Questions and Answers
Q Can you tell me about your greatest accomplishment at work?
A I'm particularly proud of the mentoring program I started about five years ago. I noticed that new employees were having trouble getting acclimated to the company, causing a very high turnover rate during the first year of employment. I developed a program that allowed us to assign each new employee to an employee who had been with the company for at least three years. This allowed new hires to make a smoother transition. Now, 90 percent of new employees are still with us after their one-year anniversaries, up from 50 percent before we started the mentorship program.
The interviewee provides a specific example in response to this question. She also highlights the fact that she took initiative in developing it—she saw a problem and found a solution. Notice that she uses actual numbers to illustrate the result of her efforts.
Never Say: “I was promoted to assistant director of human resources.” While it is important to share this information, this interviewee doesn't indicate what led to that promotion.
Q How did you progress at your last job?
A I was hired as a sales associate by K. R. Nickel Stores seven years ago. I became assistant manager of the girls’ clothing department two years later. My boss said she never saw a young associate work as hard as I did. After two more years I was promoted to manager of that department.
This candidate simply describes his ascent up the corporate ladder, giving details, as he was asked to do.
Never Say: “I started as a sales associate and seven years later I'm manager of girls’ clothing.” This interviewee must talk about how he got from point A to point C.
Q How do you feel about the way your career has progressed so far?
A I'm pleased with how my career has progressed. When I graduated from college, I was hired to work as a trainee at Rogers, Inc., a small advertising agency. Being a trainee meant I answered the phones and made coffee. I took the initiative and asked for additional work. That gave me the opportunity to prove myself, and I was promoted to assistant account executive after eight months. After two years in that position, during which I worked on several successful ad campaigns, I was promoted to account executive. I'm proud of my work there, but it's time for a position with more responsibility.
This candidate takes the time to explain how her career has progressed since her graduation from college. She also makes sure to point out how she contributed to her firm's success.
Never Say: “I am very happy with it. I started off answering phones and now look where I am.” Don't assume the interviewer knows where you are right now or how you got there.
Q Why do you think you've been successful in your career so far?
A I've been successful so far because I've always worked very hard and I've always been willing to accept any challenges that are offered to me. Actually, I usually seek them out. I have excellent time management skills that have allowed me to complete projects on time.
This interviewee hasn't relied on luck to achieve success. He has used his skills and motivation to get where he wants to be.
Never Say: “I've always been in the right place at the right time.” This candidate doesn't seem to think he had anything to do with his own success. If he doesn't believe it, who will?
Q Which of your accomplishments has given you the most satisfaction?
A Last year I initiated a program that sent our executives into schools to work with the Young Entrepreneur Program. We sent teams into two area high schools to help the students learn how to run their own businesses. Our executives taught them how to write a business plan, design an ad campaign, make sales calls, and deal with clients. We ended up hiring some of the kids as interns, which worked out really well.
The accomplishment this job candidate has chosen to highlight involves giving back to the community, which is certainly admirable. While it doesn't directly benefit the company in terms of sales or earnings, participation in a program such as the one she describes is good for a company's public image.
Never Say: “My boss made me Senior Community Liaison. Finally having a title has been great.” This candidate needs to focus on something she did in order to deserve that title.
What should I do if I'm a recent college graduate without many work-related accomplishments?
If you don't have much work experience, draw upon your experiences as a student. Look at what you achieved while you were in college, either in your classes or through extracurricular activities.
Q Do you consider your progress on your current job indicative of your ability?
A Yes, I do. I was promoted twice on my current job. I was hired as a marketing trainee. After about a year I was promoted to associate account executive, and then after two years I was promoted to account executive. My promotions came about because I proved that I could successfully meet deadlines, win the confidence of clients, and solve problems.
This candidate discusses how and why she was promoted.
Never Say: “Yes.” This answer lacks specifics.
Q Describe how you accomplished a work-related goal.
A When I started working for Daylight Publications, I discovered that I had inherited a huge file cabinet full of photographs. We used photographs in our magazine but usually wound up purchasing stock photos, because our own collection was so disorganized it was impossible to find anything. I designed a filing system and set about putting things in order. I set aside 15 minutes each day and was able to work my way through the whole collection in about seven months.
This answer demonstrates how the interviewee took the initiative to set a goal in order to save her employer money. She then talks about how she went about reaching that goal by using her organization and time management skills.
Never Say: “I wanted to make $50,000 per year by the time I was twenty-six. I switched jobs a few times and was able to do it.” This in no way demonstrates any job-related skills the interviewee has.
Q Can you describe how you accomplished a personal goal?
A I wrote a short story and my goal was to get it published. I went to the library and researched which magazines accepted short-story submissions. Then I sent my story to those publications that published stories in the same genre as mine. My story was accepted by one of them and was published a little over a year ago.
This candidate talks about the steps he took to reach his personal goal. While the goal isn't related to the job for which he is applying, he talks about his ability to do research, a skill he knows this prospective employer will value.
Never Say: “I won a hot dog-eating contest. I trained for about six months.” This answer does not demonstrate any skills that are needed in the workplace.
Q Tell me how you were of value to your previous employer.
A My previous employer valued my ability to deal with difficult clients. Whenever we had a client who was very demanding, my boss would ask me to be the one to work with her. He said he knew I was so levelheaded that I would always stay calm, even when a client was really trying my patience.
By giving this answer the candidate not only says why she thinks her boss values her, she talks about it from her boss's perspective. She presents a skill that this employer will appreciate as well.
Never Say: “I always showed up on time.” Showing up on time is expected and doesn't set this candidate apart from any other.
Q Have you ever had to take over an assignment at the last minute?
A I've had to do that more than once—actually several times. The most recent time was when a colleague was scheduled to attend a meeting out of town and came down with the flu two days before he was supposed to leave. My boss asked me if I could attend the meeting and make the presentation my colleague was supposed to make. I had two days to learn everything about the project. I went over pages and pages of notes and put together a presentation of my own, incorporating input from my colleague, who I spoke to on the phone several times a day.
Not only does this interviewee say she has taken over an assignment at the last minute, she talks about a specific case. She shows how she stepped in and learned what she needed to learn in order to make a successful presentation.
Never Say: “Yes, it has happened.” She should give an example.
Q Have you ever received formal recognition for something you accomplished?
A Yes. I won Salesperson of the Month four times when I was working for Ace Stereo. Those with the largest increase in sales over the previous month were rewarded in this way. I believe I had increased my sales by 15 to 20 percent each time.
This candidate chose to discuss being rewarded for something that would be valued by any company—high sales volume. He gives actual numbers to quantify his answer.
Never Say: “I won best dressed at the annual holiday party.” Unless this is a candidate for a fashion consulting position, this answer doesn't highlight any skills that will impress the employer.
Q What has been your greatest accomplishment as part of a team?
A I worked on a team that developed a program for children who were going home to an empty house after school because their parents worked. We had volunteers who would help the kids with their homework and give them time to just burn off energy after sitting in a classroom all day. By the time we actually opened the center, we had seventy-five children enrolled. That told us we were providing a service that was clearly needed.
This candidate describes in detail the project she considers the greatest accomplishment she achieved as part of a team. She talks about what was needed, what they did to fill that need, and what the end result was.
Never Say: “I never feel like I accomplish that much on a team.” This candidate just admitted she's not a team player. It was a bad idea to do that. The interviewer probably asked the question because working on a team is probably typical of the position for which he is hiring.
Q Name the two work-related accomplishments of which you are proudest.
A I converted a manual payroll system to a computerized system, which cut down the amount of time we spend on payroll each week. I wrote a manual that explained all bookkeeping department procedures in our company. New employees receive a copy of this manual, which helps them learn their job faster.
Each of the accomplishments this candidate discusses has had a positive result on the company and highlights his many skills.
Never Say: “I received a good performance review every year. I was promoted to a supervisory position after just two years.” While these are definitely positive things and a reflection of this candidate's ability to do a good job, they really don't address how his accomplishments affected the company. They also don't explain how he earned his good reviews and promotion.
Q Tell me about the personal accomplishment that you are the proudest of.
A Last year I ran a marathon for the first time. I've been a runner for years, but I never ran more than four miles at a time. I began training four months before the big day. It was hard, but I kept going and I ended up finishing in just over four hours, which I've heard is pretty good for a first-time marathoner.
By discussing running a marathon, this candidate demonstrates that she will work hard to reach her goals. She also shows that she is not afraid of a challenge, something her prospective employer should appreciate.
Never Say: “I bought my first house.” Without an explanation of how she reached this goal, this candidate doesn't show off any strengths when she gives this example.
Q If I asked your current employer to tell us about your accomplishments, what do you think he would say?
A He would probably talk about the time he asked me to present a new marketing campaign to one of our more difficult clients. I spent over a week preparing for that presentation. Since I knew this client was hard to please, I had to make sure I anticipated every objection she might have. She actually loved the presentation and the campaign increased her company's sales by 50 percent.
