In an interview, you’re very likely to encounter open-ended questions, and it pays to be prepared. In this article, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of open-ended interview questions and provide essential details on common questions you may encounter, tips, and example answers so you’re prepared to answer them effectively.
Nervous about an upcoming interview? Wondering how to prepare if you don’t know what they’re going to ask? We can help! You need to be prepared for a variety of behavioral and situational interview questions so that the interviewers can get a better idea of who you are as well as your skills and experience. But there’s one more type of question you should look out for — the open-ended interview question.
In this article, we’ll discuss the concept of open-ended interview questions and how to answer them, including:
What are open-ended questions?
Are there different types of open-ended questions?
What are 3 examples of open-ended questions?
Basically, open-ended questions can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Many candidates might find these questions frustrating because there's no right or wrong answer. However, think about it this way: open-ended questions are a great opportunity to “sell” your skills and experience. Essentially, you’re shaping the conversation in a way that puts yourself in the best light.
And because there’s no right or wrong way to answer, open-ended questions can lead to a deeper understanding of your motivations, thought process, and decision-making skills beyond what's printed on your resume. The different types of open-ended questions for hiring managers can provide a better interview experience and make sure that you're the right candidate. You can also find these in peer interviews.
With open-ended questions, the interviewee has to provide details, uncover attitudes and opinions, and show off their communication skills. It takes a little thought and planning to get these questions right. They usually fall into three main categories:
Behavioral questions. These questions help determine how you handle challenging situations and how you’ve used your skills to overcome them.
Situational questions. While similar to behavioral questions, instead of asking for a real-life situation you’ve encountered, the interviewer wants to see how you would handle a hypothetical situation.
Anecdotal open-ended questions. This type asks you to imagine a common situation and how you feel about it, or how you view yourself in the workplace.
Think about your skills, experience, past accomplishments, and challenges you’ve overcome. Now, using the STAR method, craft responses that demonstrate your aptitude and ability.
While there’s no way of knowing exactly what questions you’ll be asked in an interview (although wouldn’t that be great?), you can familiarize yourself with the most common open-ended questions and prepare accordingly.
While we’ll discuss three of the questions in-depth, here are a few that come up frequently in interviews:
What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
Tell me about a time that you demonstrated leadership.
Do you consider yourself creative? Why or why not?
How would your co-workers describe you?
How do you prioritize your work?
What motivates you?
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Although there is a wide range of open-ended questions an interviewer can use, according to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) there are a few things that a hiring manager can’t legally ask, such as questions about your race, religion, pregnancy, or age unless there are legal age requirements for the position.
While there’s no need to have your answers memorized, you should prepare for an interview by reviewing common questions and having concise, relevant questions ready. Here are three common questions and suggestions on how to respond; tailor them to your individual situation.
The answer to this question is not, “Because I need a paycheck.” Interviewers want to know if you’ve done your research about the company, find out what you know about the position, and see if your career goals match it. For example, you could say:
“I’ve long admired ABC Company’s work and I’ve spent a good amount of time studying your ads and what makes them so effective. I can tell that you eschew flash and glamor and focus on real-life people and meeting their needs. I follow ABC Company on social media, and I really like how it’s not just one person handling the accounts. At my previous company, I was responsible for creating and overseeing our Instagram account and I was able to grow it to over 50,000 users in the first four months. Along with my experience, I also have a commitment to community service, and I share your vision of helping others along with providing information about our client’s goods and services. For these reasons, I think I’d make an excellent addition to your team as the social media director.”
When asking this question, interviewers aren’t interested in a recap of your resume. They want to know that you have, at least, a basic grasp of their challenges and how you'd fit into the company. Link your skills and background to the company’s needs and give an example of how you’ve handled similar situations in the past, as this response does:
"I understand that XYZ Company is focused on expanding its client base with mid-size businesses with 50-250 employees, so I'd bring my background in leading sales teams that are focused on these types of companies. Most of my past experience has been focused on midsize companies, and I was responsible for developing sales plans that targeted them. I worked with C-suite executives to create the sales goals and sat in on calls with salespeople and offered feedback. During the first three quarters of last year, my 15-person team closed 75 deals and I personally handled eight of those deals. Before that, I led my sales team into the online arena and I would welcome the chance to do the same at XYZ Company. Also, I noticed on your Instagram account that you have monthly company bake-offs. I make a mean Petite Madeleine that I’d love to show off!”
Make sure you research and align your answer with the type of environment the company offers. If you’re looking for a remote position and the company doesn’t offer that, it might be a red flag for both parties. Here’s how you could frame your answer:
“I’m lucky to have a current work situation that suits me well. There is a level of trust in the employees, so they know I’ll get my work done accurately and on time, and I’m allowed to make my own schedule, within reason, and prioritize my work as I see fit, which is good for me. While the office environment is full of closed cubicles, we all work pretty independently, but my team makes an effort to have lunch together at least once a week. And we have regularly scheduled meetings and utilize apps such as Slack so we always have a chance to check in and exchange ideas. It’s the perfect blend between an independent and collaborative environment, and I really like that. How would you describe the setup here at PDQ Company?"
Need to polish your interviewing skills? Check out our Interview Prep tool for expert advice, personalized feedback, and AI-led mock interviews to increase your confidence and get the job you want.
Open-ended questions are a great opportunity to “sell” your skills and experience, and shape the conversation in a way that allows you to put yourself in the best light.
Three types of open-ended interview questions are behavioral, situational, and anecdotal.
When answering open-ended interview questions, use the STAR method, don’t ramble, give specific examples, and add a bit of personality to your answer.
Jennifer Inglis is a freelance writer and content creator with extensive professional expertise in advertising, media analysis, teaching, writing, and literature. Prior to working for Career.io, Jennifer was a public school teacher, teaching courses in college and career readiness, writing, and public speaking. Jennifer has a master’s degree in Teaching, and is the author of two published novels.