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Career Paths: A Time to Shine

February 3, 2014
by Tim Tolan
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Tim Tolan

What was your finest hour? It’s a fair question, and one that I like to ask the candidates (in one way or another) I interview. What’s amazing is that many have no idea how to articulate the major highlight of their career—their finest hour. In other words, many are clueless about where they made their greatest impact or what single activity/action/decision gave the world a glimpse of them at their very best. This is a question you should be able to answer effortlessly each and every time! What’s your story?

Candidates usually prepare for interviews—especially if they are interested in the role. There are countless interview guides and information available on the Web. I always advise candidates to do their homework on the client organization, and for the most part they all do plenty of preparation, researching recent announcements and news, as well as familiarizing themselves with the bios of the organization’s key executives. While that’s good information to know, eventually the executive team will want to hear your story.

Candidates can sometimes get moved off track when behavior-based questions and questions about previous successes or failures during their career come up. Most candidates are completely thrown off with this line of questioning—which is beyond me! I’m always interested in hearing about a candidate’s greatest career accomplishment and/or greatest challenge. If I ask candidates about their greatest career achievement, most have no idea how to answer the question (by the way, “I’m not sure” is never the right way to begin answering such an important question). You should know your “finest hour,” or, better said, your greatest career accomplishment, and be able to highlight specifics and details. It’s no time to be humble.

In fact, you should know The Where, The When, The How and The What….

So what was your finest hour? Each of us has a story to tell, and we should be very proud to do so. Hesitation on your part in answering this basic question is a huge red flag. Surely you have something to share. I like to understand success metrics during the interview process. It helps me tell the candidate’s story to my clients, and they like to hear how a candidate succeeded in previous roles. Successful people have a tendency to repeat themselves—over and over. Be sure to articulate your finest hour and be prepared to talk specifics. By that I mean:

Where: This gives me information that I can cross verify in my reference check should a candidate make it to the final round. It also allows me to ask about co-workers at that organization.

When: Was this early in your career? If so, you may have a few of these stories to tell me. People have a history of repeating themselves, so the timing is important to me.

How: How did your finest moment impact the organization you were working for? How did you accomplish this phenomenal feat? Were others involved? I'm curious and want to know the details.

What: What was the outcome? How did you move the needle? I always like to hear how a major career accomplishment changed or impacted the people, customers or the organization you worked for. Again, details please.

Telling your story about your greatest accomplishment should be a fun thing to do—and you should be proud to tell your story. On the other hand, if you don’t have a story that exemplifies your greatest accomplishment, well...that unfortunately tells a completely different story.
Let’s not go there. ◆

Tim Tolan is senior partner of Sanford Rose Associates-The Tolan Group. He can be reached at or (904) 875-4787. His blog can be found at