Build great Teams – People management

Is A Question Simply A Question?

Is A Question Simply A Question?

Ask the right question and you’ll get the information you need. Communication is key to all aspects of managing people. The questions you ask in interview when recruiting an employee or engaging a freelancer. Making sure an individual has understood a request you have made of them once they are working for you. And a whole lot more.

There are, however, different ways to ask a question. That’s what we’re going to look at today. I’m going to limit my examples to interview-based situations, but the point is valid for all conversations. The information provided here is valid for all situations where you might need to ask questions. There are different types of question so let’s look at some of them and find out when to use them.

A Closed Question

If you ask a candidate, “Can you use Excel?” you are asking a closed question. This expects a specific response. The most common closed question is one that leads to either a “Yes” or a “No” response. For the example, “Can you use Excel?” the only realistic answer is “Yes” or “No”. Closed questions can be useful to keep an interview or conversation on track. They don’t allow the other person to spin off to a new topic.

In an interview you are generally looking to find out as much information as possible. In that situation they are not always helpful. They don’t encourage the other person to give you additional information. If you were asking about Excel knowledge, more information would be helpful. If someone answers ‘Yes’ to the question “Can you use Excel?” it doesn’t really tell you anything useful. Can the person simply type numbers into Excel but can’t manipulate those numbers as data or do any formatting? Or are they Excel wizards? Can they create pivot tables and macros, and create customized tools that can do all sorts of exciting things?

An Open Question

Open questions, as the name suggests, leave it wide open for the other person to tell you anything. This is a good thing in an interview. You want to see how they interpret a question and what they think is relevant to include in their answer. Find out which details they think demonstrate their ability or experience. All this information, if given freely by the candidate, will tell you a lot about them.

An open version of the Excel question might be “Tell me about a time when you’ve used Excel”. If they’ve never used Excel they can simply tell you that. But, if they have used Excel, it allows them to sell how they’ve used it to you.


Starting with a closed question can be a useful way to find out what a candidate thinks about something. There can be no sitting on the fence with a Yes/No question. You might start with a ‘Closed’ question to force a point of view. Then you could use an ‘Open’ question to get them to explain that point of view further.

For example, you might ask “Do you think it’s better to work in a team or on your own?” That is a closed question. The only realistic answers are either “Team” or “On your Own”. You’ve forced an opinion. You can then follow up with an open question to find out why they think that. Find out what experiences led to this opinion. You might follow up with “What has been you experience of working in a team?” Alternatively you could use, “What has been you experience of working on your own?” You could even ask both questions.

Leading Questions

Let’s go back to our Excel example. If you ask a job candidate “Can you use Excel”, they will assume that you are looking for someone who can use Excel. If they’re sensible, and if they know Excel at any level at all, they will answer “Yes”. Does that tell you anything useful? This is what’s known as a Leading question. It is leading the candidate to give you the answer they think you want to hear. It can be difficult, but in interviews in particular, try and avoid asking leading questions.

My Question To You

How well do you use questions? Do you used open and closed questions appropriately? Are you guilty of using leading questions in interviews? If this is something you would like to discuss or would like some help with, contact me at You can also buy my book Accelerate to Team Success which is available as a paperback or on Kindle.


About the Author:

Nikki Faulkner photo Dr Nikki Faulkner founded Mulberry Bush Consulting to work with business leaders and their teams to make the 'People' side of their business as effective as possible. Mulberry Bush Consulting's specialty is helping small businesses who are new to having employees and helping businesses who are growing rapidly and increasing their employee-base at a rate that is creating a significant challenge.

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