A former student of mine who had completed one of my courses on interviewing skills sent me an e-mail about three months later, reporting that he’s been able to apply much of what he’d learned. He commented that at the time, he’d thought I was making too big a deal about the importance of asking different types of questions, that initially he’d seen nothing wrong with simply asking, “Tell me about yourself.” I wrote back that I was delighted he’d found the class useful and queried, “What’s the most important thing you learned about asking questions during an employment interview?” His response came back immediately: “I learned that any thought can be expressed in a number of different ways. The wording you choose will determine how much information you receive and how useful that information is in making a hiring decision.”
I knew he was copying that statement from his notes, but I didn’t care. His response demonstrated an understanding of the power of words during an interview and how extensively the wording of a question impacted the end result. I was also thrilled that he no longer used the “Tell me about yourself” question, which I consider to be among the worst ever asked. It lacks direction and structure and invites applicants to volunteer illegal information.
I wrote back, “Good for you, your organization, and all the applicants you interview! Can you impress me further by telling me the types of questions you ask?” I received his answer within minutes: “In addition to posing competency-based questions during most of the interview, I present open-ended, hypothetical, probing, and some closed-ended questions. And even though you didn’t ask, I’ll tell you what questioning techniques I avoid: trait, multiple choice, and forced choice, because these types of questions usually result in meaningless or misleading information.”
Once again, I recognized my own words, and as before, it didn’t matter. He’d walked into my class believing that the wording of questions was irrelevant and left appreciating the role well-worded questions play in the selection process. Mission accomplished.
By definition, open-ended questions require full, multiple-word responses. The answers generally lend themselves to discussion and result in information upon