What’s an achievement you are proud of?

This is a question that could be asked in an interview, particularly if achieving results is important in the job. It may also form part of an application for a government graduate program.

So this is a question worth preparing for because it challenges you to reflect on your achievements.

Is there any difference between achievement, result, accomplishment? While achievement and accomplishment are synonyms, accomplishment has overtones of carrying something out or finishing something [as in, I accomplished my mission]. Achievement has overtones of boldness or superior ability. Result is more specific. It is an outcome or effect, a consequence of actions taken.

Capability frameworks include a range of relevant behaviours:

  • Sees projects through to completion.
  • Takes responsibility for delivering on intended outcomes.
  • Shows initiative and proactively steps in and does what is required.
  • Persists and focuses on achieving objectives even in difficult circumstances.

Talking about an achievement you are proud of is an invitation to tell a story about something you have done that you are pleased with. It may be work-related but could also be more personal. It may have been recognised by others, and may have passed notice. Whatever it is, the story is about what you did and why you feel proud as a result.

If the question is unclear as to what type of achievement the panel is interested in, it’s worth seeking clarification. Other than for entry-level roles, the panel is likely to favour work-related examples.

To prepare a response, consider these steps:

1. Make a list of all your achievements. You could list them under headings such as:

  • Personal: e.g. sporting success, family [parenthood, family crisis]
  • Educational e.g. completed a course under difficult circumstances
  • Community: e.g. coached a local sporting team, raised money for a charity
  • Work: e.g. completed a demanding project on time and under-budget; turned an under-performing team into a highly productive one.

2. Next, consider factors that added complexity to the situation of your achievement. These factors provide the basis for justifying your choice. If the achievement was easily reached then it is unlikely to be something worth mentioning. Consider the challenges you faced, the obstacles you overcame, the risks involved. Other factors are:

  • Time: did it take a long or short time?
  • Quantity: did you have to deal with a large amount of resources or manage with minimal resources?
  • Complexity: was it simple or made up of many parts?
  • Unexpected: were you unprepared but still able to obtain a result?
  • New: did it involve unfamiliar subject matter or demand acquiring new skills?
  • Development and/or design: did the result involve developing or designing something from scratch?
  • Additional workload: was the result achieved in addition to your normal workload?

3. Craft your story using the SAR model [situation, action, result], linking the results back to the overall achievement. Results can include immediate outputs, flow-on consequences, and by-products. For example, you might offer this work-related response to the question, Tell us about an achievement that you are proud of:

‘An achievement that I’m particularly proud of is how I developed my public speaking skills. I recognised that I needed to be more confident when speaking at team meetings so I could contribute to discussions of issues as well as put ideas clearly. I recognised I held fears about speaking up and if I was to deal with them I would have to commit to a program of personal development.

So I joined Toastmasters International and attended meetings outside of business hours and at my own expense. I worked through their program and over the course of 12 months I prepared and presented 10 short speeches. I also presented impromptu speeches at six meetings and took part in a speech competition.

Now I can confidently speak off-the-cuff at team meetings and chair meetings. All of this work I completed in my own time and I found I came to enjoy the program so much I’ve now moved on to the advanced program. What I learned in addition to preparing and presenting speeches is meeting skills which I’ll be able to use in this team leader role.’

Notice how in the last sentence reference is made to the lesson and benefit that this achievement offers the employer.

4. Rehearse out loud so you become comfortable with expressing your achievements.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.