Most job interviews will contain at least a few open-ended interview questions. Basically, open-ended questions are those that cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no."
An employer might ask an open-ended question for a variety of reasons. Generally, they will ask an open-ended question to get a sense of your personality and to see if you will fit into the company culture. They might also ask this kind of question to see if you have the qualities and experience needed for the job.
Open-ended questions can feel intimidating because there are so many different ways you can answer them. Keep in mind that there are no right or wrong answers. However, a strong answer will focus on why you are an ideal candidate for the specific job they're trying to fill. The answer will be in-depth, and it might include an example from past work experience.
Types of Open-Ended Interview Questions
There are many different kinds of open-ended interview questions. One common type of open-ended question is a behavioral interview question. A behavioral interview question is one in which a person asks you about your past work experience. For example, an employer might ask you to, “Tell me about a time when you struggled to meet a deadline,” or “Describe your greatest accomplishment at work.”
Another common type of open-ended question is a situational interview question. A situational interview question is one in which a person asks how you would handle a hypothetical work situation. For example, the employer might ask, “What would you do if you knew your boss was wrong about something related to your work?”
Other common open-ended questions do not fit into a specific category. For example, one of the most commonly asked open-ended questions is actually a statement: "Tell me about yourself." There are many other kinds of open-ended interview question types, including anecdotal interview questions (in which you recount a previous work experience) and competency questions (in which you explain how you have demonstrated certain skills in the past).
Tips for Answering Open-Ended Interview Questions
Here are a few general tips for dealing with open-ended questions:
- Focus on the job description. No matter what your answer, be sure it focuses on the skills, requirements, and/or experiences related to the job. For example, if an employer asks you to talk about a time you achieved success at work, try to provide an example that relates to the kind of work you would be doing at this job.
- Provide an example. When appropriate, provide an example from your past work experience in your answer. For example, in a situational interview question about how you would handle a future problem, you can give your answer by explaining a time you solved a work problem in the past.
- Use the STAR technique. When answering a question by using an example, try using the STAR interview technique. This involves describing an example of a past work experience in detail. Explain the situation, the task or problem you dealt with, the action you took to solve it, and the results.
- Go in depth, but keep it concise. You want to provide in-depth responses to open-ended questions. However, be sure you don’t just talk and talk for too long. Stay focused on clearly answering the question. Keep your answer to-the-point and concise.
This is particularly important when you are asked the common interview question, “Tell me about yourself.” What the prospective employer wants is a quick snapshot of who you are—no more than three minutes—and why you're the best candidate for the position. You should talk about what you've done to prepare yourself to be the very best candidate for the position. Use an example or two to back it up. "Tell me about yourself" does not mean "tell me everything." Stick with stories and personality traits that show what makes you unique and the best candidate for the job.
Open-Ended Interview Questions–Tips and Best Answers
"Tell Me About Yourself"
This is often a question an employer will ask early on in the interview, as a way to build rapport. You can start by mentioning one or two personal hobbies that might not directly relate to the job, but they show something positive about your personality. You can then transition to mentioning one or two of your traits or abilities that relate more directly to the job.
- I am very dedicated to serving youth in my neighborhood. For example, I volunteer as a staff member for my town’s theater program for elementary-school children. I also provide SAT prep to local high school students once a month. I believe my passion for inspiring and educating kids makes me a good fit for your education nonprofit organization.
"What Is Your Greatest Strength?"
This is a common question that can be answered in many different ways. When responding, don’t be modest, but don’t exaggerate either. Focus on a particular strength of yours that relates directly to the job, and provide an example of a time you showed that strength at work. Use the STAR interview technique to explain how you have used your strength in the past to help add value to a company.
- One of my strengths is my attention to detail. This comes through in my thorough copyediting and proofreading skills. As a marketing assistant at my previous job, my supervisor always praised my ability to spot every grammatical and spelling error. She even began to give me additional proofreading responsibilities due to my skills.
"What Motivates You?"
This question might feel daunting because there are so many ways to answer. Employers ask this question to see what makes you tick, and to understand whether you will fit in with the company culture.
Answer honestly, but keep the company and the job in mind. For example, if you are applying for a job in customer service, you might want to emphasize your passion for solving people’s problems. If the company is known for team projects, emphasize your interest in working for a team, and helping a team achieve its goals.
- I love working one-on-one with clients to solve problems. I did this at my previous job as a customer service representative. I loved being the one to listen to the customer’s issue, troubleshoot the problem, and provide them with a solution. This kind of work motivates me to do my best and provide excellent customer service.
"What Are Your Goals for the Future?"
Employers ask this question to make sure you don’t plan to leave the company right away. It also helps them learn how ambitious you are, and whether your career goals work with the company structure.
In your answer, focus on how you want to grow within the job and the company. Research the company beforehand to get a sense of the career paths offered at the organization. Employers like to see candidates who want to grow in ways that align with the company.
- I plan to continue to develop my skills as a teacher, particularly through the help of your teacher mentorship program. Once I gain additional experience, I would love the opportunity to serve as a department head or take on another administrative role. However, for now, I am looking forward to applying my in-class teaching skills and continuing to develop as an instructor.
"Why Are You the Best Person for the Job?"
This question gives you a chance to make a “sales pitch” that demonstrates why you are right for the position. To prepare, make a list of the requirements for the job, and figure out which of these you have. In your answer, focus on a couple of these strengths.
By matching your skills to the job, you will show the employer that you have what it takes to add value to the company and get the job done well.
- I am a network administrator with eight years of experience. I am known for my timely response to technical issues. I have experience in a variety of network technologies, wireless communications management, VPN technologies, and more. Moreover, I have five years of experience in the public health sector, so I know the kinds of issues that tend to arise, how to solve them, and how to communicate problems and solutions to a team of health professionals.
More Open-Ended Interview Questions
Here are a few more examples of open-ended interview questions you can expect to see in a job interview, along with links to the best way to answer them.
- "How will your greatest strength help you perform?
- "What is your greatest weakness?"—Best Answers
- "How do you evaluate success?
- "How would you describe yourself?"
- "Tell me about something that's not on your resume."
- "Why are you leaving your job?"—Best Answers
- "How do you handle stress and pressure?"
- "What do you find are the most difficult decisions to make?"
- "What are you passionate about?"
- "What are your pet peeves?"
- "What challenges are you looking for in a position?"