This question gives the candidate a chance to talk about an accomplishment he is proud of. He talks about anticipating possible difficulties, as well as the end result, an increase in sales.
Never Say: “I doubt my boss recognized any of my accomplishments. If he did, he certainly didn't tell me.” This candidate breaks one of the cardinal rules of job interviewing—never speak negatively about a former boss.
Q If I asked a college professor about one of your accomplishments, what would he or she say?
A I worked on a major research project under the supervision of my psychology professor. We collected data over the course of a year, and we analyzed it and wrote up the results as an article that we submitted to the Journal of Kangaroo Psychology. It was accepted and it was published a month before I graduated.
This candidate chose to talk about something that had a tangible result—publication of an article in a professional journal.
Never Say: “I got an A in a class that was very difficult.” Even though this may have been a great personal achievement for this interviewee, it is probably not something a professor would recognize as a great achievement.
Q What does success mean to you?
A I feel I am successful when I do the best job I can possibly do, such as complete a project on time and under budget, and meet or go beyond my own expectations or those of my boss or my client. I also want to achieve the desired result, whether it is to make a profit or reduce a loss for my employer.
This candidate defines success by what he can accomplish for his employer rather than what he can accomplish for himself.
Never Say: “Success to me is making a six-figure salary.”
Q Have you ever had to overcome a major obstacle? How did you do it?
A Yes, I did. My family couldn't afford to pay for college. I applied for as much financial aid as possible, but I still had to work to pay for whatever that didn't cover. I worked after classes every day and on the weekends, too. In the end, in addition to a college degree, I also had some valuable work experience under my belt.
The story this candidate tells demonstrates that she can set a goal—getting a college degree—and reach it through hard work. She even points out that, because of her need to overcome this obstacle, she now has valuable work experience.
Never Say: “I've been very lucky. I really haven't had any obstacles to overcome.” Luck isn't what is going to get this candidate hired. She needs to demonstrate perseverance and therefore should try to find some obstacle to speak about.
Q What accomplishments have you made so far in reaching your long-range goals?
A My long-range goal is to be a school principal. I've been teaching for ten years, first at PS 118 and then at PS 114. After five years of teaching second grade at PS 114, I was asked to be grade leader. My experience working with other faculty members and developing new programs for students has prepared me for the position of assistant principal. I look forward to using my skills to work on some of the projects we discussed earlier.
This candidate has demonstrated how he has taken steps to reach his goal and plans to continue to do so. He also makes a point of talking about the contributions he plans to make in the job for which he's interviewing.
Never Say: “I want to be an assistant principal.” Since this is the job that he's interviewing for, this answer doesn't show motivation to reach any goals beyond that.
Q What motivates you to go above and beyond the call of duty?
A Honestly, I don't have a sense of what is above and beyond the call of duty. It's not like I can just do enough to get by and then stop. When I work on a project, I do my very best, always.
This statement shows that this job candidate is truly a hard worker who cares about her work. It's more than just a job to her. She can't justify giving less than her best effort to any project entrusted to her.
Never Say: “Hopefully, if I go above and beyond the call of duty, I'll get recognition for my work.” This candidate doesn't seem to be self-motivated since her rewards come from the outside.
Q What one thing do you think you've done very well on your last job?
A I think I was very successful in all aspects of my last job. I'm particularly proud of my work with new hires. I developed programs that helped integrate them into the company and this in turn helped our ability to retain them as employees.
Because the interviewer has asked for one thing this person has done well, he is forced to only talk about one thing. He explains why he is particularly proud of that one accomplishment and explains how his success benefited his employer. He also makes a point of saying that this isn't his only success.
Never Say: “I can't think of just one thing.” If you are asked for one thing, you should be able to come up with something. If not, it appears that you can't think of anything you did well at your last job.
Q How has your employer rewarded your accomplishments?
A My employer initially rewarded me by trusting me enough to give me additional responsibility. This gave me a chance to really prove myself and I was ultimately rewarded with a big promotion.
This candidate discusses how at first her reward was simply being asked to do more. Did she object to that? No. It only gave her the opportunity to further prove herself so that she received the reward of a promotion.
Never Say: “Rewarded? He didn't reward anyone for anything. I guess he thought our paycheck was good enough.” This interviewee shouldn't speak with such animosity about his employer.
Q You seem to have accomplished a lot in your current job. Do you know why you weren't promoted?
A I wasn't promoted because unfortunately there wasn't a position to promote me to. JFR was a very small family-owned firm. The boss's two sons held the top positions, which were right above my position.
The candidate explains why he couldn't move beyond his current position in spite of his accomplishments. He doesn't seem resentful, but rather accepts this fact.
