How to Answer Open-Ended Interview Questions

Have you ever been sitting in an interview feeling ultra-prepared when suddenly the recruiter throws a curveball question out? The standard job interview can go in various directions and sometimes take a turn you weren’t anticipating. You might be wondering why they do that. Is it to see you squirm?

Probably not. Most times, the interviewers try to get a good sense of personality from the candidate to see if they’ll be a culture fit. Knowing these can be tricky to prepare for, the recruiter might be trying to get you to open up and see how you respond under pressure.

So, is it possible to actually prepare for an open-ended interview question? You bet! The best way to prepare is to understand the different types of open-ended questions and develop general answers that you can tailor to the question.

Mastering Open-Ended Interview Questions

Admittedly, preparing for open-ended questions can be tricky, but it’s not impossible.

Types of Open-Ended Interview Questions

In an interview, employers will often ask open-ended questions to get a sense of your qualifications and how you handle certain situations. Situational questions prompt you to describe how you would react in a hypothetical situation. For example, “How would you react if you caught a teammate stealing?”

In contrast, behavioral questions ask you to recount a time when you performed the desired behavior. For instance, “Give an example of when you observed a teammate being dishonest or not doing their part. What did you do?”

Both types of questions can be challenging to answer, but it’s essential to take your time and respond thoughtfully. With situational questions, try to paint a picture of how you would handle the hypothetical situation using specific details. For behavioral questions, choose an example that highlights your positive qualities and showcases your ability to solve problems.

A few questions don’t seem to fit into any category, but they’re still important—questions like, “What are your strengths?” and “Tell me about yourself.” These questions can give the interviewer a lot of insight into your character. For example, answering the question about your strengths honestly and without bragging can show that you’re both humble and confident.

Tips for Answering Open-Ended Interview Questions

Ensure that you’ve thoroughly researched the company and the role before your interview. This will give you a better understanding of what they’re looking for in a candidate and help you prepare more targeted answers. Rather than worry about giving the wrong answer, get excited about the opportunity to showcase that you’re the best candidate for the role. As a note, you want to avoid the tendency to ramble when answering an open-ended interview question.

Examples of Open-Ended Interview Questions

You can use interview best practices and prepare answers that utilize the STAR method. Provide an example that relates to the question or a targeted characteristic of the job. Start by giving an overview of the situation, what the task that needed to be completed was, the action you took to solve it, and the result. Keep it concise, positive, and focused.

Tell me about yourself.

It’s always a bit daunting when an employer asks you to talk about yourself. However, it’s important to remember that they’re not asking for your life story. Instead, they’re looking for something that isn’t already obvious from your resume. This could be a particular skill or strength that you have or an experience that has shaped how you approach work. Whatever you choose to share, make sure that it gives the employer a better sense of who you are and how you’re an excellent fit for the position.

Example Answer: I am very goal-oriented, and my favorite part of my retail supervisor role was finding creative ways to hit our weekly targets. I found that I was good at motivating the team to upsell when closing out transactions. I’m focused on moving into a sales role with your company because you have an excellent reputation for being customer-focused. I think your company would be the perfect place for me to continue my development.

What motivates you?

Employers are asking whether you will fit in with the company culture and whether you have the qualities they are looking for in an employee. It can be helpful to think of an example from your past—specifically when you have gone above and beyond the call of duty. Perhaps you stayed late to finish a project or went out of your way to help a coworker. Whatever the example, be sure to highlight how you were able to contribute to the team and how you felt about the experience.

Example Answer: I am motivated by the idea of making a lasting impact, so I would be particularly interested in working on projects that have the potential to make a difference. At my previous job, I felt like there were some holes in our training process that made it harder for new hires to feel successful. I approached the manager with some suggestions and asked if I could work on rewriting a few of the sections to help bridge the gap for new hires. As a result, our turnover rate lowered by 30% within a few months of implementing my changes.

What makes you the best person for this position?

The recruiter is looking to find out if you’ve done your research and are excited about this particular role or if you’re simply casting a wide net to get any available job. You can highlight experiences tailored to the position to help them connect the dots from your knowledge to the job.

Example Answer: I’m a digital marketing specialist known for my creative and engaging content. I have experience running high-converting campaigns for a variety of diverse target audiences. Moreover, I have 10 years of experience in the education field, so I understand the concerns and challenges that arise.

Common Open-Ended Questions

While you’ll never know what questions might be asked, here are some of the most common ones you might get a variation of.

Conquering Open-Ended Interview Questions

Before you find yourself in an interview and faced with a problematic open-ended question, remember that you can answer any question thrown your way with a bit of preparation. You’ll be able to take a deep breath and relax, answer assertively, and then walk away feeling confident about your interview skills.


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