Questions that will equip you for a job search and leave a lasting impression on potential employers
Questions serve as a sort of compass that navigates us through conversations and interactions with colleagues and leaders. Asking the right questions at the right time has the power to reveal valuable insights and open doors of opportunity that may not have been otherwise available.
Did you know that there are different types of questions? Are you thinking of at least two right now? The ones you're thinking of are probably open-ended and close-ended, right? It might surprise you to find out there are so many types of questions that we can't cover them all in one article, so we'll focus on the ones that could impact your job search.
Let's take a walk through 5 types of questions, their definitions, and some examples now.
Question categories – 5 types of questions
As you can imagine, the different types of questions, and their nuances, play varied roles in communication. By understanding the categories of questions, you can better tailor your responses if someone is asking you a question. Conversely, you can elicit better responses and guide the conversation if you're the one asking the questions.
Let's face it, asking questions is inherent in human interaction and communication. It's how you learn things. It doesn't matter if you're having an informal conversation with a friend, participating in a job interview, or partnering with an executive leader on a breakthrough idea.
Before we dig into each type of question, let's categorize them and define what each type is intended for:
Closed-ended: Designed to elicit short, precise responses that are ideal for fact-finding and narrowing down options
Open-ended: Encourage detailed and thoughtful responses that foster deeper conversations
Probing: Seek comprehensive insights and are often used for research and interviews
Reflective: Introspective in nature, reflective questions prompt self-analysis and personal growth
Leading: Subtly influence the direction of discussions by influencing or helping to shape responses through the words used in the question
These are essentially “yes” and “no” questions. Sometimes, you can slip a brief piece of information into the conversation when a close-ended question is posed, but it's rare. These questions aim to extract specific details swiftly, making them ideal for situations where precision and clarity are paramount.
Examples of close-ended questions
"Did you enjoy the restaurant yesterday?"
"Have you visited this museum before?"
"Is the project deadline set for next week?"
"Did the candidate meet all the job requirements?"
"Have you completed your homework?"
Benefits of close-ended questions
Close-ended questions are undoubtedly efficient and can save a lot of time. They allow you to gather information through limited response options quickly. Close-ended questions also minimize ambiguity. There's really no questioning a "yes" or a "no" response. Most notably, close-ended questions give data that is easily quantified, analyzed, and interpreted, especially in a work environment.
Limitations of close-ended questions
While they can be good for getting exacting details about a situation or event, closed-ended questions do not encourage elaboration or nuanced responses. This can limit the depth of understanding, which may cause you to overlook valuable insights or perspectives.
Arguably, the second most popular type of question is the open-ended question. It's the cornerstone of a meaningful and in-depth conversation, because it invites expansive responses that can range from a few words to a few hundred words and more. This type of engaging dialogue fosters mutual understanding and deeper connections. Open-ended questions are used a lot in job interviews. They're the questions that you would use the STAR method to answer.
Examples of open-ended questions
"Why did you choose this particular field of study?"
"What challenges have you encountered in your current role and how did you overcome them?"
"How does the company's mission align with your personal values?"
"What is your approach to problem-solving in complex projects?"
Benefits of open-ended questions
When you want rich insights about a situation or event, then you should use open-ended questions because they encourage detailed and multifaceted responses and provide deeper insights into a person's thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Open-ended questions facilitate a better understanding of different perspectives and motivations, by giving people the space to express themselves fully. On top of that, the people being questioned feel empowered when given the freedom to articulate their ideas, leading to a more positive and collaborative atmosphere.
Limitations of open-ended questions
As you can imagine, when someone expounds on a topic, it can be time-consuming. They take longer to answer thoroughly, which can be a limitation in situations where time is at a premium. Also, you have to be aware of objectivity / subjectivity differences. People interpret things differently. This is where active listening becomes important. You may have to clarify what the respondent is saying to ensure that you're getting the right message. Likewise, if you're the respondent, you may have to clarify something you've said. In some cases, people find open-ended questions overwhelming. This is especially true when addressing sensitive, complex, or controversial topics.
Probing questions are the cousins of open-ended questions. They are often used as a follow-up to an open-ended question, to get more information. Ideally, a probing question encourages thoughtful reflection and uncovers deeper insights into your beliefs, actions, and decisions. If you hear (or use) “Tell me more about …” or something similar, then you've entered the world of probing questions.