Never Say: “Sure I do. One word—nepotism. The boss's sons hold all the good positions. It doesn't matter how hard you work. You aren't moving up.” This candidate is clearly resentful of the way things are at his current job and makes the mistake of letting the interviewer know that.
Q Have you ever come up with new ways to solve a problem?
A Yes, I have. We had a problem with dismissal from our after-school program. Too many children were leaving at once, causing chaos in our parking lot. I developed a system for releasing children alphabetically so that parents could pick up siblings in different grades at the same time. If we had released children by grade, parents would have had to wait around for children who were in different grade levels. That would have added to the chaos.
The candidate states a specific problem and then discusses the steps she took to solve it. She even mentions how she anticipated and then prevented a potential problem.
Never Say: “I'm lucky. I haven't had to solve any problems.” If this candidate hasn't had to solve any problems, how can she be expected to do so in the future?
Q Have you ever “saved the day” for your employer?
A Yes, I have. It was the afternoon before our company was hosting a big luncheon. We called the caterer to confirm some of the details, but his number had been disconnected. We found out he had gone out of business and didn't bother to let us know. I called some friends at other companies and got a list of caterers together, called them, and got someone to do the job. My boss couldn't believe I managed to hire someone on such short notice.
The interviewee, by giving this example, shows how her resourcefulness helped her solve her employer's problem.
Never Say: “I've saved many days for them. I always have to fix everyone else's mistakes.” This answer, even if it is true, makes the interviewee seem arrogant.
Q Have you ever been asked to take on a project because of your unique skill or ability?
A Our senior developer regularly asks me to troubleshoot new programs. I've been very successful at figuring out why programs aren't working properly and I can usually do it pretty quickly, allowing the team to move forward.
This candidate chose to talk about a skill that will be as valuable to his prospective employer as it is to his current one.
Never Say: “I'm very good at planning parties, so when my boss's secretary was retiring she asked me to plan the party.” This skill probably won't be very important to the prospective employer.
Q Have you ever done something that directly helped your employer either increase profits or decrease costs?
A I recently found a way to help my employer save money on office supplies. For years, they bought office supplies from the same place. It was several blocks away, so it was pretty convenient. I have found that shopping online is almost always less expensive than shopping in a store, so I did a little comparison shopping and I found an online source for our office supplies at a savings of 40 percent from what we were paying for the same items. Plus, the order is delivered to the office, which is even more convenient. As long as we order several items at once, delivery is free.
This interviewee's answer illustrates how he looks out for his employer's best interests.
Never Say: “I just go about doing my job. I guess that increases their profits, doesn't it?” This candidate needs to remember he's trying to sell himself to this employer. Instead of saying he'll “just do the job,” he needs to show why he'd be great at it.
Q Have you ever been assigned a project you didn't think you'd be able to get through? If so, what happened?
A I've been assigned many projects that seemed difficult at first, but I refuse to think of any project as impossible. Before I begin any project, I think about how I'm going to tackle it. I come up with a plan and take it step by step. If I think I need help with a project, I ask for advice from those with more experience.
This candidate demonstrates that she will not be defeated by any project, yet she is not averse to asking for help when she needs it. She explains how she approaches all projects in a systematic fashion.
Never Say: “There isn't a project I can't get through.” There's a difference between self-assurance and cockiness. Without explaining what she does in order to get through difficult projects, this candidate just sounds cocky.
Q It seems like you've accomplished a lot. I know everyone fails, at least occasionally. Tell me about something you failed at.
A When I was a freshman in college I decided to run for president of the management club. My opponent was in his junior year. I came up with what I thought and still think was a great platform. I campaigned vigorously. Unfortunately I lost the election. I'm pretty sure it was due to my lack of experience. I ran too early in my school career. Two years later I ran again and I won.
The applicant chooses to discuss a failure that isn't work-related and attributes it to her lack of experience rather than something she had control over.
Never Say: “I ran for president of the management club and lost.” The applicant must give a more detailed answer. This one leaves the interviewer to wonder why the applicant lost the election.
Q Is there anything I've missed?
A Well, I did want to mention that I was honored by my organization's board of directors for developing a program that reached out to a large number of senior citizens in need of financial assistance. We now help just over 650 seniors each year.
The candidate uses this opportunity to bring to the interviewer's attention an accomplishment he didn't discuss previously.
Never Say: “No. I think you just about covered it all. Are we done?” This candidate sounds like he's in a hurry for the interview to be over. Since it is unlikely that everything has been covered, he may be missing a chance to discuss something that can work in his favor.