Powerful Questioning

Asking great questions is one thing CY Partners are interested in, I mean we do it A LOT, and it is a skill everyone can use and improve. If you are a job seeker attending interviews or if you are an interviewer going to be asking them, then this run down of the different types of questions and what they serve to achieve is for you.

Why ask Great Questions?

Ultimately it lets us feel heard, when done well it prevents assumptions being made (and from offering advice or opinion), answering brings clarity and greater understanding. Great questions make for great interviews. Regardless of which side of the interview you are on, understanding questioning and how we can make it more powerful will lead to success and personal development.

And with Great Questions comes…

…Great Responsibility (and also answers). It is the interviewers responsibility to be present and engage Active Listening in the interview which is a skill where the interviewee gets their undivided attention. All thoughts of the lab or desk are left behind and they show up fully and engage without judgement and with respect. I say without judgement because that comes later. As soon as we see a social cue that we are being judged, we subconsciously begin filtering and that extra layer of brain activity can lead to anxiety and sometimes answers that are not what we wanted to say at all. This is a nuanced balance as interviewees also need to adapt based on social cues (read my post on metacognition here) but leaving the judgement until after the process will allow for a more meaningful interview.

Open Questions – Questions to Elicit Abstraction

Most of us will have heard of open questions; they are the mainstay of interviews as it allows the response to be expansive and not a closed yes or no. It gives the interviewee a chance to speak, elaborate, and ultimately to take the interview where they want to go with a degree of control. An example of this type of questions is “Tell me about yourself?” “Tell me about the duties you hold in your current role?” A note of caution here is for the interviewee to choose situations they can then answer further questions on when called for so a brick wall is not hit.

They are a great rapport building type of question and help the interview go from surface level to deeper understanding and connection. This is what you want so the ‘non-fiction short stories of a time when’ (remember STAR from our interview tips? Link here) can shine and show the interviewee’s true self, skills and potential.

Probing Questions – Curiosity and Going Deeper

Allows the interviewer to challenge thinking, refine the questioning and to avoid layering. When asking questions, it’s important to ask one at a time (or perhaps two), otherwise you will not get a full answer to any. I mean that could be a test of listening and retention skills in itself couldn’t it, so be prepared for both scenarios but if the ultimate goal is a full answer, then avoiding excessive layering is appropriate. Probing questions then allow you to delve into specific areas. “How did you handle that?” “Why do you think that is?” “What else did you consider?”

Closed Questions – Questions to Elicit Specificity

Used to tie something down, to gain specifics. Examples I can think of are “Can you drive?” “Would you re-locate for this role?”. They are factual and easy and quick to answer, but closed questions can also be used to keep control of the conversation or to gain clarity following on from an expansive question. Being able to listen, summarise and ask relevant clarifying questions in response is an outcome of good active listening skills.

Curve-ball Questions – Whimsical or Impossible to Answer

If it’s not going well or the interviewee is really nervous, why not ask a curve-ball such as “what kind of animal/superhero/utensil would you be and why?” to bring them out of their anxiety, add a little lightness and creativity to the process. It engages a different part of the brain, may gain a smile and perhaps the answer isn’t as important as the process of how they think it through?

There is a Gift in the Silence

We concentrate so much on the words and what is being said that maybe we should take a moment to acknowledge what space and silence can offer in an interview too. It enables room and allowing space could be exactly what both the interviewer and interviewee need to find the communication gold. Don’t be afraid of it. Rather use it to relax the breath, reconnect with your senses and prepare for the next question.


Some organisations have a script to ensure consistency across interviews and most perform interviews in a panel format and so there is a danger that the interview can turn into an interrogation or a tick box exercise without the ideal two-way connection, so the key is to balance both what you need to ask with an openness to where the interview leads. Like most skills, it improves with practice. If you want to develop your powerful questioning technique, why not ask for a coaching session with us?

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