Seeks general information without placing parameters around the answer.


What’s a typical day for you there?

What was your mission?

Why did you leave?

What would you have done differently?

Benefits: Answers reflect the choices and priorities of your interview subject, which can provide insight into his or her values and approach.

Liabilities: Openness allows a subject to evade or ramble. It can sometimes be more difficult to touch each base on your assessment agenda.


Seeks specific information within narrowly defined parameters.


To whom do you report?

Have you ever been fired?

Will you relocate?

Can you give me an example?

Have you ever programmed in C++?

Benefits: Digs out the details of someone’s experience and knowledge.

Liabilities: Doesn’t as easily let you see your interview subject’s point of view or agenda.


Seeks more depth in a subject’s answer to dig out information or attitudes. Can be open or closed. Often comes from picking up on something in an interview subject’s answer.

Example Series:

To whom did you report?

What did you think of him/her?

How did you get along with him/her?

How did s/he review you?

Benefits: Follow-up questions turn up much of the critical material in an interview. They often arise naturally out of the discussion; so they usually feel like a non-intrusive way to dig up information.

Liabilities: Sometimes breadth of questioning is sacrificed to depth of follow-up.

Types of questions and examples


Asks virtually the same question in a different way.

Example Series:

What are your development needs? …It sounds like those are the flip side of your strengths. Are there areas where you feel you could use improvement?

Are there some specific skills you think you should develop?

Benefits: Can break through resistance, clarify vagueness or surface contradictions.

Liabilities: Can be intimidating or annoying, possibly affect rapport or openness.


Seeks to force the interview subject to consider another’s perspective in an attempt to increase an answer’s degree of objectivity.


What would your team leader say about your work on that project?

How did others get along with your boss?

Did your spouse or friends have any take on that decision?

Benefits: Acts as a check and balance on data or opinions. It forces a more careful consideration of an assertion. It raises possible future reference names. It is particularly effective in interviewing references about others’ views on a candidate.

Liabilities: Again, may sacrifice breadth of questioning for depth.


Seeks to bring out, with more nearly concrete examples, a subject’s values, decision-making style, and ability to think on his or her feet.

Example: How would you handle it if you had a new product demo to give in a deadline-driven, competitive bid process, and Development was telling you some major bugs wouldn’t be removed in time?

Benefits: Forces a subject to respond to a specific situation, and in that sense, can be more indicative of how s/he operates.

Liabilities: It’s close to impossible to replicate all the circumstances surrounding a real world situation, which can limit the value of a hypothetical answer. The answer’s value might also be limited by the subject’s feeling “on the spot.”

Some lines of questioning enable you to push back if you feel doubt and/or want more information

Devil’s Advocate

Seeks to test the strength of someone’s reasoning by advancing the opposite side of his or her viewpoint. Almost always derives from assertions made by the interview subject.

Example Series: In a major account where we’ve done lots of business, if you’ve been told no on our latest product by the MIS Manager who claims to have final say, do you go over her head? …You say you would, but wouldn’t that jeopardize future sales there? …Even if you informed her first, couldn’t it seem disrespectful of her authority, thereby creating a new obstacle to getting the sale? Could it be more effective to accept the loss, maybe even thank her for her consideration in a complimentary memo, and grease the way for the next time?

Benefits: Often uncovers a subject’s advocacy ability and presence of mind, as well as the more fundamental values behind how s/he operates.

Liabilities: Can set an adversarial tone if not handled smoothly. Another style that can establish depth on a certain point and sacrifice breadth of questioning.


Involves stating a point that is the opposite of what you believe to see if the interview subject will simply agree. It’s often set up by stating a seemingly indisputable premise.

Examples: Service is so expensive to provide these days. I think it’s important to discipline ourselves to deliver answers on product questions only after a sale’s been made. What kind of success have you had instilling that sort of discipline in your group?

Benefits: Can test a subject’s sincerity when s/he has seemed contradictory or disingenuous.

Liabilities: You could find yourself in a position of being credited with a viewpoint that is the opposite of what you think. Not recommended unless you’ve cause to believe you’re being told only what the subject thinks you want to hear.

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