- Start with an open-ended question.
An open-ended question cannot be answered by "yes" or "no" and it
usually does not have right or wrong answers. It is a good way to
put the candidate at ease, allow them to freely sell themselves
for the job. It is also a good way for you to find out some basic
qualifications of the candidate, and to get some cues as to what
to ask next.
- Validate the candidate's claims.
Does he/she really know what he/she is talking about? For
instance, if candidate said "I lived in Africa for three years and
was principal in the school system. You could ask "Could you tell
me some of the key activities you were engaged in when you were
principal?" Make sure that your question is
phrased very clearly so the candidate must provide details.
Try to draw out specifics: Ask
questions like How Long, when, where etc.
- Here are some examples of open-ended
"Please tell me a bit about your experience while on Safari in
b) "What is the most rewarding job you've had and why?"
c) "Why do you think you qualify for this job?"
d) Now think! Pop quiz: Is this an open-ended question "Have you
The answer is "no". Because the
question can be answered by saying "yes" or "no".
Types of Topics in Questions
Patton notes six kinds of questions. One can
ask questions about:
- Behaviors - about what a person
has done or is doing
- Opinions/values - about what a
person thinks about a topic
- Feelings - note that
respondents sometimes respond with "I think ..." so be careful
to note that you're looking for feelings
- Knowledge - to get facts about
- Sensory - about what people
have seen, touched, heard, tasted or smelled
- Background/demographics -
standard background questions, such as age, education, et
Sequence of Questions
- Get the respondents involved in the
interview as soon as possible.
- Before asking about controversial
matters (such as feelings and conclusions), first ask about some
facts. With this approach, respondents can more easily
engage in the interview before warming up to more personal
- Intersperse fact-based questions
throughout the interview to avoid long lists of fact-based
questions, which tends to leave respondents disengaged.
- Ask questions about the present
before questions about the past or future. It's usually
easier for them to talk about the present and then work into the
past or future.
- The last questions might be to
allow respondents to provide any other information they prefer
to add and their impressions of the interview.
Wording of Questions
- Wording should be open-ended.
Respondents should be able to choose their own terms when
- Questions should be as neutral as
possible. Avoid wording that might influence answers, e.g.,
evocative, judgmental wording.
- Questions should be asked one at a
- Questions should be worded clearly.
This includes knowing any terms particular to the program or
the respondents' culture.
- Be careful asking "why" questions.
This type of question infers a cause-effect relationship
that may not truly exist. These questions may also cause
respondents to feel defensive, e.g., that they have to justify
their response, which may inhibit their responses to this and
- Occasionally verify the tape
recorder (if used) is working.
- Ask one question at a time.
- Attempt to remain as neutral as
possible. That is, don't show strong emotional reactions to
their responses. Patton suggests to act as if "you've heard it
- Encourage responses with
occasional nods of the head, "uh huh"s, etc.
- Be careful about the appearance
when note taking. That is, if you jump to take a note, it
may appear as if you're surprised or very pleased about an
answer, which may influence answers to future questions.
- Provide transition between major
topics, e.g., "we've been talking about (some topic) and now
I'd like to move on to (another topic)."
- Don't lose control of the
interview. This can occur when respondents stray to another
topic, take so long to answer a question that times begins to
run out, or even begin asking questions to the interviewer.
Immediately After Interview
- Verify if the tape recorder, if
used, worked throughout the interview.
- Make any notes on your written
notes, e.g., to clarify any notes, ensure pages are
numbered, fill out any notes that don't make senses, etc.
- Write down any observations made
during the interview. For example, where did the interview
occur and when, was the respondent
particularly nervous at any time? Were there any surprises
during the interview? Did the tape recorder break?