If you have interviewed for any length of time, or if you have attended any training courses, then you will certainly know the difference between an open and a closed question.

But if you haven’t, let me enlighten you now. Because you might just get frustrated with how often interviews grind to a halt, how they are just punctuated by a series of grunts from your interviewees.

Open questions make interviews flow much more naturally, closed questions tend to make them go in fits and starts. Because closed questions invite a short, even a one-word answer, open questions almost demand a considered response.

Think of it like talking to a teenager. If you ask “Tell me about your day at school today” then you might just get more than a one-word answer. But if you say “Did you have a good day at school today?”, don’t be disappointed if they answer no more than “yes”.

And so the same goes in interviews if you ask “Explain how your department performed last year” then the respondent needs to give you some information, needs to open a conversation, needs to engage. But if you ask “Did you hit budget last year?” it’s either Yes or No. And you have to ask another question.

Pretty well any question you can think of asking that is closed can be turned into an open question and prompt a conversation rather than just a grunt. People are nervous at interviews, and often they go for the safer one-word answer rather than explaining everything. And you need to bring them out of your shell.

Useful words like “Explain….” or “Take me through….” or “Tell me a little bit about” or even “Why did you….” are all good lead ins to open questions. And open questions lead to open conversations and you will get much more out of your candidates than a series of short answers.

Good luck

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