Interviewing for Information: Open and Closed Ended Questions

By Randy Wooden, Director, Professional Center by Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina

We exchange information in interviews. Just as employers ask questions to determine who they would like to hire, job seekers ask questions to understand if the job is a right fit for them.

Let’s explore the two types of questions: open-ended and closed-ended.

Open-ended questions invite more than a yes or no answer. They often begin with words such as how, why, tell me about, who, what, where, when, or help me understand. Open-ended questions help us get a better understanding of job duties, challenges, and other areas of importance.

Closed-ended questions are often answered with a yes, no or other short response. Since interviews are most informative when you encourage conversation, be careful when using these. Closed-ended questions may begin with do, don’t, did, didn’t, are, aren’t, were, weren’t, is, or isn’t.

Here is an example to illustrate the difference between closed and open-ended questions.

Closed: Do you have a training program?

Open: How do you train your new employees?

Asking questions helps us gather information we need to determine whether the job is for us while creating the impression with the recruiter or hiring manager that we cared enough to prepare for the interview. Asking good questions may separate you from other candidates.