Examples of probing questions
"Can you elaborate on the steps you took to overcome the challenges you faced?"
"What originally inspired you to pursue this particular career path?"
"Could you provide further examples to illustrate your perspective on the concept of employee engagement?"
"How do you believe this solution aligns with the company's long-term vision?"
"Did that experience with a difficult employee influence your leadership style?"
Benefits of probing questions
Probing questions unearth valuable information that might remain concealed with more superficial inquiries (like close-ended questions), leading to a better understanding of perspectives and experiences. It also enhances communication in a way that moves people away from monotony. Probing questions foster more engaging and insightful conversations, by encouraging thorough and thoughtful responses. The simple act of asking probing questions demonstrates genuine interest and active listening, building rapport and trust between the parties involved in the conversation.
Limitations of probing questions
As with open-ended questions, the issue of time can become a problem. Given their open-ended nature, probing questions may require more time to answer adequately, which might be a limitation in time-sensitive situations. In specific contexts, probing questions can be perceived as intrusive. This undesirable thought process can potentially hinder open communication, which is the exact opposite intent of a probing question. To avoid this, skillful delivery is required. You should be careful in presenting probing questions, to minimize any perception that your question is judgmental.
These types of questions do exactly what they sound like they do – they serve as mirrors of self-awareness and introspection. When used correctly, reflective questions can be powerful tools for personal growth and self-discovery, and building meaningful connections with others.
Examples of reflective questions
"What aspects of your past have shaped your goals?"
"How do you feel about the challenges you encountered, and how did they influence your personal growth?"
"What are the key strengths you possess that have contributed to your successes?"
"In what ways have your values evolved over time, and what triggered these changes?"
"How do you handle setbacks, and what have you learned from those experiences?"
Benefits of reflective questions
Reflective questions prompt introspection, leading to enhanced self-awareness and a deeper understanding of one's thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. This, of course, is one of the things responsible for personal growth. On top of that, when reflective questions are used in conversations, they help you to demonstrate empathy and create a deeper emotional connection, because the respondent feels like you care about their experiences.
Limitations of reflective questions
Some reflective questions may touch upon sensitive or difficult emotions, potentially causing discomfort or resistance in some people, as deep diving through personal issues can be overwhelming. This is especially true if they're not accustomed to exploring their feelings and thoughts. Others may be really good at compartmentalizing feelings, casting them aside as unimportant. These folks are more intellectual and may think that reflective questions are a waste of time. You also have to be careful when using reflective questions to gain information, because the responses are highly subjective and may not always provide objective or measurable insights.
While all question types have limitations, leading questions are the ones to avoid if you want meaningful insights from conversations. These types of questions are phrased in such a way as to suggest a particular answer or shape the respondent's perspective toward a specific outcome. They often contain implicit assumptions or cues that are meant to elicit a particular response.
Examples of leading questions
"Don't you agree that this new policy will greatly benefit the company?"
"Wouldn't you say that the team performed exceptionally well in the project?"
"Isn't it true that you always prioritize quality over quantity in your work?"
"Don't you think this product is far superior to its competitors?"
"Wouldn't you say that the event was a resounding success?"
Benefits of leading questions
Even though you should generally avoid leading questions, they can be helpful when seeking to emphasize a particular viewpoint or highlight a specific aspect of a topic. These questions encourage participants to respond in situations where they may be hesitant to express their thoughts. Leading questions can also serve as great conversation starters, helping to kick-start discussions on specific topics or issues.
Limitations of leading questions
At the end of the day, though, leading questions can inadvertently introduce bias into responses, as they are suggestive in nature. That means they can compromise the objectivity of any data collected, as respondents may provide answers they perceive as desired or expected. In specific contexts, the use of leading questions might be seen as manipulative or coercive, leading to ethical considerations in research or interviews.
Better communication through thoughtful questioning
The best way to ensure that you achieve a level of communication that is considered effective is to use a balanced mix of questions – the type of questions presented here and others. Thoughtful questioning fosters self-awareness, empowers individuals to share their experiences authentically, and facilitates deeper connections. Mixing the types of questions you use during a conversation is not merely a means of gathering information; rather, it is the essence of human connection, opening doors to new insights, fostering growth, and transforming conversations into meaningful encounters.
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