• Mike Poledna

Open-Ended Sales Interview Questions vs Closed-Ended Questions: Why You Need to Ask Both

Updated: Jan 13

We’ve all been there: stuck in an uncomfortable interview that seems to go on and on because you just can’t get the candidate talking.

The solution? Open-ended interview questions. Too many executives go into a sales interview unprepared with the right questions to ensure a successful interview that yields the information you need about a candidate.

The Question after the Question: Open-Ended or Closed-Ended

There’s nothing more vital to the integrity of your interview than “the question after the

question.” When asking a candidate a closed-ended question, it’s imperative that you

follow with an open-ended one to validate their response.

For example, if you were to ask a candidate “Would you enjoy working here?” their instant response will be “Yes.” You must then follow with an open-ended question that requires evidence to support their statement. “What makes you feel that way?” A candidate with canned responses might be caught off guard, while a candidate who’s truly engaged in the interview

process will be able to articulate their reasoning.

When asking open-ended questions first, make sure to clarify with a closed-ended question summarizing the answer they’ve given you. When asking a broad question such as “What do you feel this company can do for your career?” make sure you listen carefully to their response so that you can then summarize what you’ve heard back to them. “So from what I understand, you plan to be a CRO one day, and this sales director position will give you the experience you need to get there.”

If the candidate immediately responds “Yes” to the question, you know they did not take the

time to ensure your summary is correct. If they take a moment, add to or modify what you’ve said, or disagree, chances are high that they gave you a thoughtful answer and listened carefully to your response.

Of course, if you’ve done the proper assessments before getting to the interview stage, you will have a better idea of each candidate’s personality and behaviors before the interview even begins.)

Examples of Open-Ended and Closed-Ended Interview Questions

Take some time to look at these examples of closed-ended questions and their open-ended alternatives. Remember, always supplement a closed-ended response with an open-ended validator and an open-ended response with a closed-ended summarizer.

Closed-Ended Interview Questions

(Need Open Follow Up to Validate)

  • Have you ever had issues with coworkers?

  • Would you consider yourself a trustworthy person?

  • Have you ever felt frustrated with your job?

  • Do you think punctuality should be enforced?

  • Who do you talk to when you experience conflict?

Open-Ended Interview Questions

(Need a Closed Follow Up to Summarize)

  • Can you give me an example of a time you clashed with a coworker?

  • Can you tell me about a time when you had to earn someone’s trust?

  • When you feel frustrated at work, what do you do to resolve the issue?

  • How do you think punctuality affects daily operations?

  • Could you tell me about what you did to resolve conflict in your workplace?

Ask the Right Type of Question to Get the Information You Need from a Candidate

Consistently backing closed-ended questions with open-ended clarifications will help you

verify the validity of the answers your candidate is giving you.

If they can’t answer an open-ended question during the interview, chances are they did little preparation, and asking closed-ended questions will not be able to reveal this to you. Always ask a confirmation question after their response to ensure you are getting the most honest answers from your candidate.

When you’re prepared with the right type of question for each situation you might encounter n an interview, you’re well on your way to making the most of the time you spend with each sales candidate.

Next up: 5 Insightful Questions to Ask Sales Candidates During Interviews

For more on the right questions to ask in a sales interview, grab a copy of our ebook, 3 Essential Resources for Interviewing Sales Candidates. In it, you’ll find everything you need to run effective sales interviews: an outline of the entire process, a list of questions to ask (and not ask), and a candidate evaluation form to keep your whole hiring team organized.

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