Imagine an interview without communication. Boring, right? It sounds obvious but, unless both parties engage, ask questions and listen nothing happens and little will be learned. So, if questioning and listening is all that happens during an interview it stands to reason that asking the right questions and predicting what you’ll be asked is the secret to success.

In fact, asking the right questions is a fundamental truth behind all relationships, personal and business. Answers give us honesty, falsities, knowledge, reassurance, stress, humour, sadness, and indeed everything we need to assess whatever it is we’re doing or feeling. Given how wide ranging the answers can be to our questions it’s important that we are deliberate and accurate to avoid confusion and misleading responses.

There are many different types of questions including rhetorical, funnel, leading and probing however, the most common mistakes are caused by the misuse of Open and Closed Questions and so these are the ones we’re going to focus on.

We use these questions every day without thinking however, they are very, very useful when delivered deliberately to qualify and explore a person’s knowledge. Asking an open or closed question simply demands an answer that is either open ended, descriptive and insightful or closed, short and conclusive. Using them in combination is a very effective technique for interviewing and is used the world over. It’s also extremely valuable for the interviewee, making your questions at the end of the interview more interesting and giving you better quality replies.

Asking a ‘Closed Question’ is the very best way to qualify a person’s stance on something and always starts with a word that dictates a short answer such as, do, have, will, can, etc . For example:

The Question:                    Do you believe pigeons to be the keepers of knowledge?”  

The Answer is either:   “Yes” or “No”.

The Question:                    “Have you ever been stalked by a frisky renegade badger?”  

The Answer is either:   “Yes” or “No”.

What do mean, Yes?!?? You are indeed a strange one but you’ve got my attention…

By asking an ‘Open Question’ I can expand on your closed response to explore just how weird you are and to find out if I have to worry about this pesky badger. Open questions usually start with Who, What, Where, When and How. For example:

The Question:  “Why pigeons when owls are the clearly the obvious choice?“

The Answer:     “Because Owls are selfish. Knowledge is something to be shared and the pigeon is the perfect carrier.“  

The Question:  “What’s the score with this maverick renegade badger then?”

The Answer:     “Let me just say that Badger is the best combat vet I’ve ever seen. A pure fighting machine with only a desire to win a war that someone else lost. And if winning means he has to die – he’ll die. No fear, no regrets. And one more thing, what you choose to call hell, he calls home.”

Okaaaaaay, so by using a closed question I have established that you absolutely terrify me. By asking open questions I have explored the reasons why you terrify me which has, in turn, enabled me to make the decision to walk away, backwards, slowly towards the door and run away as fast as my skinny little legs will carry me.

Asking open questions helps promote good conversation while strategic little closed questions during their answer will confirm you understand what they’re saying or demonstrate that you’ve been listening.

What not to do is best demonstrated by nervous men trying to chat up women in bars. The number one reason that they fail to spark conversation is a misguided ‘comfort blanket’ obsession with closed questions. Do you come here often? Do you like music? Are you here with anyone? These are all classic pulling questions that are fundamentally flawed because they will only ever result in a yes or a no.

Make a slight change to: What brings you here? What music do you like? Who are you here with? And hey presto! Deeper, more colourful answers that’ll lead to an actual conversation with, yes chaps, a real lady. No fooling!


Not strictly a question but ‘demands’ are very relevant when combined with open and closed questioning. Sometimes after asking a question you might want a bit more information so, instead of asking the question again, you can demand more information. This sounds a bit harsh but in fact we do it all the time! For example:

“Tell me…”          “Describe a time…”         “Show me…”     “Give me an example…”

You can also use demands to ‘turbo’ your question to inspire a better answer. For example:

Tell me in detail what the donkey did to offend you?”

So there you have it – A proper explanation for how to use Open and Closed Questions and related Demands that you can adopt and build into your life. Use them properly in an interview and pay attention to the differences you experience with regard to engagement, rapport and response.