The Right Questions to Ask During an Interview

Article 6 min
An interview is about verbal and nonverbal communication. While nonverbal cues are always important, this resource will aid in choosing the proper questioning technique and type of question to conduct an interview that gets to the heart of the matter.

Sometimes the best parts of an interview come from foundational skills in active listening. When listening, it is possible to shape, tease out, cut out, emphasize—in the name of getting the outstanding story to emerge. Instead of asking a question, sometimes the best quotes and pieces of information come from mastering non-questioning skills, such as:

  • Face the message sender, maintain eye contact, listen and encourage.
  • Use non-verbal responses to communicate attention (e.g., nodding).
  • Use silence; don't interrupt to ask additional or follow-up questions.
  • Make statements requiring confirmation or denial.
  • Summarize and move on to reaffirm comprehension.

Non-questioning is the ability to resist responding immediately. Lean into the silence and give the interviewee time to process and speak without putting words in their mouth. This action can be a great boon to gain useful information that wouldn't otherwise come out.

While non-questioning is an excellent technique, understand that it is not effective in every situation. An interviewer cannot get by on silence alone. Ask the right questions that could lead to pregnant pauses, potentially giving the interviewer more material. When planning for an interview, developing questions that follow the general who, what, where, when, why and how (5W&H) format may be easy, though expanding on how to ask those questions could prove more difficult.

Beyond questioning for the 5Ws&H information, some different ways to ask are through closed, open, amplifying, clarifying, leading, directive (suggestive or loaded), indirect assumptive and junk questions.

Discover content by selecting individual tiles, or using the buttons across the top.

Choose the Right Type of Question


Of all the types of questions to ask, the simplest is the closed question. A closed question asks something that the interviewee responds to with a simple yes or no. By giving them the option to answer like this, they may not expound on their answer beyond the one word.

When developing questions, try to avoid this method. A simple modification can lead into an open question format.

For example, instead of asking an interviewee, “Did you do...?” ask “How (why, where, etc.) did you do...?"


The open question gets the interviewee to talk about a subject more effectively. The interviewee might give factual information chronologically or linearly. They also might talk about their personal opinion of a situation or interpretation of some piece of information. Simply adding "how" or "why" to the beginning of a question could result in an open question.


Amplifying questions sometimes aren’t questions at all. Sports reporters commonly use this technique. After a game, the reporter reminds a player about a specific play. Without even asking a question, the player generally will start speaking about the play they mentioned. Practicing this technique, along with active listening and non-questioning (silence), can lead to answers.

For example, "Friends tell me you come from a long line of military service as far back as the War of 1812." This gives the interviewee the impression that the interviewer researches and is interested in who they are as a person. By showing care and interest, the interviewer may generate better responses.


Clarifying questions seek to clarify interviewee answers. Use these questions to verify the order of events or get the interviewee to restate the response, including new information. Sometimes the respondent may have certain colloquialisms that are not understood, to which a clarifying question will help define the answer successfully.

For example, "Did I hear you say...?" or "Can you repeat that so I can be clear on the order of events?"


Leading questions prompt the respondent to answer in a particular way. They lead to answers that are most likely slanted. Many times, these types of questions can be confused with directive questions. A leading question creates an assumption about a particular act or belief behind an event.

For example, asking a commander, "What trouble are you having with your unit?" is a leading question. The phrasing assumes problems are present within the ranks. Alternatively, prompting the commander with, "Tell me more about your relationship with your unit" does not lead or imply any judgment.


Directive questions are also known as suggestive or loaded questions. They take a piece of information and apply an assumption of the outcome. The issue with loaded questions is that they contain an implicit or explicit assumption with which the person being questioned is likely to disagree.

For example, “Did you finally respond to the reporter?” is a loaded question because it implies that the subject is not timely. In this case, the loaded question pushes the respondent to give a yes or no answer and may cause them to become defensive. Regardless of the response they choose, they will appear to agree with the question’s underlying presupposition:

  • A response of “yes” appears to confirm they were late responding to reporters in the past but have since stopped.
  • A response of “no” appears to confirm they were late responding to reporters in the past and still do in the present.

This type of questioning, most times, supports logical fallacy. A logical fallacy is a pattern of reasoning that contains a flaw, either in its logical structure or underlying premises.

There is an instance where a directive question doesn’t take the form of a logical fallacy. When the respondent chooses to accept the assumed form of the question, it prevents a logical fallacy from occurring.

For example, the question, “What dress are you going to wear tonight?” This assumes that the respondent will wear a dress instead of a different article of clothing. If they respond by affirming the assumed status, wearing a dress, they prevent a logical fallacy since the assumed information is now presented as correct. If they refute the question by indicating they will wear pants, a skirt, etc., it results in a logical fallacy based on the assumption by the questioning party.

Indirect Assumptive

Indirect assumptive questions assume a positive answer and help overcome a barrier.

It's easy to observe this tactic during Girl Scout cookie sales season. When a customer approaches the table, a parent will probably ask, “How many boxes of cookies can I get for you?” The opposition generally comes from the young scouts asking, “Would you like to buy some cookies?”

As the customer is definitely at the table to buy cookies, the indirect assumptive question helps progress the conversation. It’s important to remember that indirect assumptive questions are not leading questions or directive questions, nor should they become either.


Junk questions are potentially some of the most important questions to ask. While they seem, as the name would imply, like junk, they can help suss out new information. They are effective prior to starting the interview to warm-up conversation with the interviewee and build rapport. They can also be a “breather” between hard-hitting questions throughout the interview, giving the subject a chance to clear their head. They can even lead to an element of the story that the interviewer hadn’t planned on covering because it was missing information during the pre-interview or research. While these potential benefits exist, most times, junk questions will be junk.

Junk questions have the potential for greatness in every interview. While they may be junk, or sometimes a little more than junk, they should be planned for with the same amount of effort as other questions.

For example, "When did you decide to pursue a career in the military?"

With any type of interview questions, the interviewer should pursue the messages that meet both commander intent and the audience’s needs.


Effectiviology. (n.d.). Loaded Questions: What they are and how to respond to them.

Effectiviology. (n.d.). Logical Fallacies: What they are and how to counter them.

Discover More You May Like

View All Articles