games or UFO hunting on the weekends.

Moving to a new city or going abroad

Craft this answer carefully so it doesn’t sound like everyone else’s by focusing on the specific challenges you overcame in a new place and the success you achieved socially to show how easily you adapt to new settings (and new jobs). A lot of other students may also call on this example and you don’t want to sound generic.

A new experience you tried or a fear you over came

When telling these stories, it’s important to focus on the steps you took and the solid facts that lead to the achievement (i.e., “I overcame my inexplicable fear of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by _____”). If possible, feel free to make the story mildly entertaining to show off your personality.

Being a care giver

Although it is an incredibly difficult and personal situation to describe, focusing on the problems you faced and how you dealt with them (without turning the story into a melodrama) will demonstrate that you are stoic and capable of doing what needs to be done during difficult times.

How you reacted to an emergency situation

If you’ve ever saved a life, helped deliver a baby, or offered first aid, use these stories to high light your cool head and analytic mind during emergencies.

If you’ve managed to juggle your personal goals with career and/or educational ones, mention that too. Try to avoid obvious, clichéd answers, and using the phrase “I just believed in myself and I accomplished _____.” Briefly explain how you achieved your goals so that you can illustrate what a stellar candidate you are for the position.

I think this question is more or less meant to let the interviewers learn more interesting things about you, what you think is important, and the breadth of your experience. Just remember that honest answers, which truly mean something to you, will come across more sincerely than fake answers that sound impressive.

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