Good interview questions

John Sawatsky taught me that the way you ask questions in interviews determines how good an answer you get. Not only that, but some ways of asking actually suppress the answer.

In general, you want your subjects to give you accurate, full, and honest answers. You want to find out what they know and think. And you don’t want stuff their staffs wrote for them to memorize and spout back at you.

Good questions tend to be open-ended, active, neutral, simple, and short.

An open-ended question does not limit subjects to one path, but allows them to choose where to go. Such questions often lead you to things you didn’t know about, and give you clues to the subjects’ personality and experience. Here’s an open-ended question: “What formed you as a glass artist?”

Active questions make the subjects think. They require exploration and invite follow-ups, where the treasure usually lies. Here’s an active question: “How do financial considerations affect what you choose to paint?”

Neutral questions avoid value judgments that lead to digressions from what you want to find out. Suppose you ask, “Had you seen Van Gogh’s Starry Night (my favorite painting) before you painted your own Brightly Night?” The artist may reply, “Actually, I dislike Dutch painting.” And you have to ask the question again in different form. The neutral version might be “What other art works, if any, influenced your Brightly Night?”

Simple questions focus a little more by limiting the avenues the subjects can pursue. “Why did you switch from painting on oak to painting on glass?”

And short questions tend to get the best answers of all, because they startle the subjects a little but don’t distract them. Here’s the most effective short question, in my experience: “Why?” Then you sit back, shut up, and wait. I also use “How?” and “Oh?” a lot. My favorite question isn’t a question, but “Hmm, tell me more.”

[What are your favorite interview questions?]

Published in: on November 19, 2009 at 12:07 pm  Comments (9)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] Please read the short lesson on writing good interview questions: […]

  2. […] Please read the short lesson on writing good interview questions: […]

  3. […] Please read the short lesson on writing good interview questions: […]

  4. […] Please read the short lesson on writing good interview questions: […]

  5. I really appreciate this article.Thanks to you, my job interview went swell. I now have a job to feed my 7 kids and cat! You see I have been in and out of a job for years now, but thanks to interview went extremely good and I was hired right away at Home Depot. I even got to meet the boss!! How exciting!! Your blog helps me through this event in my life, you rock!!

  6. Thanks, Kitty. The questions were intended for information interviewers, and it never occurred to me to use them as the interviewee. Great idea. Don

  7. Good article, I like the advice about active and open ended questions. I’m working on preparing some interview questions myself, and these help frame my ideas.

  8. Thanks, Casey. The interview of Lance Armstrong by Oprah on TV was a model of how NOT to interview. Don.

  9. Mr. Morris;

    I hope not to hear from you or your class again. Thanks.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: